The next-generation Toyota Corolla is already in production, right here in Canada. But there are still plenty of 2013 models on dealers' lots and some potential bargains to be had, so let’s take a look at that outgoing version.
It's a car that Canadians continue to buy in sufficient numbers to put it among the top three compacts, and cars overall, in sales in this the country.
Through the first half of 2013 the Corolla trailed only the Hyundai Elantra and Honda Civic in sales (excluding trucks) and those two have been redone at least once or, in the case of the Civic, twice since the Corolla received its last makeover.
In the process it is also outselling more than a dozen dramatic, stylish and attention-grabbing competitors.
Quality and value
There is nothing the least bit exciting about the Corolla: not the styling, the engineering, the driving dynamics or anything else that comes to mind. Unless you place value, reliability, resale value and quality high on your list.
In those respects the Corolla excels and those features are what the vast majority of consumers are looking for in this price and size range. They people are not shopping for style or a vehicle that will grab attention; they want a car they can afford and depend on.
The Corolla has consistently delivered on these fronts through ten generations, serving as an introduction to the Toyota brand for millions. And many those have returned for another as a second car having moved further up the Toyota ladder for their primary vehicle.
Canadians are not alone in their respect for this vehicle. Introduced here in 1966, the Corolla had become the best-selling car in the world by 1974 and by 1997 the best-selling car nameplate in history, with more than 40 million sold globally.
The Corolla has been built in Canada, at the Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada (TMMC) plant in Cambridge, Ontario, since 1989, and the plant has won multiple awards for quality over that time.
But the current Corolla is getting long in the tooth and the love affair cannot go on forever. Especially in the face of stiff competition, all of which are offering more technology and features and better fuel economy, while approaching or matching the Corolla's quality and reliability.
The 2014 Corolla we’ll tell you about here in a couple weeks will address those issues. But for now, let's focus on the model that is currently Toyota's best seller.
The 2013 Corolla may be boring or conservative, but it remains a consistently wise buy.
The most obvious signs that it is dated lie in the drivetrain, where a four-speed automatic transmission is a gear or two short of the competitive norm. Five- and six-speed transmissions, or mor, are now de rigeur, even for compacts.
The pedestrian engine and the lack of “surprise and delight” features, like a heated steering wheel and ventilated seats, also limits its ability to attract those looking at new cars for the first time.
While it may be dated in design, that is not to say Toyota has neglected the Corolla. The current version has been consistently tweaked since it came to market as a 2009 model.
Most of the updates have been in response to tougher safety standards, which mean that ABS, electronic stability control are now standard equipment.
But, knowing a new one was coming for 2014, Toyota did little to update the 2013 version. Changes were limited to a new grille and some alterations to the feature list, including an optional touch-screen system and wireless connectivity.
Three trim levels
The 2013 Corolla comes in base CE, LE and S trim levels. The CE is truly a base model, allowing Toyota to brag about a $15,500 price point. But few will find their way to a dealer, let alone off the lot without at least one option package.
The standard equipment list is sparse for this day and category – essentially just a tilt/telescope steering wheel and height adjustable driver seat. And even the dated four-speed automatic transmission adds $1,000 to the tab.
My test vehicle was a CE. But the bottom line topped $20,000 after delivery charges were included.
In addition to the automatic transmission, it had a $2,540 “enhanced convenience package,” which included air conditioning, wireless connectivity, an upgraded audio system with steering wheel-mounted controls and USB input, heated front seats, power windows and locks, cruise control and remote keyless entry.
Pretty much the features most people now expect in a car.
The interior is functional with lots of hard surfaces. The upside is a high wear factor – it will continue to look good despite hard use for years.
Fit and finish are of the highest level, even if the materials are not. And there are plenty of places for storing things, including a pair of glove boxes.
The front seats are soft and lack support at the thighs and torso. The rear seat is split 60/40 and has a pass-through for long items. Both the rear seat and trunk are about average in size for the class.
On the outside, the Corolla's conservative lines and 15-inch steel wheels with plastic covers are as seriously dated as is the interior with its loads of hard plastic.
On the road
My Corolla test car, with its four-speed automatic transmission and 132-horsepower four-cylinder engine, lacks the power, gears and fuel economy to compete at the top level of this segment.
The Corolla’s 1.8-litre engine and dated transmission put it at the back of the pack in both performance and fuel efficiency – but not by as wide a margin as the numbers might indicate.
The engine is smooth and quiet under part throttle application. But the lack of gears and the spacing between them means you spend a considerable amount of time deep into the throttle.
The ride is pleasant over smooth and semi-smooth pavement but becomes less pleasant over broken surfaces. The electric power steering is very light and lacking in feedback.
The Corolla has never been a trend-setter. When the current version arrived at Toyota stores five years ago it was only middle-of-the-pack in terms of content and style. And that situation hasn't improved.
I suspect the new Corolla will address some of these areas. But as I have learned over decades of reviewing vehicles and talking with owners, more consumers see vehicles as appliances than those of us who seek an emotional attachment. Reliability and resale value outsell performance and technology – by a significant margin!
And the vast majority of 2013 Corollas will probably still be serving second, third and fourth owners faithfully for decades.
For many buyers in this price range, its practicality and reliability make the current Canadian-built Corolla a valuable commodity.