Americans love winners, and Toyota Corolla is undeniably one of these, having been the world’s most popular compact for a very long time. Starting out in 1966 as a go-kart-sized compact, 47 years later, it is starting into its 11th generation following the first redesign since 2008. Toyota Corolla has evolved into a highly practical small sedan adequate for starter families.
The 2014 Toyota Corolla continues this line’s inch-by-inch growth streak, fulfilling every carmaker’s fond dream of being longer, lower, and wider. Compared to the previous model, the 2014 Corolla is 2.6 inches longer, with a noticeably increased wheelbase of 3.9 inches. It is almost half an inch wider and 0.4-inch lower.
This 11th-generation Toyota Corolla definitely looks new. The 2014 Corolla is more stylish than last year’s model, and more attractive.
Inside are practical improvements in interior space and comfort. Rear-seat legroom has been increased by five inches over last year’s model and the back seats are exemplary, making the Corolla a comfortable sedan for four adults. The front seats are excellent, comfortable and supportive. The instruments are first rate, though we were put off by the massive black dash. There’s more trunk space than before.
There are also useful improvements in over-the-road handling and stability.
Despite carrying over unchanged (with one new and interesting exception) the same line of 1.8-liter inline-4 engines as used in the 2013 models, the 2014 Corolla line achieves an incremental improvement, albeit small, in EPA fuel mileage figures across its entire line. Also, the Corolla LE Eco model, with its new Valvematic system, achieves an EPA-certified 42-mpg Highway rating, highest among gas-powered compacts using an automatic transmission.
But every improvement, large or small, is crucial to maintaining a lead position in the red-hot compact-car marketplace. With intense competition coming from Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Subaru, and the new compacts from Detroit, Toyota will rely heavily on its longstanding reputation for building compact cars that are affordable, of good quality, and above all, extremely reliable. Since its introduction, Toyota has sold 40 million Corollas worldwide, with sales showing no signs of slowing. The mother company has rarely shown any sign of being flashy or trendy, choosing instead the road of reliability and dependability. The 11th-generation Corolla faithfully follows that formula, providing few surprises, and just as surely, exceedingly few annoyances, an important consideration in an affordable commuter and errand runner.
The increased overall length of the 2014 Corolla allows a considerable increase in cabin space and a genuinely impressive increase in rear seat legroom. The rear seat hip point is moved rearward a full three inches, producing up to 5.1-inches more rear legroom. As never before, the rear of the Corolla is a fully accommodating adult seating space.
Increased overall vehicle length has also allowed an improved driving position, with the steering column angle reduced from 24 degrees to 22 degrees. Front seat adjustment range has also increased by over half an inch. Small as these changes sound, in the tight confines of a compact car, every increase in useable occupant space is hard-won.
The first impression climbing into the new Corolla’s driver’s seat is disconcerting, however. The materials and switchgear are of high quality, with nice soft-touch controls and coverings applied throughout. But the front seat feels oddly crowded and claustrophobic, as if you need to move your seat further back, except your seat is already back as far as it should properly be.
The problem is the great, black rectangular mass of the dashboard itself. It is a jutting, heavy-looking form that seems to take far more cabin space than it should, and its straight lines and hard angles have none of the fluidity and grace that enriches the rest of the new Corolla. To be frank, it is old-fashioned and out of harmony. And the shiny piano-black center-stack trim that Toyota is very proud of, while it is indeed elegant, only contributes to the dashboard’s massive feel.
The big black dash is unfortunate because the gauges and instruments are first-rate, fully legible, and well placed to be read in dark or direct sun. Two instrument layouts are provided. Corolla L and Corolla LE use a three-gauge layout that includes the speedometer, tachometer, and tertiary instruments. Corolla S, intended to be sportier for more enthusiastic younger buyers, features a more traditional sports-car arrangement, with two main instruments, the speedometer and tachometer, dominating the display, and all other information given minor attention.
One of the Corolla’s strongest suits is its seats. The front seats are absolutely superb, with firm, well-fitted side bolsters and proper lumbar support. These seats would be perfectly at home in a high-quality sports car. Even the rear seating is exemplary. Given its size, the Corolla makes no pretence of intending to seat three; instead, it provides two stationary, excellently formed bucket rear seats that will give steerage class the kind of comfort and support it deserves. Well done.
The new Corolla’s rear seat also provides slightly more shoulder room, to go with its generously increased legroom. The available fabric and Softex upgrade upholstery are attractive, and the mixed-media combination of Sport seats in the Corolla S is particularly good looking.
Toyota’s latest Entune connectivity suite adds to the standard AM/FM/CD system with MP3, AUX, and USB 2.0 ports, phone book access, advanced voice recognition and Bluetooth wireless technology. The Premium system adds a touchscreen display with three-way screen-split, navigation, and customizable multiple app functions. The screens are swipe-able, for easy selection of your most-used apps. And if you have to take an incoming call while listening to something you like on the radio, the system automatically records the last 20 minutes of all broadcasting. Very nice, provided you believe that talking on the phone, hands-free or not, is a safe practice while driving.
Automatic climate control is as expected. Excellent. The rearview camera had very useful tracking guides. Cruise control is the standard Toyota system and excellent.
Thanks to Corolla’s greater length, trunk space has grown to 13 cubic feet, and the 60/40 split rear seats invite stowing skis and other long cargo.
The new 2014 Corolla exceeded our expectations. It delivers a dramatically improved driving experience over the previous model. Normally, the drivetrain would be the primary factor in defining a new Corolla’s driving character, but since, with the exception of the new 140-hp LE Eco Valvematic engine, the 2014 engines are carry-over from 2013, that is not possible. The continuing 1.8-liter 132-hp inline four-cylinder used in all other Corollas is an efficient, smooth, tough engine that will provide adequate performance for many years. It’s nicely balanced, but at open throttle, its loud moan of ambition doesn’t quite match its performance. It’s not bad; it’s just compact-car average.
Decidedly on the positive side, though, this Corolla package is hardy and completely at ease cruising at 80 mph, the predominant Interstate speed where we tested it. It’s a full-service contemporary commuter, as its multitudes of buyers demand. And its improved EPA fuel ratings for 2014 are similarly satisfactory. Corolla LE Eco’s EPA rating of 42 mpg Highway is tops among gas-powered compacts with an automatic transmission, but every one of the other models has improved its mileage over 2013.
According to Toyota, the 2014 Corolla’s ride and handling benefited from advanced chassis tuning in Europe. It shows. Though the Corolla produced a fair amount of tire noise on coarse surfaces, the ride was particularly smooth and well controlled. Shock damping was firm but without the least hint of harshness. Cornering, the chassis’s roll control, too, was excellent, minimizing sudden movements that could be a distraction to the driver. Its tracking and general stability were superb as well.
The new Corolla has electric power steering, which would normally signal an automatic opportunity for road-testers to start complaining. Not at all. The Corolla’s steering was sensitive, with good feel and responsiveness. Its steering effort was correctly firm, and its feedback had an active on-center presence, directly engaging the driver’s attention through its live-wire immediacy.
The Corolla brakes, too, despite being drums at the rear, were adequately powerful and easily modulated. Though the car showed a very pronounced degree of dive under heavy braking, typical for economy cars, its stopping was straight, short and true.
Ride and handling exceeded our expectations, an area in which this Corolla excelled. Clearly, this is no sports sedan, yet its engaging nature and alive, athletic driving feel approached the standards we associate with much pricier European small sedans.
For 2014, the 11th generation Corolla has grown incrementally larger and more inviting, adding new levels of comfort and practicality. And with dramatic improvements in ride and handling, it has stepped well away from bare-minimum transportation. While maintaining an attractive price point, its quality, efficiency and reliability will continue to position it as one of the world’s most popular compact cars for years to come.
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