2012 Toyota Corolla Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
February 22, 2012

For those who want frugal, trouble-free transportation but have no want of excitement, the 2012 Toyota Corolla fits the bill.

If reeling in the family budget is one of your top priorities, the Toyota Corolla remains a good fit. It's been a longtime frugality king, appealing to those who want the lowest running costs above all else--of course, with a design that meets requirements for the family and the commute. But while Toyota has made incremental improvements in comfort for the Corolla, it simply isn't the standout it once was--especially considering the flood of excellent new entries this past year, including the Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, and Hyundai Elantra.

One of the Corolla's chief drawbacks remains its blandness and ubiquity. The very minor touch-up the Corolla received last year only helped bring the cues on this sedan a little more in line with the larger Camry. Overall, it's a smooth, decent-looking design, but the 2012 Toyota Corolla lacks the sporty and modern panache of many of its rivals. Inside, the Corolla bucks many of the cockpit-like layouts that are common in small sedans, instead having a more shelf-like instrument panel that, while not exciting, arguably frees up more interior space.

The 2012 Corolla not only looks, but feels, like a car that people choose to drive out of necessity and practicality. In general, the Corolla is softly sprung and lacking a handling and ride sophistication that many rivals now have. The electric power steering is dull and overly light, and that combined with the suspension makes the Corolla feel out of sorts on a curvy road. Compared to most other models in this class (like the Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, or Honda Civic), the Corolla feels slightly down on power, especially at highway speeds, even if its 132-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine looks up to snuff on spec sheets. Part of the problem is the four-speed automatic, which has gears that feel too widely spaced; the five-speed manual is pleasant to use, though. And while powertrain refinement used to be a Corolla strength, say a decade ago, the current model sounds coarse when pushed, considering today's standards of small-car refinement.

Review continues below

Inside, the Corolla is well designed, but rather stark and basic. Base L, LE, and S trims are offered, and in the latter two the Corolla gets a little more dressed-up; but even then the conservative design and subpar materials conspire to give this sedan an on-a-budget feel and not much more. But on the positive side, ride comfort is good in most cases, and the Corolla's cabin is well-isolated from road and wind noise; it's really up to par with mid-size cars in this respect. Seating in the Corolla is quite good overall, with plenty of headroom and legroom in front, and even decent space for average-sized adults in the back seat. But front seats are a bit short and spongy; they're not so comfortable for longer trips. Storage-wise, there's a double glovebox, along with a few cubbies, a console box, and large door pockets, but the trunk is on the small side, even among cars in this class, and has intrusive hinges.

The Corolla remains one of the better picks in this class for the safety-minded. For 2011, the Corolla was an IIHS Top Safety Pick, and we anticipate that to be extended to the 2012 model. Safety equipment is typical within the class, with front side airbags, side-curtain airbags, and active front head restraints all standard.

Across the lineup, there are three trim levels: base L, mid-range LE, and the somewhat sportier-looking S. For 2012, even the basic L model no longer has manual-winding windows; power windows, locks, and mirrors are now all standard, along with keyless entry. Air conditioning, a trip computer, and a tilt/telescoping steering wheel also remain standard. Also for 2012, LE and S models get improved audio systems that include Bluetooth and iPod connectivity; LE models now have steering-wheel audio controls, and the S gets stitched seat accents. A moonroof, XM satellite radio and a navigation system remain among the options.

6

2012 Toyota Corolla

Styling

Even though the 2012 Toyota Corolla has gained some cues from the larger Camry, it's still one of the most bland and ubiquitous small-car picks.

From a styling standpoint, there's very little, if anything, to get excited about in the 2012 Toyota Corolla.

The very minor touch-up the Corolla received last year only helped bring the cues on this sedan a little more in line with the larger Camry. Overall, it's a smooth, decent-looking design, but the 2012 Toyota Corolla lacks the sporty and modern panache of many of its rivals.

Inside, the Corolla bucks many of the cockpit-like layouts that are common in small sedans, instead having a more shelf-like instrument panel that, while not exciting, arguably frees up more interior space.

6

2012 Toyota Corolla

Performance

The 2012 Toyota Corolla performs with competence, but it's bland and appliance-like.

The 2012 Corolla not only looks, but feels, like a car that people choose to drive out of necessity and practicality.

In general, the Corolla is softly sprung and lacking a handling and ride sophistication that many rivals now have. The electric power steering is dull and overly light, and that combined with the suspension makes the Corolla feel out of sorts on a curvy road.

Compared to most other models in this class (like the Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, or Honda Civic), the Corolla feels slightly down on power, especially at highway speeds, even if its 132-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine looks up to snuff on spec sheets. Part of the problem is the four-speed automatic, which has gears that feel too widely spaced; the five-speed manual is pleasant to use, though, and if moving quickly isn't all that important, the automatic transmission is smooth-shifting.

8

2012 Toyota Corolla

Comfort & Quality

A roomy interior and comfortable ride make the Corolla feel like a somewhat smaller Camry at times, but interior materials and engine noise leave much to be desired.

Inside, the Corolla is well designed and reasonably comfortable, although the stark, basic feel is going to be a turnoff even for discerning shoppers on a budget.

Base L, LE, and S trims are offered, and in the latter two the Corolla gets a little more dressed-up; but even then the conservative design and subpar materials conspire to give this sedan an on-a-budget feel and not much more.

But there are plenty of positives for the Corolla, if seating space and comfort are what matters most. Ride comfort is good in most cases, and the Corolla's cabin is well-isolated from road and wind noise; it's really up to par with mid-size cars in this respect. Seating in the Corolla is quite good overall, with plenty of headroom and legroom in front, and even decent space for average-sized adults in the back seat. But front seats are a bit short and spongy; they're not so comfortable for longer trips.

Storage-wise, there's a double glovebox, along with a few cubbies, a console box, and large door pockets, but the trunk is on the small side, even among cars in this class, and has intrusive hinges.

Powertrain refinement used to be a Corolla strength, say a decade ago, but the current model sounds coarse when pushed, considering today's higher standards of small-car refinement.

8

2012 Toyota Corolla

Safety

The Corolla remains one of the better picks in this class for the safety-minded.

The 2012 Toyota Corolla might not be all that exciting in any way, but it does offer strong safety. The Corolla has performed very well in most crash tests and has a good set of features.

The Corolla is again an IIHS Top Safety Pick for 2012, earning top 'good' results in each crash-test category. And while the federal government hasn't run the Corolla through its full battery of tests, it has earned four (out of five) stars for frontal impact. Safety equipment is typical within the class, with front side airbags, side-curtain airbags, and active front head restraints all standard.

With a high seating position and a relatively low beltline, the Corolla offers good outward visibility.
8

2012 Toyota Corolla

Features

The most basic 2012 Toyota Corolla L gets increased standard equipment, with only a very modest price increase.

The Corolla gets some significant feature upgrades for 2012 and gains some additional standard equipment like power windows and keyless entry.

Across the lineup, there are three trim levels: base L, mid-range LE, and the somewhat sportier-looking S. For 2012, even the basic L model no longer has manual-winding windows; power windows, locks, and mirrors are now all standard, along with keyless entry. Air conditioning, a trip computer, and a tilt/telescoping steering wheel also remain standard. Also, LE and S models get improved audio systems that include Bluetooth and iPod connectivity; LE models now have steering-wheel audio controls, and the S gets stitched seat accents.

A moonroof, XM satellite radio and a navigation system remain among the options.

8

2012 Toyota Corolla

Fuel Economy

Toyota's hybrids might have a reputation for being among the greenest vehicles at any price, but the 2012 Corolla is merely average.

The 2012 Toyota Corolla has gas mileage ratings that are merely ordinary—which is surprising, considering the automaker's reputation for producing the most fuel-stingy line of hybrids in its Prius family.

Whether it has a manual or automatic transmission, the Corolla gets 34 mpg highway, according to the EPA, with city ratings of 26 or 27 mpg. But with a number of models that now achieve 40 mpg on the highway—or close to it—the Corolla isn't at all a standout.

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7.2
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 6.0
Performance 6.0
Comfort & Quality 8.0
Safety 8.0
Features 8.0
Fuel Economy 8.0
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