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Thursday
Oct172013

First Drive: 2014 Toyota Corolla

With the 2014 Corolla, Toyota brings to market a completely updated version of its bread and butter car.  Besides the Camry, the Corolla is the highest selling vehicle in the Toyota lineup with approximately 300,000 units sold per year.  Since entering the market in 1968, Toyota has sold 10 million Corolla's worldwide. Meanwhile, Corolla is responsible for 38% of the company's overall U.S. sales.

The appeal of the Corolla crosses demographic lines. While its modest price makes it a desirable buy among younger shoppers, the Corolla's inherent value has made the car a favorite among older buyers, as well as Hispanic and African American buyers, who have made the Corolla the #1 vehicle sold to both communities. 

With the 2014 model, Toyota has done a 180 with the Corolla, turning the car into a purchase made out of passion and not just necessity.  This starts with an exterior design that is more dramatic than the 2013 model. It certainly makes a statement, as the Corolla will no longer blend in to the background of mall parking lots. Different trim lines are accompanied by different appearance packages.  The S model has a unique shape to the grill, grill inserts and fog lamps.  The LE Eco model offers a rear spoiler, low rolling resistance tires, and a smoothed out under tray to lessen aerodynamic drag.  LED headlights are standard across all models - a first for the compact segment.

The S model, with it's blacked-out trim and grill, makes for a very striking vehicle, particularly in silver or blue.  Other trim lines are more conservative in their style, but still maintain a handsome look.

The wheelbase of the 2014 Corolla has been stretched 3.9 inches, which leads to an additional 5 inches of rear legroom, giving the 2014 Corolla more legroom than some midsize sedans.  This added space means two adults will be able to fit very comfortably in the back, with enough headroom for a 6-foot tall person.

The dash area is all-new as well, with a horizontal design and a significant upgrade in materials.  While hard plastics are used throughout  most of the cabin, each piece has a solid look and feel to it.  The steering wheel has a nice thick design that's very comfortable to grip, meanwhile S models come with a leather-wrapped wheel that gives a more premium feel compared to the standard steering wheel.

Seat materials are also well done. The standard cloth seats offer a nice thickness that leads one to believe the material will stand up to the test of time.  Higher-end models use Toyota's Tex Leather that also has a solid look and feel to it.

Bluetooth is standard on all models, as well as eight airbags, power windows, and the aforementioned first-in-class LED headlights.  LE trimmed Corolla's add Entune audio with a 6.1-inch touchscreen, as well as a backup camera with dynamic glide slope guidance.  For 2014 Entune has been upgraded with a simpler user interface, an improved voice recognition system, and additional apps. Unlike in previous years, Entune is now a subscription-free service, allowing all 2014 Corolla owners to enjoy the service.

There are three transmissions available on the 2014 Corolla.  Base L model's come with a standard six-speed manual transmission or optional four-speed automatic transmission.  LE and LE Eco models come only with a CVT that is available on the sportier S model with integrated paddle shifters. A six-speed manual is standard fare on Corolla S models.

The CVT transmission is a Toyota designed and built unit that is programed to simulate a seven-speed gearbox.  Most of the "shifting" is felt only under heavy throttle settings, otherwise the transmission provides the seamless drive and feel associated with CVTs.

From behind the wheel, the Corolla offers a rather firm but very comfortable ride that soaks up bumps and potholes well at normal city speeds.  As you approach highway speeds, the suspension transmits more road imperfections into the cabin. It's not jarring, but it is noticeable.  

One item that drivers will immediately take note of is that the Corolla gives you the feeling of going much slower than the speed you are actually traveling at.  Going 70 mph, gives you have the perception that you are actually going 50-55 mph.  This speaks to the quality of the Corolla's chassis and sound deadening materials.  

This also translates to the feeling of acceleration in the 2014 Corolla. Between the quiet cabin and the dynamics of the CVT, the perception is that the Corolla is accelerating rather slow; however while not quick, Corolla's available power is more than adequate for all driving situations.

The LE Eco is unique over other Corolla models in that it employs Toyota's Valvetronic system.  While the standard VVT system adjust the opening and closing of the valves for maximum efficiency, Valvetronic goes one step further in adjusting valve lift and allows Toyota to maximize the engine's efficiency. The net result is a Corolla with 8 extra horsepower and an EPA-rated 42 mpg on the highway.

The 2014 Corolla will come with two additional airbags over the outgoing model, raising the number to eight.  Toyota has also increased side impact resistance by incorporating a new support beam for additional safety protection.

Available in four trim levels, the 2014 Corolla L has a base price of $16,800, while the LE stickers at $18,300, the LE Eco at $18,700, and the S at $19,000.  Option packages have been simplified into two categories: Plus and Premium. Toyota made the decision to simplify the Corolla's option packages from customer feedback and observed buying dynamics.

Toyota knows its customers very well, and the latest Corolla will appeal strongly to them.  The core essentials that have made the Corolla so popular are still the cornerstones of the 2014 model; however the car's dramatic new styling and modern interior that challenges that of the Sentra, Civic, and Forte, give the car a newfound glory.  The Corolla continues to fall short of being an all-out "driver's car" but it is a very competent compact car. With the Corolla entering dealership lots, Toyota's challenge is to see if the 2014 model can increase the car's customer base, as Toyota wants to increase Corolla sales by 10%.

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