- Roomy rear seat
- Comfortable ride
- Simple controls
- Extra fuel-efficient LE Eco model
- Modest horsepower and acceleration
- Usefulness of available Entune system is diminished by a cumbersome setup process
Without a doubt, the biggest and most significant new Toyota this year is the 2014 Toyota Corolla. Although it was always a strong seller, the previous-generation Corolla was outclassed by more stylish, more fuel-efficient and better-performing rivals in the compact sedan segment. The upshot is that it has been many years since the Corolla was a no-brainer pick for a small, affordably priced sedan.
Slightly longer, lower and wider than last year's model, the 2014 Corolla has a more aggressive-looking exterior. The exaggerated front-end design will likely polarize consumers (those who care about styling anyway), but at least it's edgier and more interesting than the forgettable forms of the past. In addition, all 2014 Toyota Corollas come standard with LED low-beam headlights, an unexpected feature in this segment.
If you're expecting an exciting driving experience to accompany this extroverted styling, you're probably going to be disappointed. Toyota kept the Corolla's easygoing personality intact. But the new Corolla does offer decent performance, a comfortable ride, good gas mileage, user-friendly features and solid reliability, all things that have made it so popular through the decades.
One key improvement this year is fuel economy. Any Corolla you look at will sip less gas than last year thanks to a variety of tweaks and a new continuously variable transmission (CVT), which takes the place of a conventional automatic transmission on some versions. Also, there's a new fuel economy-themed trim level called the LE Eco. Equipped with a revised version of the standard Corolla's 1.8-liter engine, the Corolla LE Eco earns best-in-class mpg numbers (for gasoline-fueled, automatic transmission-equipped compacts), achieving an EPA combined rating of 35 mpg along with a highway rating of 42 mpg.
Another functional upgrade on the 2014 Corolla is roomier seating. Rear passengers, in particular, enjoy nearly 5 inches more rear legroom, which will also make it easier to fit rear-facing child safety seats. Toyota has also restyled the instrument panel to impart a more contemporary feel. The company also used higher-quality interior materials and added a few new features, including keyless ignition/entry.
Although the 2014 Toyota Corolla is significantly better than the outgoing model, it isn't a slam dunk, as the small sedan segment has plenty of strong choices. The Corolla's perennial archrival, the Honda Civic, has rebounded from its own design missteps to lead this class, while the Mazda 3 and Ford Focus remain well-stocked drivers' favorites. Nor can the nicely equipped Hyundai Elantra and Kia Forte be ignored. That said, the Corolla is far more competitive than before, and this should bolster its already strong sales.
WHAT'S NEW FOR 2014
The 2014 Toyota Corolla is fully redesigned.
TRIMS & EQUIPMENT
The 2014 Toyota Corolla is a front-wheel-drive compact sedan which seats five and is available in four main trim levels: L, LE, LE Eco and S. All but the L are further offered in Plus and Premium sub-trims.
Standard features on the base L model include 15-inch steel wheels, LED headlights (low beams only), power windows and mirrors, air-conditioning, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a height-adjustable driver seat, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat, Bluetooth phone connectivity, steering wheel audio controls and a four-speaker sound system with a CD player, a USB/iPod interface and an auxiliary audio jack.
The LE adds 16-inch steel wheels, heated mirrors, variable intermittent wipers, keyless entry, metallic cabin accents, cruise control, power door locks, automatic climate control, a rearview camera, a six-speaker sound system with a 6-inch touchscreen display, and Bluetooth audio connectivity and phonebook download capability. The LE Plus adds alloy wheels and foglights, while the LE Premium further adds premium vinyl upholstery.
The LE Eco includes the LE features and adds specific engine and transmission tuning, low-rolling-resistance tires, a rear spoiler and enhanced aerodynamics. The LE Eco Plus adds alloy wheels, foglights, chrome beltline trim and an Eco driving mode, while the LE Eco Premium adds premium vinyl upholstery.
The S includes the LE features and adds a chrome grille frame, foglights, color-keyed mirrors with signal repeaters, a rear spoiler, front sport seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, upgraded instrumentation, a trip computer and piano black accents. The S Plus adds 17-inch alloy wheels, firmer suspension tuning and rear disc brakes, while the S Premium gets premium vinyl upholstery.
Key options for the Plus and Premium trims include a sunroof and a Driver Convenience package that includes keyless ignition/entry, smartphone app integration, satellite radio, HD radio and a navigation system.
INTERIOR & SAFETY
The 2014 Corolla's cabin is not exactly exciting, but controls are easy to find and use. The radio features tried-and-true volume and tuning knobs, for example, while the climate control has large knobs and buttons. The upgraded audio system and navigation systems boast a touchscreen with similarly large virtual buttons and simple, clear graphics. Materials quality is average, and overall, the interior of the Corolla doesn't look or feel as expensive as the cabins of the Ford Focus and Kia Forte.
The Corolla's optional suite of smartphone-connected services includes the Bing search engine, Pandora streaming radio, traffic data, and sports and stock information. Getting started with Entune can be a hassle, though, since you have to install an app on your phone and register for an account; plus, you always need an active data connection to use Entune. The touchscreen interface has straightforward menus, but it's sometimes unresponsive to user touch.
As with most Toyotas, the front seats are soft and comfy, while those in the S version are firmer and have more pronounced side bolsters. There is plenty of space here, even for taller drivers, and the backseat also boasts impressive space. Indeed, at 41.4 inches, rear legroom bests that of most midsize sedans.
The Corolla's trunk capacity is average at 13 cubic feet, but the wide opening eases loading and unloading. If more space is needed, the rear seat splits and folds to increase capacity.
Standard Toyota Corolla safety features include stability and traction control, antilock brakes (front discs/rear drums for all, rear discs available on the S trim), front side airbags, side curtain airbags, a driver knee airbag and a passenger seat cushion airbag. A rearview camera is standard on all versions except the base L.
In government crash tests, the 2014 Toyota Corolla earned a rating of five stars overall, with five stars in frontal and side crash tests and four stars in rollover testing. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the 2014 Toyota Corolla a rating of "Good" in moderate overlap front crash tests, side and roof strength tests and head and seat restraints, with a moderate rating in small overlap front tests.
PERFORMANCE & HANDLING
Every 2014 Toyota Corolla is powered by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine. On every model except the LE Eco, it produces 132 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. For the LE Eco, an enhanced, more efficient version of this engine is used; it's rated at 140 hp and 126 lb-ft of torque.
A six-speed manual transmission is standard on the L and S trims. Optional on the L is a four-speed automatic transmission, while a CVT is optional on the S and standard on the LE and LE Eco. When equipped with the CVT, the S model features steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters as well as a Sport mode that sharpens transmission and steering response.
EPA-estimated fuel economy is 31 mpg combined (28 mpg city/37 mpg highway) with the six-speed manual and 31 mpg combined (27 mpg city/36 mpg highway) with the L's four-speed automatic. With the CVT, you'll get a slightly better 32 mpg combined (29 mpg city/38 mpg highway for the LE, 29/37 for the S). Finally, the LE Eco, thanks to its special engine and fuel efficiency tweaks, earns an estimated 35 mpg combined (30 mpg city/42 mpg highway).
We've only had a short amount of time behind the wheel of the 2014 Toyota Corolla. So far, the Corolla has struck us as an agreeable, if uninspired, small sedan to drive. The new CVT works well by the standards of CVTs. There's some drone during acceleration, but it's not particularly irritating. Ultimately, the latest Corolla drives much like the previous one. That means the steering is precise but rather numb (and not the least bit sporty), while the suspension provides a comfortable ride, though you'd never describe it as luxurious or coddling. Similarly, the four-cylinder engine tries hard but begins to feel winded during aggressive passing maneuvers or when climbing mountain grades.
The best thing about the new Toyota Corolla is that it never feels as if it's straining to keep up with traffic or unable to deal with the unexpected. In place of inspiring performance, the redesigned Corolla offers unpretentiousness that expresses itself as character, and that coupled with its legendary reputation for reliability should ensure that the latest version of Toyota's compact sedan finds a home in plenty of garages.
The redesigned 2014 Toyota Corolla looks to regain stature in the compact sedan class. Crisper styling, better fuel economy, more rear-seat room and a highly functional interior design should help it remain a big seller.