Review: 2014 Toyota Corolla

Jil McIntosh
By Jil McIntosh
Posted on January 15th, 2014
0 Comments

With gas prices the way they are, many drivers are looking for every possible way to save fuel. Automakers are responding with new technologies, with considerable success.

After a week with the all-new 2014 Toyota Corolla, I averaged 5.0 L/100 km. Now, as the weight-loss ads warn, “Individual results may vary,” so not everyone will do that well with it. The weather was warmer and I drive with a light foot.

Still, there’s no question that gasoline engines are getting much better at sipping fuel. And while a hybrid would do even better, my Corolla, in second-from-the-top S trim at $19,215, and with options that brought it to $21,700, was still $4,405 less than the least-expensive Prius.

Depending on how long you keep a car, the cheaper fuel costs for a hybrid may never cover the initial price difference.

Some of the Corolla’s competition in the compact sedan segment get even better published mileage, including the more powerful Honda Civic, which costs more overall, and the Mazda3, which is priced lower.

But for those who prefer the Corolla, this newest edition is much better than its predecessor.

Although it’s still basically a driving appliance, stoic rather than sexy, it benefits considerably from new exterior styling, and a new interior.

The cabin still has a lot of hard plastic parts but now offers a cohesive design, a large touch-screen radio with backup camera that’s standard in all but the base model, and big, easy-to-use controls.

There’s a lot of legroom, both front and back, and only the tallest rear-seat passengers should have any complaints.

All models have Bluetooth, and all but the base trim level have voice recognition, heated seats, keyless entry and cruise control.

A 1.8-L, four-cylinder engine powers all four trim lines. It’s fairly noisy if you demand hard acceleration, but it quiets down once you get to cruising speed.

The base CE and sportier S start with a manual transmission. The CE can be optioned to a regular four-speed automatic transmission.

Optional on the S, and standard on the two LE lines, is a new, automatic continuously variable transmission, the first time Toyota has offered this gearless, pulley-style unit in North America.

The CVT’s ability to constantly keep the engine at the correct r.p.m., without the rise and fall of engine speed when a conventional transmission changes gears, is much of the secret behind the new Corolla’s fuel economy.

All of these transmissions have improved over the original rumbly, rubbery units that auto writers loved to hate, but the Corolla’s feels more like a regular automatic.

On the S, you can sequentially shift it up or down through seven pre-set gears, using the shift lever or paddle shifters on the steering wheel.

There’s also a more fuel-frugal model, the LE Eco, which uses a more sophisticated variable-valve-timing technology, along with aerodynamic underbody panels and low-rolling-resistance tires.

It has the lowest published figures in the segment, at 6.5 L/100 km in the city and 4.6 on the highway, but its starting price is also the highest of all the Corolla models, at $20,250.

The new Corolla is longer and slightly wider than the outgoing one, which translates not just into more interior space, but a more firmly-planted stance.

There’s very little steering feel, especially compared to a sportier model, such as the Mazda3, but steering response is quick, and its tight turning radius makes it easy to park.

The ride is fine on smooth roads, but the suspension readily transmits rough spots into the cabin; I can’t remember the last time I saw a rearview mirror shake so much when going over bumps.

But, all in all, this new Corolla should do a great job of retaining current customers and, with its roomy interior and realistic pricing, should at least get others taking a look.

And if high pump prices have you considering electric propulsion, look at the big picture, and don’t exclude these ever-evolving gas-only compacts as an option.

2014 Toyota Corolla S

Price: $15,995 to $20,250, $21,700 as tested

Engine: 1.8 L four-cylinder

Power/torque: 132 hp/128 lb.-ft.

Fuel consumption L/100 km: 6.9 city, 5.2 hwy, 5.0 as tested

Competition: Honda Civic, Mazda3, Chevrolet Cruze, Dodge Dart, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Ford Focus, Nissan Versa, Subaru Impreza, Volkswagen Jetta

What’s best: Better-looking, roomier interior, backup camera on almost all models.

What’s worst: Bumpy ride on rough roads.

What’s interesting: All models have LED headlights.

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