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The 2014 Toyota Corolla is finally here, and from the looks of things, it may be cool to start liking Corollas again.
Here’s the thing. If you drive a current-generation Toyota Corolla, you own the worst car in the compact cheap-car class, despite its stellar sales numbers. The current-generation Toyota Corolla has been on sale since 2008, and that 2008 model was little more than a refreshed version of what first went on sale in 2002. That’s 11 years ago, and as Toyota sat back and let the Corolla’s reputation for reliability do the work–rather than actually engineering a superior vehicle–far better competition supplanted it as the class leader. Yet, the Corolla stubbornly maintained sales dominance, although even that is starting to slip as the Corolla’s longtime rival, the Honda Civic, is now sitting in the number one sales spot.
So after more than a decade without any major revelations in technology, what has Toyota done? Perhaps gone over the top. The 2014 Toyota Corolla is 3.9 inches longer, most of which is between the wheels, has an all-new transmission design, has styling evocative of the acclaimed Toyota Corolla Furia that debuted at this year’s Detroit Auto Show, and will come with standard LED headlights at a time when BMW is charging nearly $2,000 for the same technology in its most upscale products, and Nissan is removing them as standard equipment in its Leaf electric car.
Toyota sold nearly 300,000 Corollas in the U.S. last year despite its age and simplicity. Now, it’s bringing its A-game. Let’s see how.
Nearly everything is new. Starting with the nose, Toyota wanted to give the 2014 Corolla a sportier look with slim headlights. To do that, it had to use LED beams, cutting down on the size of the headlight housing, and allowing the use of plastic instead of glass because of the LED’s cool operating temperature. The result is a lighter front end. The 2014 Toyota Corolla has also lost 0.4 inch of height, contributing to this longer, lower, and more compact look.
Compared to the milquetoast styling of the outgoing sedan, the 2014 Toyota Corolla looks sporty and modern, strongly evocative of the Corolla Furia concept. Like the current model, it will come in L, LE, and S equipment levels. The car will also come in LE Eco, a new edition that has a more efficient and subsequently more powerful version of Toyota’s basically carryover 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine.
Where most of the changes have come are in the interior, which no longer looks like glued-together, spray-painted water jugs. On the contrary, with a wide layout and color-coordinated blue, gray, or amber strips contrasting with the faux aluminum and piano black, the 2014 Toyota Corolla has an upscale look similar to those of the new RAV4 and Avalon.
In back, the rear hip point has been moved back 2.95 inches, and further room has been added by way of some of the front seatback being scalloped out for rear passengers’ knees. The exhaust has been rerouted to provided a nearly flat floor, and Toyota says that denser urethane pads in the seats provide more support and comfort. Additionally, Toyota has added more sound deadening in the front. And if all this weren’t enough, Toyota is throwing in a new black and white TFT screen in the gauge cluster in Corolla S models; some of the competition have color screens. Cloth, SofTex fake leather, and a combination of the two will be available for upholstery depending on whether you’re opting for L, LE, or S equipment levels. At the moment, real leather is no longer going to be on the options list. The aforementioned models will also have 15-, 16-, or 17-inch wheels available.
Engine and Drivetrain
The 2014 Toyota Corolla continues with its 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, which churns out 132 horsepower, about the same as last decade’s worth of Corollas. The big story with the 2014 Toyota Corolla’s drivetrain isn’t its engine, however. It’s what’s connected to the engine.
For starters, Corolla L models will kick off with a new six-speed manual transmission or the carryover four-speed automatic transmission. That base-model-with-a-four-speed is sure to be headed to a rental lot near you soon. The manual transmission is also available in the Corolla S, with “S” supposedly standing for “Sport.” Corolla LE Eco models will benefit from a slightly more-efficient engine that will dole out 140 horsepower. It’s expected to net upwards of 40 mpg on the highway, which is wholly reasonable considering that this car, at around 2,900 pounds, should undercut the 42-mpg Chevrolet Cruze Eco by at least 200 pounds. It, like every other version of the 2014 Toyota Corolla, will have a new low-friction continuously variable automatic transmission.
Because Toyota thinks Corolla customers will think a CVT is awkward–interesting considering that it’s the only transmission available in the Prius–it’s giving the new transmission seven simulated gear steps that will feel and sound more like a traditional automatic transmission. Is it really needed? Of course not. Will traditionally averse-to-change Corolla customers dig it? Yeah, probably.
This new Toyota Corolla will mark the 11th generation of the compact car to bear that name since 1968, pushing sales figures up around 30 million since then. Toyota slacked off with the previous-generation Corolla because it could. In 2008, Volkswagen’s cars were too expensive, Nissan’s too oddly styled, the Civic had become radical in style, the Chevy Cobalt still had what was among the worst interiors on the market, and Ford had just introduced a rehash of its first-generation Focus instead of giving the U.S. the globally competitive product it would later bestow upon us in late 2010.
Things have changed, and Toyota can no longer afford to be complacent, not with its second-best-selling model. The new car is thoroughly modern, with the exception of its base model’s four-speed automatic. It has the winning looks of the Furia concept mostly intact. It even has some trick technology brought down for mass consumption by way of its LED headlights.
This Corolla is no longer the epitome of boring, and the butt of all jokes. Of course, we haven’t driven it yet, and it may turn out that from behind the wheel it’s the same sensible transportation appliance it’s always been. But now at least it doesn’t look like it. It looks like a car that’s meant to show the world that Toyota still has a pulse, and, yes, it can make a stylish, practical, and efficient small car that can compete with the best on the market. We can’t wait to drive it closer to its fall 2013 on-sale date. The Honda Civic owns the sales crown for now, lots of other cars are vying for best-in-class, and still more are waiting in the wings, like the next-generation Mazda3. But for the first time in years, there’s a good chance the Toyota Corolla could be sitting on top again, not because of its laurels, but because it’s re-earned the right to. At first appearance, it has the makings for it.