A basic, reliable, solid, economical four-door sedan used to indicate that a car had no real sex appeal. It was kind of like saying that a girl had a great “personality” and every guy knew what that meant. Well times have changed… a little. Girls that have great “personalities” are probably the women you want to marry and the 2011 Corolla is still reliable, solid, economical- and not very sexy. The compact car that millions have sworn by for years keeps getting updates but the platform stays the same.
At the top of people’s auto shopping list in today’s eco-friendly environment should be the category of gas mileage. Surveys say “not so.” Generally, at the top of the list is still the exterior look of a vehicle. Buying a car today is still an emotional experience for most US consumers. So Toyota has freshened up the Corolla with new project headlights and front turn markers that flare outward. The rear deck and taillights get broader and the lenses are clear with amber and red lighting underneath. Some body kits are added with the “S” model but my test LE gets a revised front air dam and some sill treatments.
Second on the list is fuel economy and the updated 1.8 liter four-cylinder cranks out 132 horsepower thanks to a variable-valve intake system and puts more to the wheels thanks to a horsepower-saving electric power steering. EPA said the 2011 Corolla with the four-speed automatic transmission should get 26 city, 34 highway, and 29 mpg overall. I did a little better than these numbers after one week in the Pacific Northwest with highway mileage averaging over 36 miles per gallon. A five-speed automatic would be the ticket for better acceleration and better overall economy and will probably show up in the next generation Corolla due when Toyota catches their breath after the Japan Tsunami.
Currently, the five-speed manual transmission is the ticket for snappier performance and mileage numbers that exceed the 28/35/31 combined estimates. The stick is also more fun and the clutch will last forever is driven properly. The newly refreshed dash and center console lend themselves to a stick-shift as well because it keeps the shifter lower to the floor and does not get up and out of reach like the current Toyota vehicles that automatic-only equipped. Like the Camry, the simpler the interior the better for 90% of the Corolla’s market share.
However, electronics are keeping up with the times with a $570 audio package offered on the Base and LE models. This includes a digital readout for the XM radio, MP3 playback, and I-pod® playlist readouts available through the included media jacks. This package also gets the Bluetooth® hands-free phone system and audio streaming, that also is controlled and displayed through the stereo faceplate. Although these are included on lots of other cars in this segment and should be included by Toyota at this point of slumping sales (down 29% since June of 2010), it is a reasonable option that works very well.
Driving a Corolla is not boring. It is not sporty either. The car is still quick to turn, stable at high speeds and fairly smooth for a small car. I would like to see a wider wheelbase for better tracking on grooved roads, bridges, and crowned surfaces. The front end tends to drift a bit and the electric power steering is too quick a ratio at freeways speeds. The standard 15-inch tires (P195/65R15) have adequate grip in the rain, which I drove through for 4 days, and are less expensive to replace than the LE Premium or “S” 16-inchers.
There is still a little torque-steer when you put your foot down from a stop but the standard traction controls help keep the car under control. Brakes consist of 10.7-inch vented discs up front for all models and nine-inch drums in the rear. Toyota’s Star Safety System™ includes vehicle stability control, traction control, ABS, Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist (BA) for smooth and short stops.
Standard on the BASE and LE is a long list of modern conveniences that are no longer considered extras like air conditioning, cruise control, power windows and door locks, telescoping and tilting steering wheel with audio controls mounted for thumb operations, and some supportive bucket seats. The LE also gets a height-adjustable driver’s seat that worked well for my variety of drivers who range from 5’1” up to 6’3” and various widths.
There are some other Japanese and Korean mid-size cars that are currently in this price range and even a Camry can be found for this price with similar equipment. So why a Corolla? Quite simply, Corollas are still 200,000-plus mile investments that are simple to run on regular gas, simple to operate, and fit into any parking space. Reliability has not decreased for more than 30 years, in fact, they hold their resale value better than most.
Toyota Division passenger cars have had a drop in sales of 29.4 percent from June of 2010. Yet, they still sold over 50,000 passenger cars, led by Camry and Camry Hybrid with combined sales of 21,375 units, and 18,872 Corollas as of the end of the June. Compare this to coveted Prius gas-electric hybrid which posted June sales of 4,340 units. Clearly, people still like the dated Corolla and a car that lasts beyond the payments- of the first and second owner- is pretty sexy after all.
The Corolla LE offers a Premium Package that includes 16-inch, five-spoke alloy wheels with P205/55R16 tires, integrated fog lamps; and a power tilt/slide moonroof with sliding sunshade. My Corolla LE with the audio package and floor mats came to a total of $18,979- including destination charges.