SEATTLE — July 16, 2015, Toyota’s Corolla has been a best-selling car for decades and the latest model year should only bolster that strong-sales position for the company.
Competing with the likes of Honda’s Civic and Nissan’s Sentra, this compact sedan starts just below $17,000 but our test model “S” lists for just over $22,000.
“S” stands for sport and Toyota adds snazzy-looking 17-inch alloy wheels with P215/45 tires so you get a bit of a lower profile tire for better handling as well as a chrome grill with a “piano-black” insert. The “S” makes for a very sport-looking front-end to the car which melds well with the overall body lines on the rest of it.
Additionally, the S model features color-keyed, heated outside mirrors and chrome-tipped exhaust as well. Finally, there’s the inclusion of rear disc brakes (10.2-inches), whereas the other models use drum brakes in the rear.
Under the hood is a standard 1.8-liter 4-cylinder, double over-head cam engine with a rated output of a mere 140-horsepower and 128 lb-ft of torque. Not huge numbers but then again there’s not a lot of weight to the Corolla, either.
The EPA rates the fuel economy at 29mpg around town and 37mpg on the highway for a combined average of 32mpg.
In a move that defies logic, a manual transmission isn’t available in the “S” trim level, only the in the baseline “L”. So let’s get this straight here, Toyota has a small engine with small performance numbers and then adds hurt to injury be strapping it to a CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission).
It’s about as exciting to drive a car with CVT as it is to watch paint dry. The problem with CVT is that they hold the RPMs throughout the entire spectrum of shift points. So when you “floor it”, you’ll hear the engine wind up and stay there the entire time – the transmission doesn’t even allow you to feel it shifting. It’s a very homogenized driving experience. Then again, many people consider Olive Garden to be “authentic Italian”, so who knows, perhaps there’s enough drivers on the road who don’t care.
Inside, the Corolla S does have a very sport-look to it. Starting with the sport instrumentation panel that gives a tachometer (so you can see the CVT hold the rpms), coolant gauge, temperature gauge and a multi-information display that allows the driver to bring up various information on the car.
Along with this is the one-touch, 3-blink lane-change turn signal indicator.
And the “S” model also gets a unique leather-trimmed, tilt/telescopic, three-spoke steering wheel with paddle shifters. Please note, paddle shifters aren’t nearly as fun when you’re rolling in a car with CVT.
The audio system, while full of useful features, leaves a great deal to be desired from its audio quality. There simply isn’t enough clarity or power here to make it fun to listen to — Toyota could learn a thing or two about good audio systems from KIA/Hyundai’s partnership with Infinity.
There is integrated navigation that’s mated to a 6.1-inch touch screen and offers AM/FM, HD FM, Satellite Radio, auxiliary input, Bluetooth Audio, hands-free cellular communication, a USB 2.0 port and six speakers.
Front seat comfort is good while rear leg room is not bad for a compact sedan and should be fine for teenagers or adults on short-duration trips and not for anything much longer than an hour back there.
Overall ride comfort is surprisingly good for such a little car – on our 200 mile trip, there wasn’t much discomfort and the car is also decently quiet.
While it’s nowhere close to sports car handling, the Corolla S does a surprisingly good job around moderate corners with minimal body roll and does feel rather sure-footed on the road.
As far as safety is concerned, Toyota equips its Star Safety System which features standard ABS brakes, vehicle stability control, brake force distribution, brake assist and smart stop technology. In addition to advanced braking, it has a total of eight airbags to protect all occupants as well as 3-point seatbelts for all of the five seating positions.
Wrap all of this up with 2 years of factory scheduled service and a 3-year/36,000 mile warranty on the car, a 5-year/60,000 mile warranty on the powertrain at a price at $22,995 and you have the makings for a very competitive, capable and good-looking compact sedan.