The Toyota Corolla, the fifth-best-selling nameplate in the United States, is a larger, roomier sedan for 2014 with improved ride and better gasoline mileage than its predecessor.
But it doesn't look like a Corolla. The conservative character is gone, replaced by contemporary styling outside and an intriguing, almost retro, dashboard design inside.
Plus, there's so much legroom now — 42.3 inches in the front seats and 41.4 inches in back — that car buyers looking for a family sedan might want to consider the new Corolla. In fact, while Toyota press materials refer to the 2014 Corolla as a compact, the car now is listed by the federal government as a midsize four door.
Best of all, the 2014 Corolla earned overall five out of five stars in government crash tests and is a recommended buy of Consumer Reports magazine, where predicted reliability is above average.
Base pricing has gone up a bit, though. Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $17,610 for a base, 2014 Corolla L with a six-speed manual and $18,210 with an automatic. This base model, with carryover 132-horsepower four cylinder from last year, does not include a rearview camera, cruise control or steering-wheel-mounted radio controls.
But the base 2014 Corolla has eight standard air bags, air conditioning, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, fabric-covered seats, hands-free phone capability, and AM/FM radio with CD player, USB 2.0 port with iPod connectivity plus Bluetooth music streaming and four speakers.
Standard low-beam headlights on the Corolla are even light-emitting diodes this year — a feature not usually found on sedans in this class.
Note the automatic on the base Corolla L is a traditional, four-speed auto that, while rating a commendable 27/36 mpg in fuel economy from the federal government, ranks lowest among the 2014 Corolla models.
Buyers wanting to maximize gasoline savings can move up to higher-priced models with more fuel-saving equipment.
The lowest-priced of these, the Corolla LE, has a starting retail price of $19,110 and comes with a continuously variable transmission that works to optimize fuel economy. The result: An LE government rating of 29/38 mpg.
Toyota offers other 2014 Corolla models with “Eco” in their names that rate a bit better.
With bolder front styling and designed side “creases” in the metal, the new Corolla seeks young buyers. But the tester, in bright Blue Crush paint and with 17-inch, dark alloy wheels, did not get second looks.
Inside the test car, the black, plastic dashboard was well-arranged but surprised with its tall and upright design that seemed inspired by 1960s cars.
Even with a mix of economy and aggressive driving, the tester averaged 32.1 mpg, which was on par with the government rating of 32 mpg.
Everyone in the new Corolla sits a bit lower to the pavement than in the previous Corolla. Drivers familiar with older Corollas will notice the more structurally rigid feel of the new Corolla. With a longer wheelbase and suspension improvements, the ride is smoother, and the test S Premium model traveled comfortably. Steering was responsive while retaining a mainstream feel. There was some road noise.
In October, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported one safety recall for the 2014 Corolla. The windshield wiper assembly might short circuit, leaving the wipers inoperable and potentially reducing driver visibility.