2014 Toyota Corolla Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
August 7, 2014

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.

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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. 

6

2014 Toyota Corolla

Styling

The new 2014 Corolla doesn't exactly break out into new ground, but it's a well-proportioned design with crisp detail.

The Toyota Corolla has always been a low-cost, value-oriented car; but who says that has to look so plain and boring? While other automakers have stepped up with more exciting designs for compacts in recent years—yes, we're talking about the Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, Dodge Dart, and others—Toyota is doing more than just punching in this time, with a Corolla that you might actually look longingly at.

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 surrounding the new Corolla design ethos. Dynamic, Modern, Basic, and Iconic ideas were combined in the design, which is geared toward 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.

Up front, a gaping lower grille and angular headlights do their best to give the Corolla a shot of adrenalin, while a defined character line runs the length of the vehicle meeting the wrap-around taillights, which attempt to give the Corolla visual width. Door handles flare outward and become their own complementary design statement with the side creases. And Toyota points out that moving to an LED design for the headlamps (for the low beams) helped allow the corner of the vehicle to be more rounded.

Sporty Corolla S models look distinctly different than the rest. 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.

Inside the Corolla 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 with fake stitching, while pinstriped accents are strewn about the cabin on the dashboard and door panels.

All models have a new three-dial gauge cluster with chrome trim except the S model, which features a two-gauge gauge cluster containing a 3.5-inch black-and-white TFT display with trip computer functions. All the other models in the lineup have a three-gauge look with silver accents. Base models have a Steel Gray Fabric, while LE and LE Eco models have an upgraded fabric. S models instead have seats that combine leather-like Softex bolsters with coarse, color-toned fabrics in between.

The volume LE model is available in seven different exterior hues, while both the base L and the LE Eco are limited to four exterior colors and the Corolla S isn’t offered in Evergreen Mica (green).

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6

2014 Toyota Corolla

Performance

A new continuously variable automatic transmission promises better drivability and smoothness, although some might prefer the sporty S model and manual gearbox.

The Corolla lineup has a long-established reputation for performance that’s adequate and fuel-efficient, though hardly inspired. That much hasn’t changed; but the 2014 Toyota Corolla makes some substantial steps ahead in powertrain technology that serve to make this compact sedan both more fuel-efficient and more responsive and fun-to-drive than before—if you choose the right model, that is.

From a performance standpoint, much of the lineup has performance that's satisfying for those modest expectations. But if you happen to choose the sporty Corolla S, you could end up with a model that feels sophisticated beyond its $19.870 entry price.

While the engine, steering, and fundamental layout of the 2014 Toyota Corolla hasn’t changed radically, the innovation that most Corolla buyers are going to encounter concerns the transmission. All but the base-model Corolla L can be equipped with a new continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). This ‘gearless’ transmission uses a belt-and-pulley system to infinitely vary the ratio (within a set span), effectively keeping the engine in its sweet spot during acceleration and making dashes up to speed a lot quicker than otherwise.

Those who want a manual gearbox aren’t left out either; both the base L and the sporty Corolla S model are offered with a six-speed manual (that’s one ratio more than last year). The throws are a little long and the linkage isn’t sport-sedan precise, but the clutch takeup is light and neat—making it easier than most to drive in stop-and-go traffic. And that base L is the only one that’s still saddled with an old-tech four-speed automatic transmission. It’s not bad, either—just a bit slow when you need a quick burst of passing power, because of the wide steps between its ratios.

Through much of the lineup the engine is essentially carry-over—a 132-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, with dual independent variable valve timing. It's a smooth engine with a quiet idle. Altogether, it responds well with the CVT, with unobtrusive acceleration and little if any of the ‘drone’ that plagues CVTs in economical small cars.

Models with the CVT have much-improved highway passing response, and they feel perkier at speed in general compared to the automatic they replace (Toyota says it’s knocked nearly a second off the 0-60 mph time of the four-speed automatic). But they’re no improvement in standing-start performance, where this combination feels lackluster—especially when pointed slightly uphill or loaded with passengers—due to a rather tall starting ratio.

LE Eco models get a new Valvematic version of this same engine, which has a special system that continuously controls the lift, as well as the timing, of the intake valves—allowing them to ‘float’ when coasting and reduce drag when light on the throttle at higher speeds. At the same time, the system widens the torque curve—although peak torque is actually 2 lb-ft lower, at 126 lb-ft.

The sporty Corolla S model can be had with the manual gearbox (the base model is the only other model with it), but the S has a special take on the CVT. In this model, the CVT essentially pretends it’s a seven-speed automatic, with seven preset ratios that you can cycle through with paddle shifters. There’s also a Sport mode.

Corolla S models offer a relatively different driving experience. It's more buttoned-down and feels far more athletic on a curvy road. There's not nearly as much body motion, lift, and squat, either, which altogether add to the impression that you've driven an entirely different model. If you appreciate sportier tuning and are already looking at the LE, you might want to drive the S as well. All models get a revised torsion-beam rear suspension that mounts bushings at a slanted position, improving both NVH and rear-end behavior near the handling limit—and S models make the most of that.

Corolla S models get a slightly wider, leather-trimmed steering wheel, as well as shift paddles, which here are really extended buttons on the back of the steering wheel.

While much has changed, other things stay the same. Base and LE, and LE Eco models are expected to comprise the bulk of sales, and they’re sprung quite softly, with a ride that’s not only a little softer but also a bit busier (counterintuitively) than that of the S on jittery backroads.

On the other hand, on the LE Eco model, hitting the separate Eco button engages a softer throttle calibration and uses the A/C compressor more conservatively.

Corolla 'S Plus' and 'S Premium' models include rear disc brakes. Across the lineup, while stops are confident, our only consistent complaint is that brake-pedal feel is on the spongy side.

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2014 Toyota Corolla

Comfort & Quality

More back-seat space, improved materials, and better front seats are among many improvements in the new Corolla.

The overall length of the Corolla is now up to nearly 183 inches—placing it at what, just a few years ago, would have made it one of the more compact mid-sizers. Wheelbase is up a significant 3.9 inches, which translates almost entirely to back-seat space.

For those in front, the range of adjustment has been improved and the lower seat cushions are a bit longer—a change that’s welcomed especially by long-legged drivers; and the rake of the steering column has been reduced by two degrees compared to the outgoing Corolla, so altogether it also feels closer to a ‘big-car’ driving position.

By the numbers, Toyota says that rear legroom has gone up a whopping 5.1 inches. For real-world purposes, we’ll call that two or three inches. Rear headroom has gone down just a tenth of an inch; but sitting in new versus old models it felt more pronounced.

Toyota’s choice to stick with a relatively simple dash design that pushes out at the corners pays dividends when you look at passenger space—because it means that front occupants (the front passenger in particular) might be happier with their seat in a more forward position than otherwise, altogether adding to rear legroom.

What betrays the Corolla as a compact is twofold: first, the back seat still feels narrow—too much so to comfortably fit three adults across, even if there is enough legroom. Secondly, headroom is still tight; six-footers will find their heads mashed up against the ceiling.

Ride quality is great, whether you're looking at the base L, the LE or LE Eco, or the sporty S. All but the S tend to be on the soft side, with a little more rebound motion over major bumps and railroad tacks. The S feels completely different, with a more sophisticated, tight, and controlled feel—although it's not at all harsh.

Engine noise is isolated away from the cabin a bit more than in previous Corollas. Although from an NVH standpoint, we were surprised to notice the A/C compressor cycling sharply on and off in a way that we haven’t heard from many other new cars.

There are cupholders in front and rear door panels, along with center-console cupholders for those in front. Trunk space is about as you'd expect for a compact in this class; there are 13 cubic feet, officially, but the opening is wide and the floor is low and flat. Rear seatbacks are split 60/40 and flip forward, too, on all models.

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9

2014 Toyota Corolla

Safety

Eight standard airbags and five-star safety headline the safety story for the 2014 Corolla.

The redesigned 2014 Toyota Corolla definitely makes some improvements in safety, with better occupant safety, an improved structure, and new active-safety features.

The Corolla has achieved top five-star safety scores in frontal and side impact areas, resulting in a five-star score from the federal government. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the Corolla earned top 'good' ratings in frontal, side, rear, and roof strength tests, but a 'marginal' rating in the new small overlap frontal test dashed Toyota's prediction that the Corolla would earn the best Top Safety Pick+ accolade. It's instead a Top Safety Pick.

In addition to employing more high-strength and ultra-high-strength steel, the new Corolla has a rear-seat cross bar that helps with load transmission during side impacts—and helps reduce injury for rear-seat passengers.

New this year are both a driver’s side knee airbag as well as a front passenger seat cushion airbag. That's in addition to driver and front passenger front and side airbags, as well as side-curtain bags that cover outboard occupants front and back. Other included safety equipment includes electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes with Brake Assist, as well as a Smart Stop system that automatically cuts engine power in some cases if the brake and accelerator pedals are simultaneously pressed.

While some cars in the Corolla's class include a few active-safety features like active parking systems, or blind-spot systems, the Corolla keeps it simple. It does however have good outward visibility, and a rear camera system is included in most versions.

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2014 Toyota Corolla

Features

Toyota really steps up its infotainment game in the 2014 Corolla.

Audio, connectivity, and so-called infotainment are things that come first today to many shoppers—even those who are limiting themselves to frugal, fiscally responsible transportation like the Corolla, so it’s worth looking there first. Bluetooth hands-free calling, an auxiliary audio jack, and USB/iPod connectivity (with charging and full USB 2.0 compatibility) are included in all Corolla models—even the base L—but LE, S, and LE Eco models all include more steering-wheel controls as well as voice recognition.

The base Corolla L model includes air conditioning, power windows (with one-touch driver’s side up/down), color-keyed power-adjustable side mirrors, tilt/telescopic steering-wheel adjustment, a height-adjustable driver’s seat, and LED low-beam headlamps and daytime running lamps. LE Grade models are expected to be again be the best-selling models in the lineup; they’re much better equipped through still at an affordable price. Altogether, with the LE you add larger 16-inch steel wheels, in addition to automatic climate control, power locks, keyless entry, piano-black center-stack trim, variable intermittent wipers, and an integrated backup camera that displays through the audio touch screen when reversing.

The Corolls S and LE Eco trims are the specialty models of the lineup. With the sporty S you get unique wheel covers, integrated fog lamps, a special blacked-out grille, a chrome-tipped exhaust, more aggressively bolstered sport seats, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, passle shifters, and a Multi-Information Display in the middle of the gauge cluster. S models with the CVT also get a separate Sport drive mode that firms up the steering and quickens throttle response.

The base audio head unit is not only delightfully simple—skipping the touch screen, apps, and such—but it has surprisingly good sound, plus a display that can show long track names and song tags.

Major options throughout most of the lineup (but not the base L) include a moonroof ($850), and a so-called Driver’s Convenience Package ($1,510), which includes a Smart Key system, Entune Premium Audio, and a navigation system with App Suite.

If you want the manual transmission on the Corolla S, you'll need to give the nod to a single special build: a $22,110 Corolla S Plus model that includes 17-inch alloy wheels, a moonroof, the Smart Key system, and the navigation/App Suite combo.

All but the base model get automatic climate control. Cruise control isn’t at all available on the base model. Neither is keyless entry, as evidenced by the old-fashioned single ignition key we were handed when going to take the base model for a spin.

That said, the $17,610 base model remains a sort of icon for compact-car simplicity and efficiency. You get a lot for your money there—or with the very well equipped $21,910 Eco Plus model that's otherwise at the top of the lineup.

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8

2014 Toyota Corolla

Fuel Economy

An LE Eco model leads the line with 40 mpg or better on the highway.

The 2014 Toyota Corolla appeals to shoppers as much for its simplicity and price as it does for its fuel-efficiency. That said, some shoppers might want a hybrid system, Toyota's Prius lineup, as well as the Camry Hybrid, provide that in higher city miles per gallon.

Otherwise, the Corolla lineup returns the sort of mileage that price-conscious frugal shoppers will be happy with—easily well over 30 mpg in combined driving, with 40 possible on some models in the lineup.

That fuel-economy special of the lineup is the LE Eco. But if those numbers are the top priority, don’t load it up with options; if you get either the Plus or Premium packages, you’ll upgrade to 16-inch alloy wheels (rather than the 15-inch steel wheels), and that’ll knock 2 mpg off your highway estimate (40 vs. 42 mpg).

The LE Eco model also adds a new Eco Drive Mode button that brings further changes to shift points, throttle response, and accessory operation.

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October 22, 2015
2014 Toyota Corolla 4-Door Sedan CVT LE (Natl)

Best Corolla we have ever owned.

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Only problem we have had in the past 18 months of ownership is a once a month hesitation when trying to accelerate at about 20 kilometres an hour. Dealer cannot fix. Great small car otherwise.
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April 14, 2015
For 2014 Toyota Corolla

Great small car

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The 2014 Corolla is a fun car to drive and gets great gas mileage ! It is a great family car and has lot of room in the back seat and trunk ,Also Led lights make night vision better to see especially in bad... + More »
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Styling 6
Performance 6
Comfort & Quality 8
Safety 9
Features 9
Fuel Economy 8
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