2014 Toyota Corolla: Something Old, Something New

Strong points
  • Frugal on fuel
  • New CVT and 6-speed manual transmissions
  • Spacious interior
  • Affordable
  • More stylish than before
Weak points
  • Lack of advanced safety features
  • Not engaging to drive
  • Still conservative in appearance
  • Four-speed automatic inexplicably lingers on
Full report

To state that the Toyota Corolla is the most important model in the Japanese brand’s stable would not be an overstatement: Toyota sells more Corollas than anything else in North America, and always has.  It’s somewhat puzzling, then, why we had to wait so long for an update, as last year’s long-in-the-tooth version of the sedan saw itself routinely victimized by much more modern compacts such as the Mazda Mazda3, the Ford Focus, and even the hard-luck Honda Civic.  Yes, the Corolla was still selling in droves, but one can only coast so long on reputation before consumer goodwill turns to apathy.

The 2014 Toyota Corolla corrects the small sedan’s inertia by way of a smart new platform that makes up for so many of the sins associated with the outgoing edition.  Fundamentally still the same basic transportation that it has always been, the revised Corolla transcends its predecessor in terms of comfort, ride quality, and – yes – style. Overall, however, it’s still floating mid-pack in a sea of competitors that have spent the last decade piling on improvement after improvement in a valiant attempt to eclipse the Toyota’s sales figures.

Bigger and Better

Although Toyota has resisted the temptation to significantly inflate the Corolla’s proportions, the 2014 model is just a bit larger in every meaningful dimension, especially length.  This translates two ways: passengers inside the vehicle will notice more spacious accommodations front and rear, with close to 10 cm of extra leg room to be found out back, while those approaching the car for the first time will note that its sleeker, yet still conservative styling fits better on the bulked-up platform.  The Corolla might lack the drama of the Furia concept that heralded its arrival one year ago, but that’s just fine with Toyota’s loyal flock of repeat customers.

Step Into My Parlour

The call-out sheet of meaningful updates continues inside the passenger compartment, with the roomier environs complemented by a pleasingly laid-out cockpit and a higher standard of materials than was available in 2013.  The Corolla S that I drove for a week was positioned at the top of the sedan’s trim ladder, and while I enjoyed features such as the simple Entune touchscreen interface, the small driver information screen mounted into the dash, and the ‘piano black’ trim found throughout the interior, I couldn’t help but notice that Toyota was still a step or two behind Ford and Hyundai in terms of building warm, high-end cabins for small cars.  Even the seats in my tester were ‘premium vinyl’ instead of leather, which isn’t an option for the Corolla.  All told, a pleasant place to spend some time, but behind the curve when it comes to milking extra dollars from luxury-seeking shoppers.

A Most Agreeable Encounter

Where the 2014 Toyota Corolla surprised me the most was out on the road.  The S edition’s six-speed manual transmission was a revelation (the Corolla can also be ordered with an ancient four-speed automatic as well as a far superior continuously-variable automatic), providing excellent control over the powerband of the sedan’s carry-over 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine.  Far from the drudge of misery and soullessness that past Corollas had bludgeoned me into accepting as my fate, commuting in the 2014 model was – dare I say it – enjoyable.  Not in the ‘smiling through the corners’ sense of the term, but rather ‘I can actually feel the road through the steering wheel and the suspension system.’

Chassis tuning on the ‘sportier’ Corolla S was still soft to the point where Montreal’s horrific road conditions were downgraded to a mere nuisance, and in any case, the 132 horsepower and 128 lb-ft produced by the competent four-banger under the hood weren’t up to the task of upsetting the sedan’s modest balance.  Getting from A to B with the least amount of fuss is hard-coded into the Corolla’s DNA, and while it might shine brighter in that area than ever before, it certainly doesn’t reach above or beyond its genetic programming.

In Tough Company

Here’s the gist: the 2014 Toyota Corolla is a perfectly acceptable compact car, one that’s affordable, inexpensive to operate, and which has historically posted strong reliability and re-sale value for owners.  While it’s a step up from the previous generation of the Corolla, it’s in a sense a lateral move, rather than an evolutionary one for the model.

Yes, the 2014 Corolla is more comfortable to drive and offers better passenger room, and sure, there are a greater host of modern conveniences on tap, but it’s nowhere near the design equal of boundary-pushers like the previously-mentioned Focus, the Elantra, or even the relatively recent Chevrolet Cruze.  Each of these vehicles have made serious plays to elevate the ownership experience in the small car segment, leaving Toyota to mark time with a good Corolla that falls short of being great in any particular category.  One thing is certain: no one who really wants a Corolla, and who buys one, will be disappointed.

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