Sunday, April 20, 2014
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Corolla adds flair, but not too much

Gallery: Corolla adds flair, but not too much

While car enthusiasts want their vehicles to drive fast, handle with precision and deliver exuberant performance, most drivers consider their cars to be little more than a major household appliance with four tires – one that consumes gas, devours oil and requires a vast amount of money each month for financing, insurance and maintenance.

To them, excitement comes from a car that lasts a decade without muss, fuss or bother. In other words, vehicles that deliver an exceptionally unexceptional experience.

This is how Toyota has sold more than 40 million Corollas. It is the Corolla's raison d'etre. So it came as a surprise when Toyota unveiled the amazingly hip Furia concept car at auto shows last year. The revelation implied that a bold new Corolla was coming.

Now that the 2014 Corolla has arrived, fans of the nameplate will be happy to know that, Furia's styling influence aside, the Corolla is the same as it ever it was, if with a bit more life and styling that is inoffensively more dynamic.

The success of its newfound style comes from the Corolla's significantly larger size. Its wheelbase has increased 3.9 inches when compared with the 2013 model's, while overall length is up by 2.6 inches. This pays big dividends in the rear seat, where legroom has increased by 5.1 inches, better than some midsize sedans. Meanwhile, front-seat passengers get an extra half-inch of legroom and cargo space increases by almost 1 cubic foot. You'll love the extra space.

Such practical concerns will be appreciated by the Corolla faithful, and everyone can appreciate the higher-quality interior. The previous Corolla interior was not only dull to look at; its cabin was cheaply built. Clearly, this new interior is a notable improvement, but it still trails its American rivals in overall quality. That said, the infotainment system was easy to use, which is rare.

Corollas come in L, LE, S and LE Eco models in Base, Plus and Premium trim.

All except the Eco get a 1.8-liter, double-overhead cam four-cylinder engine that produces a reasonable 132 horsepower. Eco models get the same engine, but with an extra eight horsepower. A continuously variable automatic transmission is standard equipment on all except the L models, which get a choice of a six-speed manual transmission or an antiquated four-speed automatic, or the S-Plus, which has the six-speed manual. Depending on which of the 12 models you opt for, fuel economy ranges between 27 and 30 mpg in city driving, and between 36 and 42 mpg on the highway.

Despite the variety of trim levels, the driving experience remains mostly unchanged.

The four-cylinder engine has enough grunt to perform with a livelier feel than last year, although the CVT transmission allows the engine to moan loudly when drivers 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 makes the car react with a notable thunk. S models also get a Sport button, which awakens the Corolla from its Eco-induced slumber, giving it more vitality.

More than its power, the Corolla's handling is improved. Although it's still not as sporting as a Ford Focus or Mazda3, It's more adept than last year's without degradation in ride quality, which is admirable for a small car. Not only is this new Corolla comfortable, it's quiet as well. Road, wind and tire noise are held mostly at bay, even if engine noise is noticeable at high revs.

Add it up, and it seems a remarkable, if unexciting, value, starting at a budget-friendly $16,800. Expect a nicely equipped model to run about two-to-three grand more.

Despite the changes, every parameter of the Corolla has improved, with one notable exception: safety.

In crash testing performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Corolla received a score of "marginal," the second-lowest rating, in small-overlap crash testing. Four other crash tests earned a score of "good," the agency's top rating. By comparison, the 2013 model was labeled a "Top Safety Pick" by IIHS.

But to its legion of faithful followers, the arrival of a new Corolla, one that's more stylish, significantly roomier and a tad more powerful, is enough to get pulses racing. No, it's not for those seeking small-car thrills. Instead, it's aimed at those who appreciate its dependable, practical nature.

It may sound dull, but it's hard to argue with the Corolla's success.

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2014 TOYOTA COROLLA:

–Engine: 1.8-liter DOHC four-cylinder

–Wheelbase: 106.3 inches

–Length: 183.1 inches

–Weight: 2,865 pounds

–Cargo space: 13 cubic feet

–EPA rating (city/highway): 29/37 mpg

–Fuel consumption: 27 mpg

–Fuel type: Regular

–Base price, base model, excluding destination charge: $16,800

–Base price, test model, excluding destination charge $19,700

–Price as tested: $22,870

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ABOUT THE WRITER

Larry Printz is automotive editor at The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. He can be reached at larry.printz@pilotonline.com.

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(c)2014 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)

Visit The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.) at pilotonline.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

Larry Printz The Virginian-Pilot (MCT)