Christopher Little

S is for Spirit: 2014 Toyota Corolla S

For over 46 years, US consumers have been able to walk into a Toyota dealership and drive away in a new Corolla. Many, many people have done just that. But just as the Corolla has built a loyal ownership, so has it met its critics. Some are quick to dismiss the Corolla as an appliance; a tool to assist in the task of transport. It is, they will say, just a machine. Ostensibly, this has helped the Toyota’s success. Many people are simply satisfied with a transport machine. If you’re reading this, you’re probably not one of those people. So, can this new Corolla silence its critics? Is there a joie de vivre in this compact? We wanted to find out.

Toyota Corolla S 1

The 11th generation of the Toyota Corolla is 4 inches longer, all of it coming between the wheels. Not only does this add rear leg room, it lessens front and rear overhangs. It’s part of Toyota’s design theme previewed on the Corolla Furia Concept. And the new Corolla looks very much like its concept car, which is a good thing. There’s style infused into this new Corolla. Much of that style will carry up to the redesigned 2015 Camry. You may even spot more than a passing resemblance in grille shape with the new Toyota Highlander. Our tester, the top tier Corolla S Premium, is as good as it gets. The gloss-black front grille, fog lights, rear lip spoiler, 17” wheels, and chrome exhaust tip help differentiate it from the other Corolla models.

Toyota Corolla S 4

Inside, the Corolla’s new interior impresses with an upscale feel that puts the Scion tC to shame. The center stack is neat and orderly with plenty of buttons to compliment the very accurate 6.1” touch screen. The S Premium arrives standard with Entune Premium Audio with navigation and a host of other upscale features. The sunroof, SofTex-trimmed heated seats, and Smart Key help the Toyota feel as modern as it looks. All S models also benefit from a leather-trimmed steering wheel. Subtle blue accent lines in the trim and cluster backlighting add some color to the predominantly black interior. If we could find any points of contention, the steering column’s inability to telescope and the slightly too-soft seat bottoms left us a bit sore after a 5 hour drive.

Toyota Corolla S 8

The 1.8L four-cylinder engine in the Corolla S produces a meager 132hp. It’s been more than a year since we’ve driven something with a similar output, the Lexus CT200h. The Toyota’s maximum torque, 128 lb-ft, is equally unimpressive. Competitors like the Volkwagen Jetta, Ford Focus, and Kia Forte all offer much more power. Toyota has developed a new CVT aimed at improving efficiency and performance. They’ve programmed it to simulate gear changes under acceleration and it can mimic up to 7 gears in manual shift mode. Unfortunately for all the CVT’s imitations, it remains disappointing. There are times when it feels like the engine is trying but the transmission just isn’t pushing the power to the front tires. Pressing the Sport button provides marginal improvement. Lean into the throttle as if to pass and the RPMs wander around the tachometer. It isn’t the typical rubber banding, but it certainly isn’t a good simulation of a traditional automatic. There’s no joy from the Corolla’s drivetrain.

Toyota Corolla S 3

But wait! All is not lost. The Corolla’s new body is stiffer than before. The suspension has been revised as well, with more rigid front control arms and new mounting points for the rear torsion beam. The Corolla S also features unique coil, damper, and bushing tuning for a more lively feel. The S may stand for Sport, and that’s what seems to have inspired Toyota’s chassis engineers. The results are impressive. The Corolla’s chassis is communicative and connected without compromising ride quality. The steering is well-weighted and provides good feedback for it’s class. Even the brakes, with four discs on the S models, are grippy and easy to modulate. There’s plenty of life in the Corolla’s bones – enough to compensate for its lack of power.

Toyota Corolla S 6

We set out to see if the Toyota Corolla was better than its critics wished to admit. Answer: it is. Admittedly, the Corolla’s drivetrain is a letdown. The optional 6-speed manual may eliminate the confused CVT, but we still think 130hp is insufficient against Toyota’s competitors even if it returns better mileage . We averaged 36.8 MPG. No matter how hard you try, your right foot won’t find any soul. But over the course of 615 miles, we did find the Corolla’s spirit. It exhibits the perfect small-car charms. The subdued ride is comfortable for long trips but the new body doesn’t fall over itself in corners. The Corolla S’ adept handling and feedback mean that it isn’t some lifeless refrigerator on wheels. Every car, at it’s core, is a tool. But as we’ve found, the Toyota Corolla is that and more.

-Christopher Little

2014 Toyota Corolla S Premium
$20,400
Power moonroof $850
Driver Convenience Package $1,510
Destination Charges $825
As Tested MSRP $23,585

 

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