Corolla continues its evolution

08/08/2014 7:00 PM

08/09/2014 12:00 AM

The Corolla is the all-time, best-selling car model in history. More than 40 million through 11 generations have been sold since 1966. The 2014 model has a level of technology and sophistication that would have been unheard of in 1966 and puts it near the top of its segment.

I recently spent three days with a Corolla LE Eco Premium in Southern California, arguably the car capital of the U.S. and home to legendary traffic snarls. Finding my way around the distant suburbs of Los Angeles was a fitting test for the navigation system, vehicle comfort and efficiency. Plugging addresses into the navigation system was a bit tedious, but I appreciated the audible warnings about traffic tie-ups.

I learned right away that if you’re going to be stuck in stop-and-go rush-hour traffic, great seats are imperative, and this Corolla had them. Generous side bolsters provided good lateral support without being as confining as genuine sports seats.

A lack of noise makes a frenetic environment seem more tolerable, and the Corolla’s cabin was a welcome oasis from the surrounding traffic. Careful attention to airflow over the body and under the car results in a drag coefficient of 0.28. That helps keep wind noise in check and improves fuel economy. The only time noise was bothersome was accelerating quickly into the flow of traffic. The continuously variable transmission, CVTi-S, would hold the engine at a steady rpm that was seemed like more noise than action. I is for intelligent, S is for Shift. This is the first “pulley-style” CVT offered by Toyota in North America.

I’m generally not a fan of CVT transmissions because the lack of gearshifts – what Toyota calls a “rubber-band” sensation – feels odd, and acceleration seems less responsive than with a regular transmission. CVTs are efficient, however, and that’s why they are being used more and more.

Toyota has programmed its unit to have seven discreet shifts that mimic a traditional automatic transmission. The S model can be “shifted” through these seven shift points with steering wheel paddle shifters or by moving the gear lever.

The base L model can be had with a six-speed manual or a four-speed automatic. A six-speed manual is also available on the S model.

The Corolla can be equipped with either of two 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engines. Prices begin at $16,900 and top out at $22,675. There are 12 trim levels. The base engine is rated at 132 horsepower. The 140-horsepower engine in the LE Eco model has Valvematic valve train technology that provides a broader range of intake valve timing and lift, resulting in 5-percent greater fuel economy and horsepower. The Eco Plus and Eco Premium models are rated at 30 miles per gallon in the city and 40 on the highway. I averaged 34 mpg in mixed city and freeway driving.

As mentioned, full-throttle acceleration is a bit noisy because the engine tends to stay at high rpm, but light-throttle driving is fairly quiet. The test car’s Eco mode softens the throttle’s response and cycles the air conditioning compressor, so unless you are interested in squeezing out the last drop of fuel economy, stay in normal mode.

The Corolla’s 106.3-inch wheelbase provides decent back-seat legroom and a good-sized trunk. The suspension is tuned to deliver a ride that is well-controlled without feeling choppy over bad pavement. The steering is nicely weighted and has good feel.

Warranty

The basic warranty is for three years or 36,000 miles, with a five-year, 60,000-mile powertrain warranty.

Price

The base price of the test car was $20,100. Options included keyless ignition, navigation system, AM/FM CD player, USB port with iPod connectivity, Bluetooth connectivity, Sirius satellite radio with traffic and weather for 90 days, power sunroof and carpeted floor mats. The sticker price was $23,694.

Tom Strongman’s e-mail is tstrongman@gmail.com

2014 Toyota Corolla LE Eco Premium

Engine: 1.8-liter, 140-horsepower four-cylinder

Transmission: CVTi-S, front-wheel drive

Wheelbase: 106.3 inches

Curb weight: 2,855 pounds

Base price: $20,100

As driven: $23,694

MPG rating: 30 in the city, 40 on the highway

At A Glance

Point: Each new generation of the Corolla raises the bar. This version is civilized, comfortable and quite fuel-efficient. It is a car that would be great daily transportation for years.

Counterpoint: The CVT doesn’t feel as responsive as a regular transmission.

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