2014 Toyota Corolla - Driven

The venerable Corolla has been a mainstay in Toyota’s U.S. lineup since its introduction in 1968. Toyota’s longest-running nameplate has undergone numerous alterations over the years, but has always remained a stalwart of the compact sedan segment. In 1997, the Corolla surpassed the Volkswagen Beetle as the best selling nameplate worldwide. That tradition continues today with the updated 2014 Toyota Corolla .

I recently spent a week getting to know a Corolla equipped in the LE Eco trim — the Corolla’s most fuel-efficient trim package. Equipped with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder, electronic power steering, skinny tires, and a Continuously Variable Transmission, the Corolla earns an EPA economy rating of 30 mpg city, 42 mpg highway, and 35 mpg combined.

Coated in a deep Evergreen color, the Corolla did a great job at keeping its fuel-conscience end of the bargain. My weekly total average topped just over 31 mpg, besting the Corolla’s EPA city rating. A light throttle and careful driving quickly saw the average increase on slower highway jaunts, making the EPA’s estimates seem obtainable.

The Corolla proved to be a reasonable yet rather tossable set of wheels during its week stay, though there were a few quibbles about NVH.

Click past the jump for the full review of the new 2014 Toyota Corolla

TopSpeed Garage

Exterior

Toyota Corolla - Driven
Toyota Corolla - Driven
Toyota Corolla - Driven

The outside of the Corolla enjoys an all-new look for 2014. A new grille, lower fascia, and headlight design give the compact sedan a more purposeful look with sharp lines and angles replacing the rounded edges of last year. The smaller grille and larger lower air intake have improved aerodynamics and cooling. A more pronounced shoulder line runs under the side windows and kinks up to meet the trunk lid. A deep accent line at the rocker panels also gives the car some visual interest down low.

The rear end has been cleaned up for 2014. Gone is the chrome trim piece on the trunk lid and the scalloped reflectors in the bumper. Redesigned taillights match the other updates and a black trim piece now resides on the rear bumper.

My tester came equipped with 15-inch, steel wheels with plastic wheel covers. Wrapping those were low-resistance 195/65R15 tires. The Evergreen paint color is rather unique for a sedan, especially when combined with the Camel-colored interior. The look would work extremely well for a truck, but it’s unusual to find such colors on sedans. That’s not a bad thing, but just different.

Interior

Toyota Corolla - Driven
Toyota Corolla - Driven
Toyota Corolla - Driven

Like the outside, the interior is all-new for 2014. The dashboard gets a horizontal look with a piano-black insert surrounding the 6.1-inch Entune infotainment system. The piano black continues on the center console and surrounds the gear selector. A three-pod gauge cluster houses the necessary speed, tach, and fuel gauges while a smaller screen provides secondary vehicle information. The gauges are easy to read, but I wish Toyota would stop measuring speed in 20 mph intervals. A 10-mph interval gauge would easily fit if the highest speed weren’t listed at 150 mph.

Ergonomics inside the Corolla work well and the switchgear is in the right spot. A comfortable driving position is easy to achieve, thanks to a tilt and telescoping steering wheel. The manually adjustable seats are easy to adjust as well and offer a decent place to spend time. I did find the door-mounted armrests placed too far outboard for easy use.

Rear seat room is pretty impressive. Leg, hip, shoulder, and headroom are all sized appropriately even for those closing in on six feet. The rear seat does lack a center armrest, but the seatbacks do fold down 60/40 style to accommodate large items in the trunk.

The Entune system includes a 6.1-inch touchscreen for controlling the radio and other sub systems. My tester was only equipped to handle AM and FM radio, so I found myself really missing the usual satellite system. It does have Bluetooth capability and an AUX/USB connector for streaming music from a mobile device. The 6.1-inch screen also doubles as a rearview camera.

Drivetrain

Toyota Corolla - Driven

All 2014 Toyota Corollas come with an all-aluminum, naturally aspirated, 1.8-liter, inline four-cylinder engine, however, all Eco models get their 1.8-liter fitted with Toyota’s new Valvematic system. This system offers a broader range of continuously variable valve timing and optimizes the intake valves’ operation, resulting in a slightly higher compression ratio, increased fuel economy, and a five-percent bump in horsepower.

That means the Corolla Eco’s engine is pumping out 140 horsepower and 126 pound-feet of torque verses the standard 132 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. Yes, torque drops by two pound-feet, but the gain in horses makes a noticeable difference.

The 1.8-liter in my tester is mated to Toyota’s CVTi-S transmission. (Toyota says the i stands for intelligent and the S for shift) The unit functions just like a normal CVT, but also includes programming to reduce the ‘rubber banding’ effect of a CVT. The software includes stepped ‘gears’ that almost mimic the sensation of a conventional automatic transmission, though it’s not fooling anyone. I found the transmission to work really well at keeping the engine’s revs down low, helping safe fuel. That also hurts the car’s driving fun factor. It won’t be a problem for most folks looking for a solid daily driver, but for those uses to quick-shifting transmissions, the sensation is a little detracting. Still, it’s hard to argue against 42 mpg highway, no matter how Toyota achieves it.

Driving Impressions

Toyota Corolla - Driven

The biggest take-away from driving the Corolla was just how tossable it is. It feels and drives like a lightweight car. Sure the engine only makes 140 horses, but the car weighs less than 2,900 pounds. The skinny 195-series tires are quick to squeal when pushed deep into corners, but hold longer than their screaming would suggest. Understeer is there, but it’s not reachable under average driving conditions.

The Corolla’s electronic steering feels rather light on center, but firms up when turning. It isolates the steering wheel from any road vibrations and will be a pleasure to use for those looking to buy in this category.

The engine makes plenty of noise under hard acceleration but mellows out when loafing along. It also wishes it had a manual transmission to make the most of its extra horsepower, but the CVT reminds you why you bought the car every time you fill up. During the week, I saw my average fuel economy crest above 35 and dip just below 30 mpg, depending on my driving style. I have no doubts the Corolla could match its EPA ratings.

Pricing

Toyota Corolla - Driven

Pricing for the 2014 Toyota Corolla starts at just $16,800 in the L trim. Selecting the next trim level, the LE, upgrades the car quite a bit including the Entune system with a back-up camera, keyless entry, and cruise control. The LE trim starts at $18,300. For only $400 more, the LE Eco trim add the Valvematic engine system and a slight rear spoiler. Topping out the range is the Corolla S. For $19,000 you get a unique piano-black front grille, the rear spoiler, fog lights, a chrome exhaust tip, a leather steering wheel, and a 3.5-inch TFT information display in the gauge cluster.

My LE Eco tester had a base price of $18,700 and came bone stock. A $760 delivery fee brought the total price to $19,460.

Competition

2014 Ford Focus SFE

Ford Focus

The Ford Focus is restyled for 2014, though only slightly. The car is still available in both sedan and hatchback versions, so those seeking something with more room may find the Focus hatch a good alternative to a crossover. The Focus comes powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder making 160 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque. There are three transmission choices; a five-speed manual, the six-speed PowerShift automatic, and the PowerShift auto with SelectShift capability.

Competing with the Toyota Corolla LE Eco is the Focus equipped with the six-speed PowerShift. Select the SFE Package, and the Focus will get 28 mpg city, 40 mpg highway, and 33 mpg combined. With a base price of $19,140, the SFE Focus is a strong competitor to the Corolla.

2014 Chevrolet Cruze Eco

Chevrolet Cruze

Priced just above the Toyota and Ford is the Chevrolet Cruze. In the Eco trim, the Cruze earns an EPA estimated 28 mpg city and 42 mpg highway. Those numbers require selecting the manual transmission, however. If you don’t like three pedals, the automatic returns 26 mpg city and 39 mpg highway.

The Cruze Eco uses a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder mated to either transmission. The turbo four is rated at 138 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque.

Pricing for the base Cruze starts at $18,345 for the LS trim and manual transmission. The Eco with the manual starts at $20,760 while the automatic starts at $21,995. Of course, Chevrolet does offer the Cruze Diesel that gets 27 mpg city and 46 mpg highway for $25,810.

Conclusion

Toyota Corolla - Driven

Overall, the Corolla LE Eco does a great job at saving fuel without all the costly hybrid systems or added weight. It’s just an honest, compact four-door with an efficient engine and a willingness to please. It’s fun to drive hard, but more rewarding to drive gently, as it returns some respectable numbers at the pump.

Its all-new exterior design looks modern while its easy-to-use interior holds little complaints from its passengers. The Corolla is perhaps the most honest car on the road today, making no excuses for being small and efficient. If hauling five people and a decent amount of stuff down the highway while getting 40-plus mpg, the Corolla is worth a look.

Costing under $20,000, it’s hard to argue with that deal.

LOVE IT
  • Good fuel economy
  • Tossable and playful
  • New looks inside and out for 2014
  • Low price and cost of ownership
LEAVE IT
  • CVT helps efficiency but not fun factor
  • Door armrests are too far away
  • Excessive road noise on rough pavement

What is your take?

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