Automobiles

[REVIEW] 2014 Toyota Corolla S 6-speed manual

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While many major manufacturers have much haloed supercars that car enthusiasts covet, argue, and lust after, the reality of the matter is that most people just want a safe, reliable, economical and comfortable vehicle to drive from point A to B and back.

It is these high volume mass-produced vehicles that ultimately fund the R&D costs that go into developing the niche supercars that end up as pin-ups on school boys’ bedroom walls across the land.

The Toyota Corolla is one of these mass produced vehicles that are in-part responsible for Toyota Motor Corporation’s ability to produce stunning vehicles such the Lexus LF-A supercar.

Since its introduction in 1966, the Corolla’s worldwide cumulative sales have topped a staggering 40.72 million units.

At the time of this review, Toyota announced that the global annual sales of the Corolla -which incidentally is the world’s most popular car – had reached over 1.22 million units.

This 5% year-over-year increase confirms the Corolla’s perennial popularity among loyal customers in over 150 countries around the world.

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So the Corolla is arguably the international face of Toyota. And why wouldn’t it be? It’s a model that literally touches millions of people across the globe on a daily basis.

To help me understand why the Corolla is indeed the world’s best-selling model, Toyota loaned me the keys to their newly restyled 2014 Corolla S for a week. So here goes my review on the world’s most popular car.

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EXTERIOR

Compared to the string of boring-looking boxes that the Japanese manufacturer has been selling for decades, the new Corolla looks positively futuristic.

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For the first time in over 10 years, the Corolla has noticeably different styling than its predecessors. Borrowing heavily from the Furia concept vehicle, Toyota hopes that these design changes will appeal to youthful consumers.

Now in its 11th generation, the Corolla is no longer styled like your mother’s reliable runabout. Yet it hasn’t been styled offensive enough to turn away the loyal and repeat customers that Toyota continues to rely on.

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With the attractive new Mazda3 and Hyundai Elantra, Toyota knew it had to make some changes in order for the Corolla brand to continue with its sales success.

My S trim line Corolla was the sportiest of the line-up. The black wheels combined with its Blue Crush Metallic paint job really made it stand out on the streets.

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The swept back windshield, arching roofline, jutting nose, and dipped brow all signal that this is no longer grandma’s car.

But yet grandma could still own it with pride. Hell, it may even knock a few years off her actual age!

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Overall, it’s an aerodynamic-looking modern design that is sure to help stop its competitors from grabbing sales from younger buyers.

Standard LED low beam headlamps also make the Corolla the cheapest car in the industry to have this as a standard feature. Since it’s all the rage today (just look at the sales of aftermarket LED bulbs), this is another clever move on Toyota’s part to win over those younger consumers under the guise of safety.

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But the LED headlamps are more than just bling. They’re also highly functional, producing a white and bright pathway of light that is better than halogen bulbs.

With the long lifespan of LEDs, they’ll likely outlast the lifetime of the vehicle, adding to the reliability expected from a Corolla.

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INTERIOR

Basic, functional, but highly improved are perhaps the best terms to describe the new Corolla’s interior.

From behind the steering wheel, the view has been considerably improved. The dashboard layout has been completely revised from previous Corollas for the better and is even reminiscent of some Lexus models. And of course the buttons still have that familiar Toyota quality feel to them.

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Faux stitching moulded into the dash does a surprisingly convincing job of elevating the class of the interior as it is combined with nicely textured plastics and a soft touch dash.

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My Corolla S was equipped with the upgraded Premium Audio infotainment system, which included Bluetooth connectivity (including Bluetooth audio streaming), SiriusXM satellite radio, and a rearview camera.

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The screen is mounted a bit low and is a tad on the small side at only 6.1” (especially when compared with the massive LCD on the Hyundai Elantra) but at least the resolution is sufficiently high and the graphics are clear.

The Entune system can split the screen to show 2 or 3 pieces of information of your choosing. For example, on the right the GPS navigation map and on the left the current song and the trip computer display.

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As for the seats, they’re no nonsense but comfortable up front and out back. The Corolla S model’s supposedly bigger bolsters still feel rather mild for a “sport seat”. But the entire Corolla range now has added thigh, lumbar, and lateral support.

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A 3.9” lengthening of the wheelbase versus the last generation Corolla results in a 5.1” increase in rear legroom. While this isn’t the only compact car to offer impressive rear seat space, it’s a notable improvement.

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An almost perfectly flat floor helps to maximize rear footroom and 3 slim adults can fit comfortably enough.

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However if your top priority is looking for a compact car with mid-sized car interior dimensions, you may also want to consider the Hyundai Elantra or Nissan Sentra for their even more spacious rear seats.

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My only complaint aside from low mounted touchscreen was the lack of an interior trunk lid handle. This omission (though also lacking in other vehicles in this class) seems a bit cheap and means that your hand will get dirty when closing the trunk lid.

SO HOW DOES IT DRIVE

Since one of Toyota’s main goals with this revised Corolla is to attract or retain younger customers, I requested a car with a manual transmission to be able to evaluate its fun-to-drive factor. To my delight Toyota was able to fulfil this request.

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I’m happy to report that the 6-speed manual transmission was easy to shift and the throws were nice and short. The clutch pedal was soft (a boon for newbies), but the clutch’s bite point was surprisingly difficult to gauge without some practice.

Despite this initial difficulty, I can still wholeheartedly recommend this gearbox as a good starter car for those who wish to learn how to drive a stick shift.

While the Corolla is quiet at slower city speeds, wind, road, and some suspension noise does intrude the cabin at highway speeds.

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The 1.8L 4-cylinder engine produces 132hp @ 6000 rpms and 128ft-lbs of torque @ 4400 rpms. This is a rather sophisticated little twin cam mill with Toyota’s VVTi dual variable valve timing. The result is that it never feels or sounds too buzzy even when revved.

While the Corolla never feels too slow especially when paired with the manual gearbox, I do wish it had a few more horses especially when for passing or carrying extra passengers while climbing hills. Note that the Mazda3, Honda Civic, and Hyundai Elantra all have more horsepower (a whopping 52 more hp in the case of the Mazda3 GT).

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Toyota Canada rates the Corolla S’ fuel consumption as 7.1L/100 kms in the city and 6.3L/100 kms on the highway. I averaged 8.4L/100 kms over my week test drive in mostly city driving.

Now for the million dollar question. Is the Corolla fun to drive? I can honestly say yes, it is. Despite being a bit down on power, the overall package feels light and nimble.

Combined with precise (albeit numb) electric power steering, the car is tossable enough on twisty roads. It’s no Scion FR-S of course, but there is still easy to drive and chuckable. However I probably wouldn’t go so far as to call it “sporty”.

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As for the ride, the suspension manages to do a decent job in absorbing bumps without too much jarring of the car’s occupants. The S model also includes higher spring rates for a sportier ride.

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WRAP-UP

My ultramarathon-running colleague, Meredith, has a 1999 Corolla that has been all over North America. Her Corolla has served as her chariot enroute to many marathon events and she even professes to “love” the car.

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While car nuts may find it difficult to love such a bland box on wheels, there is something to be said about loving the hundreds of thousands of trouble-free miles and great fuel economy.

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Now that the latest generation Corolla is no longer styled as if it’s the perfect vehicle for someone in the witness protection program, even a loyal Toyota customer like Meredith can have her cake and eat it too.

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With good fuel economy and a decent level of equipment at a reasonable price, I have no doubt that the Corolla will continue to successfully defend its title as the world’s most popular car.

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Andrew Ling
Andrew is a proud car and tech geek who has worked in Surrey for over the last 10 years. He comes from a communications/marketing background and has worked for automotive-related companies such as Edmunds.com, BenzWorld.org since 1999. From track driving, to rally driving to autocross, he has done it all! When he’s not reading about the latest automotive news, he can be found outdoors snapping pictures at various events around town.
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