A car that’s exceptional at being unexceptional and that’s a good thing
Making an unexceptional experience exceptional is how Toyota has sold more than 40 million Corollas since 1966. It is the car’s raison d’être.
For those who view a car as little more than an expensive mechanical child, one that consumes gas, devours oil and requires a vast amount of money each month for financing, insurance and maintenance, the thought that you could derive pleasure from it is illogical. What excites them is not 0-60 mph times or the ability to tackle a twisting road. These drivers take pleasure from a car that can easily last a decade or more without muss, fuss or bother. A car is to be seen and not heard, not unlike a well-behaved child.
Making an unexceptional experience exceptional is how Toyota has sold more than 40 million Corollas since 1966. It is the car's raison d'être.
So despite last year's redesign, one based on the remarkably hip Furia concept car that made the rounds at major auto shows, at its heart, the Corolla remains a Toyota. And regardless of its inoffensively dynamic styling, this car's mission remains unchanged: deliver great fuel economy, a comfortable ride and outstanding reliability.
After all, it's practical concerns that Corolla followers appreciate, not fashion.
So they'll welcome the 11th generation Corolla's larger size. When it was reworked for 2014, Toyota increased the car's length by 2.6 inches. This can be seen if you try out the rear seat, where legroom measures an impressive 41.4 inches, more than many midsize sedans. While front seat space is up only slightly, it feels just as roomy. And check out the commodious trunk.
Of course, once seated inside, it's easy to be pleased by the Corolla's new interior, a huge improvement from the 2013 model, which was cheaply built. The instrument panel is very flashy, but proves to be well laid out and easy to use. And while you'd never mistake the cabin for that of a luxury car, details such as stitching across the dashboard imparts a feeling of quality.
That said, while the infotainment system is intuitive, it's too easy to down a list when you merely want to hit a button. Thankfully, the test car has audio controls on the steering wheel so you're not dependent on using the touchscreen.
Corollas come in L, LE, S, and LE Eco models in Base, Plus and Premium trim, and all are powered by a 1.8-liter, double-overhead-cam four-cylinder engine. All models are rated at 132 horsepower, except for the Eco, which is rated at 140. Yet while most Corollas return between 27 and 29 mpg in city driving, and between 36 and 39 mpg on the highway, the Corolla Eco 30 mpg city, 42 mpg highway.
A continuously variable automatic transmission is standard except on L models, which get six-speed manual transmission or a truly antiquated four-speed automatic, while the S, gets an optional six-speed manual.
But despite the hullabaloo surrounding this car's added dose of excitement, it remains remarkably unexciting.
The four-cylinder engine is fine for puttering around town. The CVT transmission is fine under modest throttle demands, but can get flustered when you go for the gusto. S models get a CVT that mimics a traditional seven-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually through paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel. Using them seems pointless, as this is not fitting of this car's demeanor. S models also get a Sport button, which awakens the Corolla from its Eco-induced torpor, giving it notably more get-up-and-go.
And despite the message sent by the new design, this is no sports sedan. The electric power steering feels light and numb under most conditions, and there's less body lean in corners than older models. Still, even on S models, you'll reach its cornering limits quickly as the car begins to under-steer and the body leans more than a politician. Meanwhile, the ride seems firm as it crashes over pot-marked pavement. That's due to the S's sport suspension, 16-inch wheels with 205/55R16 tires and revised springs, dampers and bushings. S models can also be fitted with 17-inch alloy wheels with 215/45R17 tires and four-wheel disc brakes. If you think you want the S, compare it to another trim level to see if the ride/handling tradeoff is worth it. By contrast, the LE Eco comes with low rolling resistance tires, which aid fuel economy but come up short when traveling on rainy or snowy roads.
Otherwise, the Corolla performed as expected; road, wind and tire noise are held mostly at bay. Engine noise is noticeable at high revs.
When it comes to safety, the Corolla has a five-star rating from the National Highway Safety Administration. Testing done by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found the car "Good," the agency's top rating, in four crash tests. But a fifth test, the small-overlap crash test, saw it receive a score of "Marginal," the second-lowest rating.
While the attempts at making this car more exciting fall flat, the Corolla remains the strong silent type, able to deliver a well-wounded driving experience at a cost that doesn't break the bank.
And what's wrong with that?
2015 Toyota Corolla
Wheelbase: 106.3 inches
Length: 182.5 inches
Cargo space: 13 cubic feet
Curb weight: 2,855 pounds
EPA rating (city/highway): 29/37 mpg
Base price, base model: $16,950
Base price, test vehicle: $20,720
As tested: Not available
NHTSA safety rating: 5 stars
ABOUT THE WRITER
Larry Printz is automotive editor writer and editor in Burlington, Vt. Readers may send him email at TheDrivingPrintz@gmail.com.
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