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First drive: 2014 Toyota Corolla

Redesigned small sedan impresses, thus far

Last updated: October 17, 2013 11:30 AM

Redesigned for 2014 and the 11th generation of this worldwide best seller, the all-new Toyota Corolla has joined our test fleet.

We bought the midlevel LE Plus version for $20,652. It’s very well equipped, with a backup camera, automatic climate system, alloy wheels, optional power moonroof, and the latest in connectivity.

The sole engine is a 132-hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder married to a new continuously variable transmission. This Corolla looks more stylish and contemporary than its frumpy-looking predecessors, and there’s appreciably more stretch-out space inside. So far, we like it.

First impressions: Ride comfort is about as good as you’ll find in a compact sedan, with its suspension absorbing bumps very nicely. We’ve also noticed that wind and road noise are well suppressed. Engine noise can be a bit intrusive when you’re hurrying, but the CVT’s behavior is more refined than that of some competitors' such as the Nissan Sentra or Subaru Impreza. Our car’s trip computer says we’ve been averaging 34 mpg so far, which is very good.

Handling is responsive enough, with well-weighted steering and only modest body lean. We’ve also done a brief stint with an uplevel S version, which brings a tauter suspension, paddle shifters, more deeply sculpted seats, and snazzier-looking alloy wheels. That makes for a tighter, sportier package, and one that doesn’t sacrifice too much ride comfort or cabin noise. That said, even the S enhancements don’t lift the Corolla to the same sporty-handling level as the Ford Focus, the reigning class champ on that score.

The new car’s interior design is tidy and uncluttered. An easy-to-use center-stack touch screen manages the audio, cell-phone, and backup-camera display functions. The headlight switch logic is unfortunate, making it too easy to cancel the daytime running lights. Fit and finish is decent but rather inconsistent. There are a few, pleasant soft-touch surfaces on the dash contrasted by rock-hard plastics that could have been borrowed from the Tacoma pickup’s low-rent door trim.

At 183-inches long, the Corolla is now one of the largest in the segment. The wheelbase also grew nearly four inches in the redesign. As a result, rear-seat passengers enjoy more space. In fact, the backseat is roomy enough to challenge even some midsized sedans, significantly adding to the car’s viability and appeal.

CR’s take: The newest Corolla is right on target—quiet, roomy, economical, and comfortable-riding—and it’s finally more interesting to look at and to drive. The Corolla also brings pretty good value. We expect it to prove competitive when we rank it against its peers.

Gabe Shenhar

   

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