World debut: 2014 Toyota Corolla

Nowadays, any car that languishes on dealer lots in America is almost certainly doomed to fail, and fade away into obscurity…much like Suzuki did last year, and Mitsubishi and Volvo are rumored to follow suit.

Almost everyone, that is.

Despite the fact that it hasn’t received a major upgrade since President Bush’s second term, the Toyota Corolla continues to outsell most of the competition, month after month, year after year. In fact, it is the best-selling nameplate in the world, with over 47 million units sold. Just recently however, it was outsold by the Honda Civic, itself receiving an emergency refresh after the ninth generation was introduced to the world, all the way back in 2012.

To say that the Corolla is long overdue for a major overhaul could easily be the top contender for the understatement of the year. It’s puzzling as to why Toyota hasn’t given it the update that it deserves, given how much the market has changed in the past seven years. Virtually every class competitor has leapfrogged the Corolla, in virtually every measurable category.

And yet, the Corolla still sits on top of the sales charts.

So the question begs, why update the vehicle now? Simple…because even Toyota realizes that they can’t sit on their proverbial laurels forever. As stated before, last month was evidence that buyers are starting to realize that yes, there are better offerings out there.

Enter the 2014 Toyota Corolla.

Gone is the forgettable styling and the lack of class-competitive features. Coming in with both new and familiar trim levels, the Corolla can now be had in the base L, LE, LE Eco, and the range-topping S. Save for a couple of quirks (more on that later), Toyota is coming out with all guns blazing. Apparently, the end result is based on extensive market research, which generates a vehicle with a striking resemblance to the last-generation Ford Focus, mixed with the last-gen Kia Forte.

Overall, it is definitely an upgrade from what we’ve seen on the roads for far too long, but it doesn’t break any new ground. Rather, it keeps in line with the Japanese automaker’s other recent offerings, such as the RAV4 and the Camry. It mostly takes its design cues from the “Iconic Dynamism” design theme, which was first shown as the Corolla Furia Concept that debuted at the North American International Auto Show this past January.

Besides the exterior styling, perhaps the biggest change is that it sits on a much longer wheelbase now. It’s almost unheard of for a vehicle this size to grow nearly four inches, ballooning up to 106.3 inches from in between the wheels. This should equate to more room to stretch out on the inside. In addition, the vehicle itself grew an additional 3.9 inches (182.6 for the standard models, and 183.1 for the S)…however, with the wheels pushed out to the corners, and the front (37.7 in.) and rear (38.6) overhangs minimised, it doesn’t appear to have been stretched out that much. Up front features a class-first: LED headlamps as standard equipment. What is also unique about them is that they were made with a lighter weight PES resin lens, as opposed to conventional glass. The result is less weight on the corners.

Going from the front to the sides, one will notice that there’s a strong, prominent character line that runs nearly the entire length of the vehicle, just ending over the front wheel well. The door handles integrate well into the line, as if it is a part of the line itself. Speaking of the wheel wells, Toyota has wisely moved away from flaring them out, which generally causes the wheels to look smaller than they really are. As far as the actual wheels are concerned, six different designs can be had, ranging from the 15 and 16-inch wheel covers for the non-S models, to three different 16-inch alloy wheels. Topping off the range is the 17-inch alloy wheel, which is exclusive to the S model.

Inside however, it’s a whole new ballgame. Gone is the long-forgotten ho-hum interior design, and in its place is what is quickly becoming the Toyota design theme. A bit polarizing, but kudos to them for taking a few design risks. The steering wheel and the LCD dash clock are probably the only two pieces that will seem familiar to previous Corolla owners. The most obvious change are the long, horizontal lines that really stretch out the interior, along with new vents.

The controls for the multimedia unit and the temperature adjustments seem to be cribbed from the Honda playbook, placing them in a more ergonomically friendly position. Toyota dares to add a splash of color, with blue, black, or amber pinstriped accents adorn the dash and the door panels, along with distinctive stitching along the dash pad and the (optional) shift lever boot. The instrument panels come in two different flavors…the S gets two dials with a TFT display, while the lower models make do with three conventional dials that display all of the normal readings.

Speaking of that dramatic increase in wheelbase, along with the rear east hip point being moved back 2.95 inches, the rear-seat legroom was further increase with the adoption of new, slimmer front seatbacks. This is becoming a relatively inexpensive way to carve out some much needed leg and knee room (for a tall guy such as myself, every inch counts). The front and rear seats now come with denser foam, and the front seats feature longer seat cushions for reduce thigh fatigue. In addition, the seats also feature an improved bolster design, as well as a bit more seat adjustment, in order to accomodate the ever-growing range of physiques.

Toyota implemented a number of features into making it quieter all-around, from using an acoustic glass windscreen, improved floor carpet insulation, an instrument panel seal, a fender sound insulator, to an inner dash silencer pad. This should make trips to bingo or Luby’s that much more enjoyable.

All of the usual creature comforts come either standard, or as an option…they include the following:

  • Smart Key System
  • Auto air-conditioning with pollen filter
  • Leather-trimmed tilt-telescopic steering wheel with paddle shifters and audio controls
  • Multi-Information Display
  • Bluetooth voice-command controls
  • SofTex-trimmed heated front seats
  • Navigation/Entune telematics system, featuring apps

As far as performance is concerned…well, the new-for-2014 LE Eco, as well as the LE and S  trim levels, now features a CVTi-S pulley-style transmission, in order to maximise performance and economy. This features seven “gears” to mimic the feel of the transmission shifting during acceleration or deceleration, eliminating one of the biggest complaints with conventional CVTs. Two modes are featured. Sport, and of course, Eco. When Eco is selected, the air conditioning compressor power is reduced, as well as the accelerator control becomes non-linear, all for the sake of maximised efficiency…it should return over 40 miles per gallon on the highway, although official EPA estimates have not been released, as of yet.

As you can imagine, the Sport is essentially the reverse of that. Oddly enough, although a six-speed manual transmission is still offered for the base L and S, the L also gets the four-speed automatic transmission. I suspect that this will be the “loss leader” on the aforementioned dealer lots.

There are two engines available: both are four-cylinders pumping out a whooping 132 hp/128 lb.-ft. of torque, or for the S model,  140 hp/126 lb.-ft. of torque. The additional eight galloping ponies is courtesy of Valvematic, which is Toyota-speak for their valve train technology. In addition to the increased horsepower, it is said to have increased the fuel economy as well.

Will the new Corolla reclaim its long-held sales crown? Of course, they’ll sell zillions more of them. But the real question remains…will it be class competitive finally? Only time will tell…

Photo Credit: Toyota

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