First Drive: 2014 Toyota Corolla Mark XI

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Without saying it explicitly, Toyota readily admits that its last generation Corolla was Beige. It lacked excitement. With more competitors in the compact sedan segment (both in quantity and quality), did Toyota succeed in making a more fun car this time around? But perhaps the more important question for Toyota might be– Does the Corolla even need to be a more fun car in order for it to be a commercial success?

Redusernab had the opportunity to drive a pre-production model last week. Make the jump to see our impressions. 

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Exterior:

This is my favorite aspect of the new Corolla. It’s a marked improvement over the last iteration, which looked like it had appendages stuck on, a la Mr. Potato Head. The new look is smoother, simpler, and modern looking. It may not necessarily turn heads, but the little Toyota is finally falling in line with its competitors.

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Interior: 

Even in a model with an all-black interior, the new Corolla did not feel claustrophobic. The thick C-pillars prevent me from describing the interior as greenhouse-like, but visibility is not an issue. Visually and tactilely, the interior bits seem aspirational. But ultimately, it is still just an economy car.

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Seats: 

Apparently, the typical American car shopper cares more about seats than any other feature. The new Corolla’s front seats offer a surprising amount of comfort and support, and even excels in bolstering the oft-neglected thoracic region. But after a day of driving a gaggle of Corollas, my lower back started to get a wee bit sore.

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In a nod to the ever-expanding Chinese market, which loves rear legroom (think Audi A4L), the Corolla’s wheelbase has been stretched 3.9 inches. The increase in rear legroom vis-a-vis the prior model is substantial. In the photo below, the front passenger seat was set for a six-foot three-incher. I’m 6 feet tall and, as you can see, my knees still had adequate room.

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Engine: 

Two 1.8-liter four-cylinder engines are available, and this is where it gets both interesting and not-s0 interesting. The first unit is a carryover, which is good for 132 horsepower and returns mixed-driving fuel economy figures in the low 30s. I am left to wonder Toyota’s motive for keeping the old mill. Was it the budget? Lack of factory capacity? Apathy? Whatever the reason, it is disappointing.

The other engine, with Valvematic (variable valve timing) technology, adds eight horses and improves fuel economy. Mileage in mixed driving goes up to the mid-30s. In highway driving, an LE Eco with 15 inch wheels, low resistance tires, and improved underbody aero can obtain 42 mpg. This isn’t exactly cutting edge rocket science. Valvematic may be new to the U.S.-market Corolla, but it has been available in Toyota vehicles abroad for several years already.

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Transmission:

Three varieties are available– a continuously variable transmission (“CVT”), a six-speed manual, and an antediluvian four-speed auto. Truth be told, I prefer the four-speed auto. It is solid and predictable. In an attempt to make the CVT feel like a non-CVT, seven artificial shift-points were programmed in. They felt…artificial. With the 11th-generation Corolla retailing at essentially the same price point as the outgoing model, cheaper components, such as CVTs, were inevitable.

As a traditionalist, I feel that the the Sport mode button, paddle shifters, etc. that Toyota is cramming into its new car are a bit much for a compact economy sedan. But with every other manufacturer accessorizing their cars with these gizmos, Toyota had no choice but to offer them. 

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Thoughts: 

First, I am disappointed that the very good looking hatchback, which is available abroad, is not for sale here in the States. Smaller cars, and especially hatchbacks, are popular again and I think Toyota is missing out on many potential sales.

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Has Toyota created a more fun and exhilarating ride? No. The exterior is definitely easier on the eye, and the interior has been bedazzled. But in terms of driving experience, it’s the status quo, at best. In fact, with the gimmicky CVT, it might have even regressed. The engines are essentially the same old news, unless you get your jollies claiming you own a car that gets 42 mpg. Coupled with mediocre brakes and a too-vague gas pedal, there is no soul-stirring happening.

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But ultimately, it’s a reliable economy car. It will be purchased as a commuter car or as a first car for the kid who is off to college. Most, if not all, prospective Corolla buyers just want reliability and strong resale value. Toyota has certainly succeeded in designing and building a solid economy car. The new skin and Entune infotainment system may just be “fun” enough to keep the masses coming to the showroom floor. If you want a fun-to-drive Toyota, buy a Scion FR-S instead.

Trim Cheat-sheet:

  • L is the base model (starts at $16,800),
  • LE is the upscale model ($18,300),
  • LE Eco is for the greens ($18,700), and
  • S ($19,000) is the sporty model.

Cheers:

  • Contemporary and clean styling,
  • more rear legroom.

Jeers:

  • Unnecessarily complicated CVT,
  • vague gas pedal,
  • still Beige.

Verdict: 

It’s a Corolla, for better or for worse, in all its glory.

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Images Copyright 2013 Redusernab/Jim Yu

[Disclosure: For this review, Toyota flew me to San Diego, put me up in a nice hotel, and fed me well. ]

By |2013-08-28T10:30:52+00:00August 28th, 2013|Featured, Reviews, Toyota Reviews|102 Comments

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