2016 Toyota Corolla Review

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2018
The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

John Voelcker John Voelcker Senior Editor
June 24, 2016

The 2016 Toyota Corolla continues to offer reliable, inexpensive transportation—with a bit of flair and new, easy-to-use infotainment systems.

The 2016 Toyota Corolla is this year's version of car that has epitomized basic, trouble-free, and relatively comfortable transportation for 40 years now. And a new effort to keep its technology up to date and add at least a bit of flair to the design has made it more appealing. While the current version isn't what you might call charming, it's more interesting and engaging that its anodyne predecessors in earlier generations.

For 2016, there are essentially no changes to the Corolla, save for a new Special Edition based on the sporty Corolla S with CVT. Only 8,000 will be sold, in three colors used only on this model. They feature special gloss-black 17-inch alloy wheels, a black interior with red contrast stitching and red dash and door accents, keyless ignition with the Smartkey system, and special floor mats and badges. The sole options are the power moonroof and the Entune Premium Audio system with navigation and the app suite.

The company stepped up its game when it launched the current Corolla as a 2014 model. The compact four-door sedan that has been at or near the top of U.S. sales charts for decades got crisper, sportier looks, a quieter cabin, and a healthy dollop of the in-car technology today's small-car shoppers expect. It's still priced low for the high value it delivers, but now you might pick the Corolla for reasons beyond the bottom line and watching your dollars.

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Toyota says the new Corolla's shape is "more athletic," and indeed its lines are crisper compared to its bland predecessors. We see bits and pieces of various other current models in its overarching design as well as some of the styling details, so we're not sure that the core design concept—"Iconic Dynamism"—is entirely justified. Less iconic, more iterative, perhaps.

A longer wheelbase stretches the center section—this Corolla is 3 inches longer than its predecessor—and puts the wheels toward the corners of the body. The windshield and roof pillars are slightly more angled, and the car is a little more wedge-shaped, with angled frontal shapes and a turned-up beltline at the back of each rear door. The sportier stance benefits from LED headlamps and running lamps on all models; the sporty Corolla S model gets a blacked-out grille with fog lamps flanking a more aggressive airdam, plus an integrated rear spoiler that visually raises the tail.

Two different 4-cylinder engines, both of 1.8 liters, can be paired with different transmissions. The one in L, LE, and S models is rated at 132 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque; the variant used in the more fuel-efficient LE Eco trim comes in at 140 hp—but you won't see much difference between the two on the road.

Most buyers will opt for the continuously variable transmission (CVT), which is tuned to provide a reassuring, almost linear feel during light and moderate acceleration, while minimizing the "drone" that plagues CVTs used in other small cars. Base and S models can be ordered with a 6-speed manual gearbox, while the base model forgoes the CVT for an ancient and slow 4-speed automatic. The CVT in the S is tuned to mimic a 7-speed automatic, complete with paddles to click through them.

Overall, the CVT cars get better gas-mileage ratings, with the LE Eco the highest of all in its base form—though adding options drops its ratings down slightly. If you enjoy driving, the Corolla S should be your only choice: Its suspension is tuned more like that of a sport sedan—with a special Sport button that firms up the steering, and a ride that feels firm yet absorbent and nicely damped. Other models in the lineup remain a bit springy and pillowy.

Inside, the Corolla is surprisingly roomy. The front seats are comfortable and Toyota has lengthened their cushions; despite that, the Corolla will seat four 6-footers without front-seat occupants having to slide their seats far forward. Head room in the rear seat isn't as generous as the leg room, though. Trunk space is about average for the segment, with a long, flat floor, plus flip-forward rear seatbacks in all models.

Inside, the look and feel of the Corolla's cabin is more conservative than the crisp and contemporary exterior might suggest. The upscale materials and a two-tier dash design maximize the sense of space in front, but the car gives the impression it's aiming less for a sporty compact-car feel and more for a rival to mass-market mid-size sedans. Soft-touch material covers the dash, with pinstriped accents strewn about the cabin on the dashboard and door panels. Corolla S models get leather-like SofTex bolsters and coarse, contrast-toned seat upholstery.

The 2016 Corolla gets decent safety ratings, though not perfect, and it received only a "Marginal" rating—one step above the lowest "poor"—from the IIHS on its new small-overlap front crash test. The NHTSA gives the Corolla an overall five-star rating, though, its highest, and its only other drawback is that missing several of the advanced active-safety systems that are fast becoming the norm across most segments. The 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.

The Corolla range is comprised of four trim levels: L, LE, S, and a new LE Eco model. All Corollas come with standard with air conditioning, Bluetooth pairing, LED low-beam headlights with LED daytime running lights, in-glass AM/FM antenna, color-keyed outside mirrors and door handles, a 60/40-split fold-down rear seat, and power locks, doors, and mirrors.

Across the lineup, Toyota now offers infotainment systems that aren't just competitive, but among the better systems in this class of affordable car when you consider their interfaces, ease of use, connectivity, and sound. Toyota's latest Entune system, featuring navigation and apps in some models, lift the automaker's inexpensive-car cabins out of the dark ages, and they're widely available in the lineup.A Driver Convenience Package, with a moonroof, Smart Key entry, Navigation, Entune Premium Audio, and the App Suite, is available on the LE, S, and LE Eco Premium models.

The most efficient Corolla, the LE Eco, manages up 42 mpg on the highway. The rest of the lineup isn't far behind: between 27/36/31 mpg and 29/37/32 mpg, depending on configuration.

6

2016 Toyota Corolla

Styling

The 2016 Toyota Corolla is conservative without being generic; it's sharp and purposeful but not distinctive.

While its designers have been getting more daring, sometimes to peculiar effect, the 2016 Toyota Corolla sedan plays it safe. It has shed some of its old dowdiness for a few more touches of stylistic flair, but it's still recognizable as a Corolla—and also distinct from its predecessor, which the last one wasn't.

Toyota calls the look more athletic, and says it's an example of "Iconic Dynamism"—make of that what you will. We see bits and pieces of other compact sedans in both its overall shape and some of the finer details. Derivative Dynamism might be more accurate, but that's not really a put-down. The current model does what it needs to while avoiding the generic look of so many previous Corollas.

Its longer wheelbase brings the wheels closer to the corners of the car, which not only gives it more interior space but makes it a bit sportier. The design is finished off with new details like LED headlamps and running lamps. If the car comes with a blacked-out grille, it's the sportier Corolla S model. Similarly, the LE and LE Eco models now have a grille that's more distinct from the base Corolla L model.

The Corolla's interior adopts a two-tier dashboard design that also adds to the impression of interior space, pushing the corners further from the front-seat occupants toward the base of the steeply raked windshield. The dash surface itself is a soft-touch material with molded-in stitching, along with a handful of subtle pinstriped accents in contrasting colors on the dash and door panels. It doesn't sound all that effective, but somehow it comes across as fresh—at least for a Corolla.

Base models have upholstery in a Steel Gray Fabric, while LE and LE Eco models have an upgraded and nicer fabric. The seats in the S models combine leather-like SofTex bolsters with coarse, color-toned fabrics in between. Behind the steering wheel, a three-dial gauge cluster with silver accents is standard on all models except the sportier S. That model gets a cluster with two gauges flanking a 3.5-inch screen for various computer functions.

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6

2016 Toyota Corolla

Performance

The 2016 Toyota Corolla offers decent driveability with the CVT automatic, but only the sporty S model has truly rewarding handling.

The 2016 Toyota Corolla offers a choice of two different 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engines, but performance has never been a major selling point for Toyota's compact sedan. Its buyers want low running costs and value for their money, and Toyota has prioritized those qualities. Still, the current model is a little more rewarding to drive than its predecessors.

One engine powers the Corolla L, LE, and S models. It's a base 1.8-liter inline-4 rated at 132 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. The LE Eco version adds Valvematic to its 1.8-liter inline-4, which provides a broader range of continuously variable valve timing—giving better fuel economy as well as a boost to 140 horsepower.

The system allows the valves to "float" during coasting, to reduce drag when light on the throttle at higher speeds. It also broadens the torque curve—although peak torque is a bit lower at 126 lb-ft. So while it may have more horsepower on paper, don't expect the Eco model to feel noticeably quicker.

The gearbox for almost all Corollas sold in the States will be a continuously variable transmission (CVT), and Toyota has done a good job of tuning in a reassuring, almost linear feel during light and moderate acceleration. There's less of the "drone'" that plagues CVTs used in some small cars, and the sportier S model gets a special tune on its CVT that makes it behave just like a 7-speed automatic, with simulated gear ratios and paddle shifters behind the leather-trimmed steering wheel to let drivers click through them at will.

The CVT cars feel lackluster from a standing start—especially when pointed slightly uphill or loaded with passengers—due to their tall starting ratio. But highway passing response is much improved, and they feel perkier once underway compared to the automatic they replace. Toyota says it’s knocked nearly a second off the 0-to-60-mph time provided by the previous Corolla's 4-speed automatic transmission.

The base Corolla L, however, is still saddled with that ancient 4-speed automatic. It’s slow when you need a quick burst of passing power, because of the wide steps between its ratios, and its fuel economy ratings are lower than those for CVT-equipped Corollas.

Finally, if you want to shift for yourself, the base L and the sporty S model can be ordered with a 6-speed manual gearbox. The linkage isn’t sport-sedan precise and the throws are fairly long, but the clutch takes up lightly and predictably. That makes the rare manual Corolla easy to drive in stop-and-go traffic.

All Corolla models have a torsion-beam rear suspension that mounts bushings at a slanted position, minimizing noise, vibration, and harshness and tightening rear-end behavior near the handling limit—and S models make the most of that.

The S, in fact, is the one you should pick if you want to maximize your Corolla driving enjoyment. Its suspension tune is more buttoned-down, rather as you might expect in a sport sedan—and its special Sport button firms up the steering too. The ride is firm yet absorbent and nicely damped. Other models in the lineup remain a bit springy and pillowy, with a ride that’s not only a little softer but also a bit busier (counter-intuitively) on jittery backroads.

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2016 Toyota Corolla

Comfort & Quality

The 2016 Toyota Corolla has good front seats, pleasing interior materials, and a remarkable amount of cabin room.

The 2016 Toyota Corolla sedan's 183-inch length and expansive rear seat area would have suited a mid-size sedan just a few years ago. Its 2014 redesign gained it almost 4 inches in wheelbase, and a whopping 5.1 inches more leg room in the rear. Four 6-footers can ride in relative comfort, which wasn't a feat possible in previous Corolla generations.

The front seats are more adjustable and have longer cushions than before, making them as comfortable as seats in rival compacts, perhaps more so. The driving position has a relaxed, "big car" feel, and Toyota has fitted cupholders in both front and rear door panels, along with a pair in the center console for those in front. All models except for the base L get a rear center armrest with two built-in cupholders as well.

In back, the practical increase in leg room is closer to 2 or 3 inches, and head room has actually gone down just a bit. Still, long-legged occupants can be comfortable in the back seat of a Corolla for the first time, without asking those in front to slide their seats forward. What betrays the Corolla as a compact is mainly the narrow back seat—which still won't comfortably fit three adults across, even if legroom is sufficient.

The 13 cubic feet of trunk space is about what you'd expect for a compact sedan. Its opening is wide, the floor is low and flat, and the 60/40-split rear seatbacks fold forward on all models. If you want hatchback versatility, though, there's no Corolla for that (unlike competitors like the Ford Focus). Instead, you'll have to drive the new Scion iM compact hatchback in the adjacent Scion dealership, if there is one—it's essentially a Corolla underneath.

Interior material quality is good, though clearly designed with cost in mind. The two-tier dash helps maximize perceived space up front, and the cabin almost seems to be trying to rival mid-size interiors.

Soft-touch material covers the dash surfaces, with pinstriped accents are strewn about the cabin on the dashboard and door panels. The only jarring note is the piano-black center-stack trim in LE and higher models—which gathers dust instantly and already looks somewhat dated. Sporty Corolla S models have leather-like Softex bolsters and more coarse, contrasting seat upholstery.

Refinement is good, though not necessarily best in class. The Corolla isolates its engine noise well, and the longer wheelbase provides admirable ride quality in any of the four models. The base L, the mid-level LE, and the LE Eco tend to be on the soft side, with some rebound motion over major bumps and railroad tracks. The Corolla S feels surprisingly different, with a tighter and more sophisticated suspension that feels more controlled—while managing to remain free of harshness.

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8

2016 Toyota Corolla

Safety

The 2016 Toyota Corolla gets decent ratings that aren't top-notch, and doesn't offer all of the advanced active-safety systems now available in many smaller cars.

The 2016 Toyota Corolla gets decent safety ratings, though they're not quite top-tier, and it's missing some of the advanced active-safety technology that even compact buyers are starting to expect.

The NHTSA gives the 2016 Corolla five stars overall, its highest score, and five stars in every specific test except rollover, where it gets four out of five. In IIHS testing, however, last year's Corolla earned top "Good" ratings in frontal, side, rear, and roof strength tests—but only a "Marginal" rating in the new small overlap frontal test.

The current generation of Corolla comes with eight airbags as standard equipment, including a driver’s side knee bag as well as a front passenger seat cushion bag. 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.

It also has Toyota's Star Safety system, plus the now-standard suite of vehicle stability control, traction control, anti-lock braking systems, electronic brake-force distribution, and brake assist. There's also 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.

But while an increasing number of small cars offer one or more active-safety features—like active parking systems or blind-spot systems—the Corolla keeps it simple. It offers good outward visibility, however, and a rearview camera is standard in most versions.

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9

2016 Toyota Corolla

Features

The 2016 Toyota Corolla has been carefully packaged to offer base, mid-level, sporty, and Eco versions; each fills its niche well.

The 2016 Toyota Corolla continues unchanged this year with four trim levels: L, LE, S, and the more fuel-efficient LE Eco model.

All Corollas including the base L model feature standard air conditioning, LED low-beam headlights with LED daytime running lights, in-glass AM/FM antenna, color-keyed outside door handles and mirrors, a 60/40-split fold-down rear seat, and power locks, doors, and mirrors. The base model forgoes automatic climate control, cruise control, and keyless entry. It's basic enough to have a 1960s-style metal ignition key, which is charming in its own way.

But the old-school base audio head unit (knobs!) is not only delightfully simple—skipping the touchscreen, apps, and so forth—but has remarkably good sound, along with a display that can show even longer song titles. Hands-free calling, Bluetooth pairing, an auxiliary audio jack, and USB/iPod connectivity (with charging and full USB 2.0 compatibility) are also 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.

With the LE you add larger 16-inch steel wheels, as well as automatic climate control, power locks, keyless entry, variable intermittent wipers, and a backup camera system.

Options on all LE, S, and LE Eco Premium models include the so-called Driver Convenience Package, with a moonroof, Smart Key entry, Navigation, Entune Premium Audio, and the App Suite. And Toyota now offers infotainment systems that aren't just competitive, but among the better features in this class of affordable car. That's based on their interfaces, ease of use, connectivity, and sound quality. Toyota's latest Entune system, featuring navigation and apps in some models, lift the automaker's inexpensive car cabins out of the dark ages. And they're widely available across the lineup.

The Corolla S and LE Eco trims are the two specialty models in 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, and a Multi-Information Display in the middle of the gauge cluster. Corolla S models with the CVT also get paddle shifters behind the leather-trimmed steering wheel, and a separate Sport drive mode that firms up the steering and quickens throttle response.

Finally, Toyota has added a Corolla Special Edition, based on the sporty Corolla S with CVT, that bundles gloss-black 17-inch alloy wheels, a black interior with red contrast stitching and red dash and door accents, keyless ignition, special floor mats and badges, and a choice of three colors used only on this model. The only options are the power moonroof and the Entune Premium Audio system with navigation and the app suite.

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8

2016 Toyota Corolla

Fuel Economy

The 2016 Toyota Corolla has proved surprisingly fuel-efficient in real-world use—despite its lack of a hybrid option.

The 2016 Toyota Corolla delivers decent fuel economy ratings and seems to live up to them in real-world use, though there's no hybrid option. That technology is reserved to the Prius family, which now offers three different small and medium body styles. Or if you want a more fuel-efficient conventional sedan, you need to move one segment up to the Toyota Camry Hybrid.

Of the Corolla range, the LE Eco model is the one for the most mileage-conscious buyers. It adds an Eco Drive Mode button that alters shift points, throttle response, and accessory operation. The base Toyota Corolla LE Eco is rated at 30 mpg city, 42 highway, 35 combined.

But don’t load up your LE Eco with options: The Plus or Premium packages upgrade to 16-inch alloy wheels (rather than the 15-inch steel wheels), cutting the 42-mpg highway rating down to 40 mpg—for a lower combined rating of 34 mpg.

Otherwise, the non-Eco Corolla models are all rated between 27/36/31 mpg and 29/37/32 mpg, depending on configuration.

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October 4, 2017
For 2016 Toyota Corolla

The Corolla is a great car

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The 2016 Toyota Corolla is a great car. First, it has a nice interior, with comfortable seats and a good stereo. Second, it has good acceleration and excellent fuel economy. It's a great economy car and has... + More »
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March 27, 2017
For 2016 Toyota Corolla

Great car but voice recognition is not up to par.

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Great car but the voice recognition for my cell phone integration is not very reliable for dialing calls. Many times it takes two or three attempts before the call goes through.
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May 22, 2016
2016 Toyota Corolla 4-Door Sedan CVT S Plus (Natl)

sharp looks but lacks power

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just purchased a 2016 corolla S plus and traded in a kia forte ex 2.0. the Toyota is better on gas but really lacks in engine performance. exterior looks great interior lacks modern fetchers that come standard... + More »
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October 28, 2015
For 2016 Toyota Corolla

Performs Better than expected.

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Picked up my 2nd corolla ever...my first one being my 1993 Corolla DX 5 speed manual right after college. The 2016 LE version looks very sporty and has very good get up and go. I've always loved toyotas for... + More »
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Features 9
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