Jim Powell, Tue, 18 Mar 2014 08:50:55 PDT
Toyota has finally decided to go their own way when it comes to design, function, and individual flare for their best-selling Corolla sedan. No longer is the Corolla just a miniature Camry or Honda Civic alternative. No longer is the Corolla just a basic Toyota. The 2014 Corolla ECO I spent 450 miles in felt like a whole new direction for the world's largest automobile manufacturer- and a preview of more interesting cars to come.
Don't get me wrong, Toyota has not forgotten their main objective with the all-new Corolla sedan. It still is a compact car that commutes with improved EPA mileage numbers. Our 2014 Corolla LE ECO model was rated at 30/40/34 mpg in city/highway/combined driving. The Corolla LE ECO model with a six-speed manual transmission gets 30/42/35 mpg which is surprising since most CVT transmissions are more efficient than stick and clutch transmissions these days. However, the real variable in fuel mileage is always the driver. Real world driving in Southern California for a week in our LE ECO, I achieved a hybrid or diesel-like 35.3 mpg overall.
The 2014 Corolla L, LE, LE ECO, and S model levels use a 1.8-liter, all-aluminum four-cylinder engine. The base 1.8-liter unit with VVT-i is available on the L, LE, and S grades and is rated at 132 horsepower. The Corolla's new LE ECO trim level is equipped with a 1.8-liter engine with Toyota's Valvematic system. This valve train technology uses continuously variable valve timing (lift and phasing) to adjust the intake side valve clearances depending on the driver's right foot. This does not adjust exhaust valves. Toyota claims a five-percent improvement in fuel economy and engine output (140 horsepower). Mileage gain is obvious but the extra horsepower is only evident due to the extra ECO badge on the trunk.
Toyota also introduces their pulley-style CVT to North America -already in use in Japan. This new CVTi-S' conveys acceleration and passing power more directly, which has been the most common complaint from American drivers regarding CVT's overall. Toyota states, "The new CVTi-S will provide a more linear connection between pedal effort and acceleration feel compared to previous CVT designs." It felt more like a standard automatic transmission and our Corolla moved out in the mid-range power band of the engine instead of waiting for the engine to reach maximum horsepower.
The new Corolla sheet metal is sculpted with lines that run from stem to stern, elongating the body with smoother angles. Engineers will say this is for better drag coefficient numbers (0.28) and that "careful attention has been taken to refine airflow and reduce turbulence over the front and rear edges of the car." However, car enthusiasts like me will tell you the new Corolla takes on a hint of the Lexus styling and a promise of more interesting sedan shapes in the future. The nose also flares forward which gives the ninth-generation Corolla a more prominent stance.
Unlike the Honda Civic rival, the new Toyota Corolla has an upright and straight-forward dash and instrument layout. The controls are simple and very tactically precise. There is little guess work when changing the temperature or radio station. Every control is close to the driver and relieves the added stress of reading and reaching for distant screens or buttons. The upright dash design gives front seat passengers more knee and legroom. The interior is large enough for taller drivers and the backseat is large enough for larger friends.
Our LE ECO model listed for $18,700 and standard equipment included the amenities one would expect like air conditioning, cruise control, audio system with Bluetooth connections and audio streaming. However, standard equipment also includes LED headlamps which are unique for an economy car. Optional equipment also takes a step up with a push-button start, back-up camera, leather-like SofTex seats, rear deck lid spoiler, and Toyota's newer Entune audio system with a 6.1" touchscreen. This can include navigation and the Entune App suite which syncs up with a smartphone. This system is fairly easy to learn and use. Toyota also utilizes free HD radio signals to give traffic and weather updates which is clever but not easy to read.
There are eight airbags and increased safety with a high-strength steel body structure. The Corolla has better handling with this new rigid unibody and features revised suspension tuning. Toyota claims this firmer suspension as "more engaging" when it translates into better handling and a little rougher ride. The Corolla's unibody also keeps the vehicle curb weight under 2,900 pounds for all grades, which helps fuel efficiency.
Our Corolla LE ECO came with 16-inch alloy wheels and 205/55R-16 low-roll resistant tires and these even further highlighted the uneven pavement. The test LE ECO 16-inch aluminum wheel design is good looking and unique to the ECO grade. Base models get 15-inch wheels with covers (L and LE Eco grades) or 16-inch steel wheels with covers (LE and S). For an even firmer ride, falling into the "boy racer" category, there are 17-inch alloy wheels with 215/45R-17 tires for the S model.
Corolla's front suspension continues to uses a Macpherson strut with a new, more rigid control-arm design. A torsion beam arrangement is still used for the rear. With some cleaver engineering, Toyota has now fastened the torsion beam to the body at a diagonal angle for its bushings as opposed to the straight attachment orientation of the previous generation vehicle. This diagonal attachment point layout can be felt in straight line speeds and on the corners where the new Corolla feels very stable like a larger car.
Even the electric power steering system feels better and gives feed back to the driver. Toyota uses an electric rack and pinion system, eliminating the hydraulic steering system all together. Even though every component on new cars is designed with the lightest weight possible, cars do not have to feel cheap. To this end, Toyota has done an admirable job with the newest Corolla.
All Toyota models get Toyota's Star Safety System standard, which includes Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Traction Control (TRAC), Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist. It also features the standard Smart Stop Technology brake-override system. But unlike the last generation Corolla accelerator pedal refit due to the "unexpected acceleration" allegations of years ago, the 2014 model accelerator does not "notch" back against your foot. The new Corolla Engine Control Module does not abruptly slow the car down when gliding to a stop. The brake-override system is now invisible to the driver and this is a very big improvement indeed.
2014 Corolla MSRP
2014 Corolla L 6M $16,800
2014 Corolla L 4ECT $17,400
2014 Corolla LE CVT-E $18,300
2014 Corolla LE Plus CVT-E $18,700
2014 Corolla LE Premium CVT-E $19,400
2014 Corolla S CVT-E $19,000
2014 Corolla S Plus 6M $21,300
2014 Corolla S Plus CVT-E $19,700
2014 Corolla S Premium CVT-E $20,400
2014 Corolla LE ECO CVT-E $18,700 (Our Test Car)
2014 Corolla LE ECO Plus CVT-E $19,400
2014 Corolla LE ECO Premium CVT-E $20,100