The Toyota Corolla, the auto industry’s all-time best-selling car, got a sportier exterior design just last year, and for 2018 there are some interior improvements, along with expanded safety technologies.
Now, the Toyota Safety Sense-P package is standard on all models, and includes the Pre-Collision system with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control and Automatic High Beams. The backup camera is included on all models, as well.
Also for 2018, all models now have driver and front passenger illuminated visor mirrors. And the XLE and SE trim levels now have a leather-trimmed, three-spoke steering wheel with controls for audio, the driver information display, Bluetooth hands-free phone, and voice command.
No changes have been announced for the 2019 Corolla, except that there will be a new Corolla Hatchback, which is actually a different vehicle from the sedan.
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There are seven models in the sedan lineup, and they are (with 2019 prices): the L CVTi-S ($18,700, plus $920 freight); LE CVTi-S ($19,135); LE Eco CVTi-S ($19,535); XLE CVTi-S ($22,135); SE CVTi-S ($20,645); SE 6MT ($21,865); and XSE CVTi-S ($22,880).
The SE 6MT has a six-speed manual transmission, but the rest have a continuously variable automatic. The LE Eco has the best fuel economy, up to 40 mpg on the highway.
Bi-LED headlights are standard on L, LE, and LE Eco models, while multi-LED headlights are included on the SE, XSE, and XLE trims.
Corolla is now in its 11th generation. It’s been on the market for 50 years, and is the best-selling car nameplate in history, with more than 40 million sold over its lifetime (beating even the venerable Volkswagen Beetle).
Assembled at Toyota plants in Mississippi and Canada, the Corolla has a stylish exterior that debuted as Toyota moved away from the plain design that had characterized the vehicle for most of its history. The competition is strong in the compact segment, and buyers in this class have shown that they appreciate attractive designs, even though practicality is still the leading attribute buyers seek.
The updated exterior is intended to be less stodgy and more modern, with a look that’s enhanced by shorter overhangs, a more-athletic stance, flared wheel arches, and sculpted surfaces.
The car is nearly four inches longer than the previous generation, at 182.6 inches, and it’s more than a half-inch wider, at 69.9 inches. Height is 57.3 inches, less than a half-inch lower than before.
It also has a longer wheelbase (at 106.3 inches, it’s nearly four inches longer than that of the previous generation), which helps give the car almost three inches more rear-seat leg- and knee room. That also helps improve the ride.
The roomy interior provides decent space for up to five people. I found it to be as spacious inside as recent generations of the larger Camry. Rear passengers have 41 inches of legroom, more than many midsize sedans.
Our tester was the 2018 XSE sport-luxury model, the top of the sedan lineup. We loaded it with three adults for some sightseeing and dining out, and had no complaints from anyone. But, as in almost any car, the middle position in the back seat might not be all that comfortable for a long highway trip, especially for an adult.
The Eco version has mechanical and aerodynamic features that give it the 40 mpg highway rating, putting it on par with some hybrids. A variety of alloy wheels and wheel covers are offered, ranging from 15-inch steel wheels to 17-inch alloys. Aero wheels are used on the Eco models.
L, LE, SE, XLE and XSE models are powered by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine with intelligent variable valve timing, rated at 132 horsepower and 128 foot-pounds of torque.
The LE Eco models come with a more-efficient 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine with 140 horsepower and 126 foot-pounds of torque, along with a more aerodynamic exterior and low-rolling-resistance tires. EPA ratings are 30 mpg city/40 highway for the LE Eco
With the base engine and manual gearbox, EPA ratings are 27/35; with the CVT, 28/36 (28/35 with the 17-inch wheels).
Our XSE was equipped with the 17-inch alloy wheels and P215/45R17 tires. It also had the Sport drive mode for the CVT, with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters that gave it the feel of a conventional seven-speed automatic transmission.
Inside, the car was as impressive as outside, with a more upscale look that gives the Corolla a spacious, premium feel. The instrument panel has piano black surfaces, metallic accents and decorative pinstriping. Soft-touch materials are used throughout the interior.
To help keep the cabin quiet, insulation has been placed along the fenders and cowl and behind the dash panel.
At highway speeds, carrying on a conversation at a normal volume was easy, even with the backseat passengers, and there was no harsh vibration and very little noise from the road. Wind noise was minimal, as well, except for some around the moon roof.
The Corolla’s unibody – with body and frame combined in a single unit -- is made of mostly lightweight, high-strength steel to help keep the car’s overall weight below 2,900 pounds to aid fuel economy. The steel also makes the chassis more rigid, helping to give the car a more sport-like driving feel.
Included were the multi-beam LED headlights and with LED accent lights. There were also LED daytime running lights in the front bumper. All models have eight air bags, along with Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio streaming.
Among extras on our XSE model were SofTex heated front seats, color-keyed heated outside mirrors, smart key with pushbutton start, the power moon roof and a rear-deck spoiler.
The only option on the test vehicle was the Entune Premium Audio system ($525), with navigation and App Suite connectivity features, a seven-inch touch-screen display, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB and auxiliary inputs, and satellite and HD radio with weather and traffic.
Standard is electric power steering, with a manual tilt/telescopic steering wheel; either front-disc, rear-drum or four-wheel-disc (SE and XSE models) antilock brakes; electronic stability control with traction control; and electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist. Tire-pressure monitoring is included, as well.
Other XSE standard features included automatic climate control, the radar cruise control, six-way power-adjustable driver’s seat and four-way manual passenger seat, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls.
The 132-horsepower engine paired with the CVT offered decent power in our test vehicle, although it would be nice to have an engine upgrade available for sportier driving. Still, we had no trouble getting up to traffic speed on uphill freeway ramps, and the car handled well on the back roads we like to test our cars on.
Toyota provides adequate interior storage in the Corolla, with map pockets/bottle holders in the doors, dual cupholders in the front of the center console, and two cupholders that pop out of the back of the front console for rear-seat passengers.
The trunk has 13 cubic feet of space, which is fairly roomy for this class of vehicle. The rear seatback has a 60/40-split/fold-down feature, with a knob on the top of each seatback section to release it. This allows for hauling longer and bulkier items.
Overall, I had no complaints with the Corolla, and was quite impressed with its styling, interior design and practicality. Our tester had the pleasant Slate Metallic exterior paint.
With freight and options, the total sticker price of my 2018 Corolla XSE CVT was $24,150 (2018 pricing; for 2019, it would be $24,325).
The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @gchambers3.
2018/2019 Toyota Corolla
The package: Compact, four-door, five-passenger, four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive sedan.
Highlights: Corolla is Toyota’s long-running, top-selling compact sedan. Besides having great new styling and decent fuel economy, this is a roomy and comfortable vehicle that seems more like a small luxury car than the affordable compact it is.
Negatives: No engine upgrade offered for sportier driving.
Engine: 1.8-liter inline four-cylinder (2 versions).
Transmission: Six-speed manual (SE only); continuously variable automatic (L, LE, XLE, SE, XSE grades).
Power/torque: 132 HP./128 foot-pounds (L, LE, XLE, SE, XSE); 140 HP./126 foot-pounds (LE Eco).
Length: 182.6 inches.
Curb weight range: 2,800-2,865 pounds.
Brakes, front/rear: Disc/drum, antilock (L, LE, LE Eco); disc/disc, antilock (SE, XSE).
Trunk volume: 13 cubic feet.
Air bags: Front; driver knee; front seat-mounted side; roof-mounted side-curtain for both rows.
Electronic stability control: Standard.
Fuel capacity/type: 13.2 gallons/unleaded regular.
EPA fuel economy: 27 mpg city/35 highway/30 combined (manual); 30/40/34 (CVT, LE Eco, 15-inch wheels); 28/36/32 (L, LE, XLE, SE and XSE, 16-inch wheels); 28/35/31 (17-inch wheels).
Major competitors: Volkswagen Jetta, Honda Civic, Nissan Sentra, Mazda3, Kia Forte, Hyundai Elantra, Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, Subaru Impreza.
Base price range (2019): $18,700-$22,880, plus $920 freight.
Price as tested: $24,150, including freight and options, 2018 XSE with Entune Premium Auto (for 2019, $24,325).
On the Road rating: 9.2 (of a possible 10).
Prices shown are manufacturer's suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.