- Roomier, better packaged interior
- Standard LED headlights
- Improved ride and handling
- CVT models feel sluggish from a stop
- Tight headroom in back
- Lacks advanced safety features
The 2014 Toyota Corolla keeps its frugal, responsible core but adds a lot more verve.
The Toyota Corolla has been one of the best-selling small sedans in the U.S. market for decades, and its penny-pinching, trouble-free reputation is what's buoyed that. Meanwhile, the small-car field has evolved rapidly, with more seductive looks, loads of in-car technology, and sharper handling. Surprisingly, Toyota has stepped out of its comfort zone and stepped up; with the all-new 2014 Corolla, it's doing more than just punching in at the clock—with a thoroughly competent, even delightful compact sedan you might actually choose for reasons other than the bean-counting bottom line.
Throughout the all-new 2014 Toyota Corolla, you'll find serious change, including improvements in styling, comfort, and features. Most importantly, perhaps, this stalwart model looks poised to shed some of its stolid, conservative appearance in favor of something more aesthetically appealing and lively.
Toyota calls the Corolla's new look more athletic, and we definitely won't argue with that. The automaker points to ‘Iconic Dynamism’ as the core concept, and that might be the stretch as we see bits and pieces from other current small-car models in the Corolla's design to call it iconic. In any case, it's geared this time for the Gen Y demographic—people who are just settling down to have kids, or looking for a basic sedan for a growing family. Proportions are a big part of what makes the new Corolla's design successful. The new Corolla is about three inches longer than the previous version, with nearly four inches of additional wheelbase—altogether placing the wheels farther out to the corners and giving the Corolla a far sportier stance. And LED headlamps and running lamps really put a nice finishing touch on the focused, rakish design.
Sporty Corolla S models stand distinct; they get a blacked-out grille in front with fog lamps flanking a more aggressive airdam. There’s also an integrated rear spoiler that visually lifts the tail and sharpens the look a bit.
Under the hood of the Corolla you'll find one of two 1.8-liter four-cylinder engines. The L, LE, and S trim Corolla's are powered by a base 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 132 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. Those seeking maximum fuel efficiency will want the LE Eco trim with its 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine featuring Valvematic, which has a broader range of continuously variable valve timing and increases fuel economy and engine output by more than five percent to 140-horsepower. While the base Corolla soldiers on with either a six-speed manual transmission or an optional four-speed automatic transmission, the LE, S, and LE Eco models all use a continuously variable transmission (CVT). It operates smoothly, with a reassuring, almost linear feel during light and moderate acceleration, while minimizing the 'drone' that plagues CVTs in small cars. S models have the CVT, but it pretends it's an automatic, with seven simulated gear ratios and steering-wheel paddle-shifters. The Corolla S model is the one you should pick if you enjoy driving (if, paradoxically, you're a driving enthusiast even considering a Corolla); it gets a suspension tune that's considerably more buttoned-down than the other models—think strong and well-damped, while the other models are still more springy and pillowy. Along with that, the S offers a Sport button that sharpens throttle response and firms up the steering; altogether it's the model in the lineup that may have you stepping out and checking the model badge in disbelief.
Inside the Corolla is more conservative than that exterior might suggest; yet it takes a step forward with improved materials and a two-tier design that effectively pushes the corners of the cabin outward, for an immediate impression of increased space. The dashboard is now a soft-touch material, while pinstriped accents are strewn about the cabin on the dashboard and door panels. S models instead have seats that combine leather-like Softex bolsters with coarse, color-toned fabrics in between.
What matters most, though, is that a nearly four-inch gain in wheelbase almost directly translates to more back-seat space. Front seats have been improved, with more adjustability and longer bottom cushions, and the S seats have strong side bolsters that rival those in some sport sedans. In back, there's now plenty of legroom for adults, although headroom remains limited. A roomy trunk with a low, flat floor, as well as flip-forward rear seatbacks in all models, altogether amount to a very useful small sedan—one that would have been considered mid-size just a few model years ago.
On the safety front, the 2014 Corolla has eight standard airbags along with Toyota's Star Safety system, which includes vehicle stability control, traction control, anti-lock braking system, electronic brake-force distribution, and brake assist. There's also Toyota's standard Smart Stop Technology brake-override system.
Feature-wise, the big news is that Toyota is stepping up its infotainment game the Corolla, and bringing it out of the dark ages with the availability of Toyota's latest Entune infotainment system, featuring navigation and apps in some models.
The Corolla is offered in four trim levels: L, LE, S, and a new LE Eco model. The base L model features standard LED low-beam headlights with LED daytime running lights, in-glass AM/FM antenna, color-keyed outside door handles, color-keyed outside mirrors, 60/40 split fold-down rear seat, power locks, doors, and mirrors, along with air conditioning, Bluetooth, and eight airbags. Depending on the trim level, available options include a smart key system with push button start, automatic climate control, leather-trimmed tilt and telescopic three-spoke steering wheel with paddle shifters and audio controls, multi-information display, Bluetooth hands-free phone voice-command controls, and SofTex-trimmed heated front seats.
In all, one thing the Corolla doesn't stray away from is its low pricing and high value. A fully loaded LE still runs just $22,570, and includes a moonroof and nearly all of those mentioned features. The frugality's still there--just with a little more flair.