Posted Sep 2nd 2013 12:00PM
There are cars that inspire pure and unadulterated feelings of excitement, terror or just plain old happiness at the mere thought of getting behind the wheel of one. You know, the kind of car that jumps to the top of your list when someone starts the never-ending-always-amusing game of 'what would you buy if you won the lottery'. Cars like anything-Callaway, the Ford GT40, the Ferrari 458, the Porsche GT3, the Audi R8, or on the more reality based daily driving front; the Subaru WRX, Scion FR-S or even a Volkswagen Golf GTD. The Toyota Corolla (minus the venerable AE86) has probably never been on that list.
The Toyota Corolla... "Mmmmm, so exciting!" said no auto enthusiast ever. Like any other household appliance, its usefulness, value and reliability cannot be disputed. Think of a microwave. It's in almost every household and is utilized on a daily basis with minimal fuss. Magic. You put whatever it is that you want to eat in a metal box, press a few buttons and before you know it, you can now open the magic box and eat your food. To most gear heads, the Corolla is the microwave of the auto world. You get in your 'appliance' and drive to your destination without having experienced any fuss or excitement at all. Unless you were in a 'champagne' coloured one... in that case, you're most likely wondering why you received several angry honks along the way and still have your right turn signal going long after you turned (you know who you are).
With that being said, please do not mistake humour for a thumbs down judgement on the past iterations of the Corolla. It has always been consistently one of the most reliable, efficient, cheap to run and effective modes of transportation available. With 80% of all Corolla's sold in Canada still on the road, no one in their right mind would ever claim that the Corolla is hasn't been worth every penny!
So as I arrived in Quebec city for the all new 2014 Corolla launch, I wasn't expecting anything other than the same utilitarian appliance car that we've all come to know and grudgingly admire, but left drinking Toyota's new 'Rolla Kool-Aid. Scroll on down to read all about it.
Related Gallery2014 Toyota Corolla S 6MT First Drive
Let's start with a short history lesson. The Corolla has been around for 47 years. It is in its 11th generation. We've had the Corolla in Canada since 1967 and it has been been a top 3 seller for Toyota since its Canadian introduction and has been their top seller for the past 18 of those years. 1.3 million Corollas in Canada have been sold to date and a staggering 25,704 were sold from January to July of this year alone. The numbers don't lie, the Corolla has always been a winner in Canada's hotly contested compact market. Its main competition like the Honda Civic, Mazda3, Hyundai Elantra and Kia Forte will be watching closely, make no mistake.
"They want the world to know that they have a possible game-changer
on their hands with new Corolla."
The Corolla has built its name on being known for its reliability, economy, resale value, utilitarian approach, safety and longevity. Basically all the things that make it a smart (if not the best) choice for car buyers seeking microwaves. You know, cars that just work. It doesn't elicit any sort of emotional response from any self-respecting auto enthusiast. The team at Toyota have been working at the getting the launch of the new car just perfect; they want the world to know that they have a possible game-changer on their hands with new Corolla. They've set out to combine all the reliability and economy of the Corolla and infuse it with new style, performance and comfort.
"All four models at all trim levels will come standard with LED headlights."
The new Corolla sits prettier, longer, wider and lower (if you say it fast enough, it reminds you of Daft Punk's harder, better, faster, stronger) than ever. Sitting 99 mm longer than the previous generation, wheelbase is up by 100 mm, it sits 16 mm wider and 10 mm lower to the ground.
Corolla will be 'rollin out in early September with 4 models. In Canada, we have the $15,995 CE (base), alongside the sportier Corolla S ($19,215), loaded LE ($19,500) and new LE Eco ($20,255) models. The popular and fully featured LE trim also adds a backup camera, cruise control, keyless entry, 6.1-inch touchscreen audio system and a brand-new continuously variable transmission replacing the archaic four-speed auto. The CE, LE, and S trims use a new version of the 1.8-litre engine that's tuned to produce 132 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 128 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm. There's even an Eco version of the LE trim that uses a different engine (also 1.8L) to provide fuel economy of up to 5.6L/100km (42 mpg) on the highway while also offering a bump of 8 hp to a tune of 140 hp at 6,100 rpm and 128 lb feet of torque at 4,400 rpm.
Meanwhile, the 2014 Toyota Corolla S, comes with a honeycomb grille, modified front fascia design, rear lip spoiler, leather-wrapped steering wheel, sport seats and more starting at $19,215. New Paddle shifters on the S model mated to the CVT provide seven "gears," and optional 17-inch wheels are available. Toyota will offer the Corolla S trim with a six-speed manual and Softex synthetic leather seats as an option too. All in, a fully loaded 2014 Corolla should come in around $25,000. Not bad, at all. All four models at each trim level will come standard with LED headlights (low beam and running light, high beam remains halogen), an industy first in the budget compact segment.
"The new S model is undeniably a considerable step forward in the styling department."
Our first tester was an S model equipped with the standard 6 speed manual transmission. The new S model is undeniably a considerable step forward in the styling department. Sitting on 17-inch alloys wrapped in P215/45R17 Firestones and its honeycomb grille, rocking new piano black accents on the front fascia (that steal a few cues from the Scion lineup) and sitting pretty with its rear lip spoiler - the new Corolla S certainly looks worthy of the "S" designation.
There's nothing terribly groundbreaking about what lies underneath all the new accoutrements of the new S. The Corolla maintains the simple and familiar MacPherson strut suspension in front and solid torsion-beam setup out back. Toyota says that the chassis has been tuned to provide a sportier feel. As I set out on a long drive through the streets of Quebec City and over the bridge into the countryside of Île d'Orléans; chockfull of a combination of rolling hills, sweepers, smooth roads and roads plagued with potholes and dips, I was ready to see if the car lived up to the hype.
As I popped open the driver's door to climb into what Toyota calls the "SofTex" faux-leather seats, I was immediately presented with a conundrum. As a gear head, I'm predisposed to yawn and enter auto-pilot mode when stepping into Corollas but found my interest piqued upon entry. Whether or not you realize it, cabin layouts and esthetics play a large role in how we feel about certain cars. If you're someone who regularly spends hours in your car at a time, it matters a lot. The new driver's cabin is a major improvement over the last generation. Fit and finish, as expected for Toyota, is top notch. Everything is laid out within easy reach of the driver and the "auto" headlight switch is a welcome addition. The 6.1 inch touch screen did not come with the optional Navi in my tester so I settled for having to choose between Bluetooth, USB, Radio, fuel mileage figures, or CD on my display.
"The new 6MT box is a welcome addition and the gear ratios are perfect for a mixture of city and highway driving."
Sitting at a meager 1,285 kilograms or 2,845 pounds, the 132 hp 1.8 litre lump didn't have too much mass to pull along. The throttle response was decent and as good as can be for a modern day budget fly-by-wire system. There's not much to say about the new motor in the S. It turns over on the first crank, it purrs and feels exactly as a 132 hp motor pulling a 1,285 kilo car should feel. Travelling at 80 km/h and downshifting into 3rd to pass a slow moving car provides ample thrust to get past the slow(er) vehicle without any due fuss. The new 6MT box is a welcome addition and the gear ratios are perfect for a mixture of city and highway driving. Shifts are crisp, smooth and not as clunky as previous iterations of the Corolla. One thing that Toyota has consistently gotten right, is their pedal placement. Whether it's in a Supra or a Corolla, heel n' toe is always a breeze in a Toyota and this new Corolla is no different.
Now onto driving impressions. The leather wrapped wheel feels great and provides a good cradle for your 9 and 3 (though, we doubt many buyers would ever think about that consciously) and felt solid in my hands. The electric steering rack on the hand doesn't exactly inspire that razor sharp go-kart feel that we all crave, but again, like all things Corolla, it does what it's supposed to and responds to your input the way it's supposed to, albeit, a little sluggishly. U-turn radius is tight enough to pull a U-ey on a two lane road.
"On pushing the Corolla past the threshold that 90 per cent of its buyers ever will;
I was left with a satisfied feeling."
Cabin noise levels on the highway were as expected. It wasn't exactly quiet but the 17's with their lower profile tires certainly made an audible hum in unison with the noticeable wind noise coming in at our blisteringly fast pace of 110 km/h. I hear people complain about this quite often when referring to all manner of cars but in reality, it all becomes a moot point once you turn the radio on. What matters to most is how manageable the noise and wind are when the windows are all cranked open while you're cruising to your favourite beat on that perfect summer day. I can happily report that with all windows down, I could comfortably carry on a conversation with my passenger without having to raise my voice (unlike the past two generations of Volkswagen Jettas). Well done, Toyota.
Toyota's credo for the new Corolla is "As you've never seen it before." Well, that certainly rings true. As mentioned earlier, the interior is a breath of fresh air and is a vast improvement over the previous generations. In the S, LE and LE Eco models, the gauge cluster looks modern and provides all the information that you would need, including a mileage display in between the tach and analogue speedometer. Now, let's see if it handles the twisties like the older gens. The traditional suspension absorbs bumps well at moderate speeds. It doesn't feel clunky nor does it feel like anything special. Entering a smoothly paved right-hand sweeper in a posted 80 km/h zone at 90 km/h, the steering wheel provided ample feedback on corner entry. Mid-corner was much the same; nothing to write home about. It works, it feels decent. Over bumpier roads, it was a little different. The rear torsion beam setup translated into slight hopping at speed over cracked and dipped pavement. Nothing unexpected or alarming but it's still there.
For you potential gear head buyers who are thinking about purchasing one as a second car or for someone else in your household that needs a new appliance but want to know how it handles when you push it - the new Corolla provides noticeably more excitement in its handling dynamics at speed. It's fairly neutral and the 17's provide enough grip up until a certain point. On pushing the Corolla past the threshold that 90 per cent of its buyers ever will; I was left with a satisfied feeling. Note that I use the word satisfied. It's true. I wasn't blown away, nor was I disappointed; the Corolla performs in a satisfactory manner at speed. It's a noticeable improvement. Understeer is easily corrected with a quick lift and mash motion.
Bear in mind that my tester was an S model with the 6MT. Stay tuned for our review on the LE Eco flagship model with the CVT transmission that boasts some pretty innovative new tech. Toyota's mission for combining the Corolla's utilitarian, rational, economic "logical" character with a fresh infusion of "emotion" is a success in the overall scheme of things. While it's no fire-breathing Subaru WRX STi capable of hauling 5 passengers and camping gear while entered in the local amateur rally; it was never meant to be.
"Combining the Corolla's utilitarian, rational, economic "logical" character with a fresh infusion of "emotion" is a success in the overall scheme of things."
What it is, is a refreshing economical car with some nice styling touches that are much more pleasing to the eye than previous gens, a nice interior (that comes in 7 different colour flavours, by the way), a trunk that could fit enough for a pretty epic road trip or University back-to-school trip and a car that you know will last you decades if you treat it right. This is the Corolla that may be a great start to have the rest of you drinking the new 'Rolla Kool-Aid.