QUEBEC CITY,QC – The Toyota Corolla is one of the most popular and longest-selling vehicles on the market. Canadians have bought more than 1.3 million of them since 1967.
It has been the best-selling Toyota for the past 18 years, accounting for 25% of all vehicles sold under the Toyota brand.
Toyota hopes the emergence of a new 11th-generation, 2014 Corolla will enable it to move from a solid third place to first place in the Canadian market, where the uber-competitive compact segment in dominated to this point by the Hyundai Elantra and Honda Civic.
There is reason to believe that it is an achievable goal since the current Corolla is by far the oldest of that group and still attracts a sufficient number of buyers to hang on to that third spot. Plus, there's the strength of Toyota's well-established dealer network.
The outgoing model has achieved that level of success not by being splashy in appearance or laden with new technologies and features.
Rather, the Corolla has an unmatched reputation for QDR (Quality, Durability and Reliability) – traits that are a priority for a very large portion of the car-buying public. The all-new 2014 Corollas retains all those attributes.
There is nothing of major significance that's new under the hood or fenders. It is still built in the same Cambridge, Ontario factory to the same exacting standards by the same workers.
But, the new Corolla has more style and space, a seriously upgraded interior and a more impressive standard equipment list.
It is also available in a dizzying array of models and trim levels to ensure there is one for everyone, whether they be returning to buy another or considering a Corolla for the first time – all part of that push to become Number One.
New, larger platform
The 2014 Corolla rides on a new platform. It is 99 mm longer and 16 mm wider. The wheelbase is up by 100 mm and height is down 10 mm. The result is what Toyota claims as class-leading interior volume and a more contemporary stance and appearance.
The 2014 Corolla will come in CE, LE, S and LE Eco trim levels with a wide variety of packages available within each. And not a single one is available in beige!
Prices cover the range from $15,995 for the base CE with manual transmission to the $24,000 area for a fully loaded LE Eco with all the options.
Standard equipment on the base CE now includes power windows and locks, power heated mirrors, Bluetooth connectivity and an audio system with USB, aux and iPod connectivity, wireless streaming and steering wheel-mounted controls.
Every new Corolla will also come with segment-first LED headlights that not only use less power and last longer, they provide a great deal more illumination.
New emphasis on style
There is a new emphasis on style – but nothing ground-breaking. The design team had to walk a thin line between attracting new buyers and not alienating returning customers who are not interested in anything dramatic.
Each step up the trim ladder brings a new treatment for the trapezoidal grill and unique wheels.
The interior changes are clearly evident with upgraded seats and higher quality materials throughout. There is an element of style to the horizontal treatment of the instrument panel with soft touch surfaces in abundance and contrasting and interesting material and colors.
As always with a Toyota, fit and finish are impeccable. The CE, LE and LE Eco models have a trio of analog instruments while the S comes with a pair flanking a 3.5-in TFT monitor.
The drivetrain consists of two versions of the carry-over 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine backed by a trio of transmissions.
The CE, LE and S models have a 132-horsepower engine and the LE Eco a 140-horsepower version. The latter benefits from a new Valvematic variable-valve timing and lift system that is said to increase power and fuel economy by at least 5%.
Without getting too technical, suffice to say the system allows more lift under full throttle and other conditions where power is required and less at highway cruising speeds.
Neither engine benefits from direct injection, which many of Corolla's competitors include, or otherwise varies from a very conservative and well-proven design.
There is sufficient power to stay with traffic, pass and climb hills but don’t go looking for a stop-light race with most competitors.
The choice of transmissions ranges from the ridiculous to the sublime.
A six-speed manual is standard on the CE and S models and a new CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) automatic on the LE and LE Eco trims. The CVT is optional on the S and that version comes with paddle shifters and a “sport” mode.
Long a harsh and very vocal critic of CVT transmissions, I have to admit to being impressed by this one. Clever use of programming and simulated shifts under part throttle allow it to come very close to the behaviour of normal automatic transmission.
Achieving its purpose, the CVT-equipped models achieve fuel-consumption ratings of 6.5/4.6 L/100 km , city/highway, while those for the manual-equipped model are 7.1/5.2 L/100 km.
The ridiculous? The optional automatic for the base CE model is a four-speed. You read that correctly – a brand new 2014 car with a four-speed automatic transmission!
Behind the wheel
There is nothing new in the suspension, brake and steering departments. However, rates, bushings and other adjustables have been tweaked and this is clearly evident when driving then new Corolla.
I spent a week with the 2013 model a month or so before this introduction so its characteristics were fresh in my mind. In addition to the heavily upgraded interior, changes to the ride/handling balance of the new model left a strong impression.
This is no sports sedan, but much more composed over rough surfaces and in the turns.
When the Cambridge factory is up to speed and running at full capacity, a new 2014 Corolla will roll off the line every 55 seconds. If more are needed, they'll be available from a plant in Mississippi.
If Toyota is successful in attracting new and younger buyers to the Corolla that additional supply source just might be welcome.