The 2014 Toyota Corolla has been designed to please expectant customers, answer the critics and maintain the marque's stranglehold on the compact sedan market. After an extensive test drive, I can say that Toyota has met those goals with room to spare.
Thanks to a longer body (99 mm or nearly 4.0 - inches) expectant customers will be very pleased with the enlarged cabin and additional trunk space, plus the crisper handling, eye-catching style and improved fuel economy.
Critics of Toyota's 'the car as an appliance' philosophy will have to admit that this car has personality and performance unlike any previous Corolla, while everyone can be assured that Toyota's core qualities of durability and reliability are still strongly in evidence.
We should note that the Corolla, launched as a sub-compact back in 1966, was an immediate success, becoming the world's best-selling car in 1974, outstripping the Ford Model T (approx. 15 million) and the VW Beetle (21.5 million).
Last July it passed the 40 million milestone and continues to dominate compact sedan sales in more than 154 countries.
The added length has allowed the design team to give the Corolla a much more stylish, coupelike profile. The shallow honeycomb grille is flanked by up market automatic LED headlight clusters that flow into the front fenders. The black, oversize lower air dam juts out aggressively giving the Corolla a decidedly macho look. Bold cut-outs in the lower fenders house the projector style fog lamps. Distinctive, 17-inch black/alloy, 14-spoke wheels (Upgrade Package) filled the wheel wells of our tester, declaring its sporty character.
For 2014, this eleventh generation Corolla comes in CE, LE, S and LE ECO models with an interesting choice of engines and drivetrains. The base engine (CE, LE and S) is the 132 horsepower, 1.8-litre, DOHC 4-cylinder with Dual VVT-i (Dual Variable Valve Timing w/intelligence).
The LE ECO model comes with a variation of this engine featuring Valvematic Technology that delivers 140 horsepower and the best fuel economy (6.5 and 4.6 L/100km or 43/61 MPG, city/highway).
Transmission choices include a four-speed automatic (CE option), a six-speed manual (CE and S), an electronic CVT continuously variable transmission (LE and LE ECO) or optional CVT-i S (CVT with intelligent shift sequential multi-mode shifter with paddle shifters and a sport mode).
This is Toyota's first pulleystyle CVT in North America and so the engineering boffins wanted to ensure it had the feel and performance of a regular automatic.
They have maximized the fuel saving inherent in the design while enhancing the 'direct feel' of gearshift to accelerator pedal inputs.
The transmission has six 'programmed gears' controlled by steering wheel paddles that provide prompt shifts similar to a conventional automatic with manual mode.
In Sport Mode, shifts are made at higher rpm to provide snappier acceleration off the line.
Our tester was the S model with the optional CVT-i S, finished in classic silver metallic with black cloth interior.
The cabin has also been thoughtfully redesigned. The heated front bucket seats feature whiplash injury lessening design and provide increased thigh and torso bolsters for greater comfort.
Six-way manual adjustments include height levers for both driver and passenger while the tilt/telescoping, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, allows the driver to tailor a perfect driving position.
The 60/40-split rear seat offers much more legroom than the previous model and when folded flat, adds to the already generous 369 litres of trunk space.
Since the Corolla is built in the same Cambridge Ontario Plant as the Lexus RX 350, it's not surprising that some of that Lexus "Pursuit of Perfection" has rubbed off on the Corolla. The cabin has a luxury look and feel you don't expect to find in this price range.
Acceleration is brisk but you're not going to leave any rubber on the road. The electric, variable power-assisted steering is light and responsive while the conventional suspension of MacPherson struts and stabilizer bar up front and torsion beam at the rear maintain a firm grip on the road and keep the Corolla reasonably flat in the corners.
You can let the automatic CVT do all the work or have fun selecting your own gears via the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. I found that the paddle shifters were most effective in city driving when you want to keep the power band close to the available 128 lb-ft of torque. They also come into play when you want to 'hold' a lower gear on long hill climbs or descents, like the Malahat.
Power-assisted disc brakes with ABS, electronic brake force distribution, brake assist and smart stop technology are part of Toyota's Star Safety System, available on all models.
Other dynamic assists include vehicle stability control and traction control that help maintain directional control on loose surfaces.
A 6.1-inch touch panel display in the centre stack is the hub for Corolla's display audio system featuring AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA and Bluetooth, voice-activated hands-free capability.
There's also a USB audio input and auxiliary jack. The screen also serves as your rear back-up camera display.
The fully equipped S model comes with full instrumentation including multi information display; remote entry and push button stop/start; automatic headlamps; power door locks and windows with driver side auto up/down; heated, foldable, power outside mirrors; high solar energy absorbing window glass and fog lamps.
The S Upgrade Package added 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels with wheel locks, power moon roof and solid rear disc brakes.
A total of eight airbags include dual-stage front and front side seat airbags, side curtain airbags plus a seat cushion airbag for the front passenger and a knee bolster for the driver.
Child seat anchors points are also standard.
"With more Corolla's being sold worldwide than any other vehicle, there has never been a question of its reliability and durability," says Reid Hugh of Nanaimo Toyota.
"With the introduction of the all new 2014 model, Toyota has stepped up its game by combining versatility with an aggressive new look."
Alan McPhee is a Canadian automotive journalist and is former editor of Carguide Magazine. His articles appear each week in this space.
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