New & Used Toyota Corolla: In Depth
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The Toyota Corolla has been the best-selling compact car in the U.S. for much of the last two decades. Entirely redesigned for 2014, it continues its role as highly dependable, not-very-exciting, carefully packaged transportation for sensible buyers looking for reliability over styling flair, sporty roadholding, or luxury features.
Corolla competitors include the Honda Civic, Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, Chevrolet Cruze, and a host of second-tier entries as well: Mazda 3, Nissan Sentra, Subaru Impreza, and Volkswagen Jetta among them.
The long history of Corolla sales in the U.S. can really be credited with changing the American perception of small cars, picking up the pieces where Volkswagen left off in making smaller vehicles a practical and popular choice. Including the 2014 model, there have now been 11 generations of Corollas over 40 years. Each has reinforced Toyota's reputation as the purveyor of reliable, sensible cars that could last hundreds of thousands of miles. They may not have been stylish, they may not have been exciting, but they almost never let down their owners--and the market rewarded that characteristic handsomely.
Over its lifetime, the Corolla has gone from rear-wheel drive to front-wheel drive, and the lineup has encompassed sedans, coupes, hatchbacks, wagons, even fastbacks. But throughout its life, it's kept its reputation intact. Almost five years after Toyota's unintended acceleration fiasco of 2010, the company's reputation has largely recovered and consumers are continuing to buy the existing, aged Corolla despite what are now clear deficiencies against a new and much tougher set of competitors.
The previous Corolla generation, which ran from 2009 through 2013, had gotten tired and long in the tooth by the time it was retired--and it was only a modest upgrade on the generation before that anyhow. It provided trouble-free transportation for a low price, but its powertrain was behind the curve, and its fuel efficiency especially was nothing to call home about. And yet it continued to sell in huge numbers to buyers who wanted trouble-free, if unadventurous, transportation.
That version of the Corolla made no leaps in design or refinement, putting it behind the generation of compact-sedan competitors launched from 2010 through 2012. In 2010, its safety was stepped up, with ABS, stability control, front side and side curtain bags, and active head restraints all made standard--finally. And you could even get a navigation system, among modern conveniences, as an option on the highest Corolla trim levels. Base versions remained without power windows and power locks through 2011.
For 2009 and 2010, the Corolla was sold in luxurious XLE trim, which included better interior appointments--albeit at a higher price. Also for those years, an XRS version of the Corolla offered the Camry's engine, a 2.4-liter, under the hood for much quicker performance. In more recent years the 'S' trim has offered some of that model's appearance, but at a more affordable price. For 2013, the outgoing Corolla saw only the most minor of feature changes. Toyota introduced a slightly different grille with added chrome, and all models but the base L received a new 6.1-inch touch-screen audio system with Bluetooth hands-free calling, Bluetooth audio streaming, and USB connectivity.
Many other models over the years have also, formally or informally, been part of the Corolla family (the Matrix and Tercel are two), and the Corolla has been sold by GM dealerships through some years—mainly the late '80s through the '90s—as the Chevrolet Nova, Chevrolet Prizm, or Geo Prizm. This past decade, the Matrix and Pontiac Vibe are closely related to the Corolla.
Rear-wheel-drive Corollas actually continued in sport-coupe form until 1987, but by then sedans had the front-wheel-drive layout that maintain today. Over time, the 1.6-liter four has been expanded to a 1.8-liter, and the optional three-speed automatic got four speeds, but the Corolla hasn't grown that much larger.
The new Toyota Corolla
While Toyota hoped to boost the excitement quotient with the launch of the 2014 Corolla--previewed by the sporty Furia Concept--the new car is evolutionary in most of its strong points, though the styling is more distinct and the connectivity and interior appointments are greatly improved.
The current Corolla, now in its second year, keeps an updated version of the classic 1.8-liter four-cylinder as its only engine. But now the Corolla has largely switched from a traditional automatic to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) for improved fuel economy. It works decently, if not quite up to the standard of Subaru's excellent CVTs, and brings the combined EPA rating up to 32 miles per gallon. A base model is still offered with an ancient four-speed automatic, and a six-speed manual is also available; those two options rate at 31 mpg combined. Finally, there's also a new and specially tuned Corolla Eco model, which boosts the combined rating up to 35 mpg combined (30 mpg city, 42 mpg highway).
Safety ratings, important to Corolla buyers, are good but not stellar for the new model. While the outgoing 2013 Corolla had been an IIHS Top Safety Pick, the latest model didn't win that title, due in part to its 'marginal' rating--one step above the lowest 'poor'--on the new and tougher small-overlap front crash safety test added by the IIHS. The NHTSA awarded the latest model five stars overall, however, a better result than its predecessors.
In 2012, following the earthquake and tsunami that devastated parts of Japan, Toyota announced plans to phase out Japanese production for the U.S. Corolla. By the time the 2014 model arrived, the automaker had moved most of its Corolla production to Tupelo, Mississippi.