Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Review: 2014 Toyota Corolla S

Let’s just get this fact out there: The general car-buying public doesn’t care if a car has a torsion beam rear axle or a double-wishbone suspension. They are not interested in whether or not the car has a CVT, a traditional automatic, or a dual-clutch setup. And they could give a rip if the car has a direct injection engine or not. Many, if not most, car buyers are what I call an IJAC. IJAC stands for “It’s Just A Car,” and this is the group that looks at cars as driving appliances. It’s not something to be ashamed of, frankly. It’s just the way it is. The IJAC is simply looking for a vehicle that’s not hideous looking, gets halfway decent fuel economy, doesn’t cost a fortune, and starts each and every time you turn the key. Period.

At the other end of the spectrum are the auto enthusiasts. They don’t understand why the IJAC isn’t buying the top-of-the-line, state-of-the-art car in its class. The enthusiast’s logic is that there are only a couple of cars worth buying in a vehicle’s respective class, and it’s shocking that anyone would buy anything but. Enthusiasts often don’t understand that the IJAC is really only concerned about getting to work, the grocery store, and home with their vehicle, and doesn’t understand why skidpad ratings don’t factor into a purchasing decision. The enthusiast also frequently forgets that the IJAC represents the vast majority of car buyers.

Toyota’s Corolla has been an extremely popular vehicle in the U.S. It’s been a best-seller for years, and has been very reliable, generally comfy, and has never gulped down fuel. It also hasn’t been the enthusiast’s choice since the rear-drive Corollas of the 1980s. It’s fair to say the Corolla is a very popular choice for the IJAC crowd, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, I’d say Toyota knows the Corolla audience extremely well. The car has does most things well enough and has a steadfast track record of dependability. While other vehicles might focus on raising the bar in terms of styling, performance, or technology, Toyota knows the Corolla buyer is really interested in reliability, fuel economy, and of course, price.

The 2014 Corolla is a marked improvement over the last generation, and the sporty-looking S model is far more appealing than the previous iteration. Whereas the last Corolla’s interior was so plasticy, you’d think Rubbermaid had a hand in its design, our Corolla S review subject had an interior that not only was better than the outgoing model, it is downright appealing. There are soft-touch materials, attractive and modern design throughout, and plenty of space. The dashboard has a distinctly upright feeling, but I kind of like it. It reminded me somewhat of the latest Yaris SE, which I also liked. The SofTex (aka faux leather) seats are comfortable, although not exactly a sport seat. I had family in town when evaluating the Corolla S, and all passengers said the car was quite comfortable, and that included the back seats. By the way, the trunk on this car is surprisingly big. We were able to easily fit four pieces of luggage in the trunk without issue when picking family up from the train station.

The interior is so much better than the last version, it’s hard to imagine the interior has truly improved as much as it has. We did have one interior incident, however: The infotainment system, which is quite good, went completely mute on us while driving. No sound from the radio, the XM, the navigation, or streaming Bluetooth. We turned the stereo on and off a few times to no avail … or sound. Just like any electronic device, we fully shut the car of and turned it back on at an intersection, and sure enough, that fixed it. Regardless, the infotainment system (usually) functions very well. I really liked the navigation unit on our car, which is displayed on a vibrant touch screen. We relied on the navigation quite a bit when family was in town, and it never let us down. Our also came with a rear-view camera, Bluetooth connectivity, steering wheel controls, and other goodies.

While the interior might be vastly different from the past Corolla, the engine/transmission isn’t. Actually, the Corolla S is powered by the same 1.8-liter DOHC four-cylinder making 132 hp and 128 lbs/ft of torque found in the last Corolla. I can hear the enthusiasts’ cries from here: Yes, they simply reused the last engine: Egads! What is the world coming to, right? Frankly, I think it was a smart idea. The engine is a tried-and-true unit that still delivers competitive fuel economy ratings of 29 city, 32 combined, and 37 highway MPG, and it saves on costs. Why reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to?

Although engine isn’t the smoothest, most refined, nor the most powerful on the market, it’s perfectly adequate. I never felt like it needed more power. Would more power be nice? Sure; when isn’t it? But the Corolla does just fine with the amount of grunt it produces. Keep in mind the Corolla is a bit of a lightweight; it weighs 2,865 lbs.—lighter than many smaller subcompact vehicles. Like many new vehicles these days, the Corolla S features a Sport button that recalibrates the throttle and makes it feel a bit more spritely. The new-for-2014 CVT does have a manual shifting mode, and while it isn’t going to set the compact segment on fire, it worked perfectly fine without compliant.

The S model features painted-and-machined 17” wheels shod with 215/45/17 tires. While it’s likely the car handles better than base models, this isn't a race car. There is noticeable body roll, and the steering could be quicker, but none of this is terribly surprising. I’m not looking for Lotus-like handling, even out of the S model, which has a sportier suspension vs. other Corolla models, and neither are Corolla shoppers. And much like the reused engine from the previous Corolla, the 2014 model uses the same independent front and torsion beam rear suspension found on the last model. Again, it’ll perfectly adequate for most. This S model does have disc brakes all around, however. I would say the ride is a notch above adequate, and highway cruising is quite comfy although there was noticeable road noise.

Toyota has done a good job modernizing the car’s shape. The S trim level has a fairly aggressively styled front end with a black-painted center section. At the back, there’s a subtle spoiler and a black lower valance. Moving to the front again, the Corolla is the least expensive vehicle sold in the U.S. to employ LED headlamps. They cast a cool looking glow and effectively brighten up the roadway. As a whole, I’d venture to say this is the best looking Corolla in a while. Toyota did a good job bringing the Corolla’s styling into the 21st century. It should also be noted that the new Corolla is bigger than the outgoing model. Its wheelbase is 4” longer; overall length is 3.3” longer; it’s wider by a half inch; and it’s slightly lower, too.

At $23,570, I'd say this loaded sportiest of Corollas seems reasonably priced. The car features a lot of improved goods, decent fuel economy, a great infotainment system, and plenty of comfort. It still isn’t going to win over many enthusiasts, but then again, it’s not meant to be a Scion FR-S. It is, however, more fun than a base model Corolla. On top of it, the Corolla S is not a plasticy, dowdy compact sedan anymore. It feels sophisticated, modern, and dare I say, even a bit edgy. I have to say that I am pretty impressed with the Corolla's revamp, and I think IJACs and enthusiasts alike would agree much of the car is very improved, especially the interior.

It’s a very crowded C-segment out there, to be certain, and nearly every manufacturer out there offers a compact sedan. But, Toyota is a megalith in this arena and has its solid reputation for quality and dependability on its side. But with so many great cars in the segment, as well as better-than-ever competition from Kia and Hyundai, not to mention Ford, Chevrolet, and Chrysler, the new Corolla has definitely got a fight on its hands. But if history is any indicator, the IJAC crowd will likely buy the new Corolla all day. And whether you’re an IJAC, an enthusiast, or someone in between, the 2014 Corolla S is a much improved and—dare I say—even appealing compact sedan, even if it isn’t the fastest or best-handling out there.


nlpnt said...

I'd still go for a manual Focus hatchback in this segment. Now if Toyota brings in the JDM Corolla Fielder wagon as a replacement for the Matrix and/or xD, with the six-speed manual in S trim...

Barry Traylor said...

I have owned a couple of "exciting" cars in the past and they more than their fair share of the time in the repair shop. so in short I love my Toyota Corolla as it is as dependable as a car can be. I have also owned numerous motorcycles and although I loved the Triumph I had years ago it was always a coin toss whether it would start or not and get me home. So dependable is not boring in the lest for me.

Anonymous said...

Toyota vehicles are always super loaded with technology. I would love to check this out!