For a small car, the Corolla has some big numbers to tout. Like the fact that in 47 years, Toyota has sold more than 40 million of them and currently operates 16 factories worldwide that supply Corollas to 154 countries.
The all-new 11th-generation North American sedan comes on strong with style - especially from the windshield forward - that its broad base of customers are not used to seeing. Nothing too radical, mind you, but just enough design drama to cause some politely muffled ooh's and ah's. The front end is certainly a lot more aggressively defined with its enlarged lower air intake and inset bumper. The side intakes seem a bit oversized, but the total effect is quite appealing.
Along with its mostly new shape, the Corolla's more rigid platform supports a body that's a few ticks longer and wider. More significantly, the distance between the front and rear wheels has increased by a whopping four inches, rivaling the current segment champ Dodge Dart. Note that both the Dart and Corolla are virtually dead-heat-even for interior volume and could almost pass for mid-sizers. The added space between the wheels improves front and rear legroom slightly, which is welcome in any small car.
Interior styling has improved, but in a conservative way that differs from the Corolla's more daring competitors. Still, the clearly marked gauges and switches are logically placed and easy to decipher.
It's only when you check under the hood that a sense of déjà vu really kicks in.
A 132-horsepower four-cylinder carries over from the previous generation. It's connected to a six-speed manual transmission for the base L and sporty S Plus models. A four-speed automatic transmission is optional for the L, while a new continuously variable unit (CVT) is optional for the S Plus, but standard for all LE variations (including the new LE Eco) as well as the S and S Premium.
To reduce that "rubber-band" slippage sensation that's common to many CVTs (including Toyota's Prius hybrids), engineers dialed in seven artificial shift points. These function automatically (or can be controlled through available steering-column-mounted paddle shifters on S models) to simulate the action of a regular automatic transmission.
A fuel-saving LE ECO model comes with a 140-horsepower version of the 1.8 that's rated at 30 in the city and 42 mpg on the highway, compared to the base engine's 29/38 rating with the CVT. Aside from using a more efficient engine with special variable valve timing, those figures are achieved with the help of underbody panels that improve the car's aerodynamics to reduce highway-speed fuel consumption. Perhaps surprisingly, Toyota doesn't offer a start/stop system that shuts off the engine for short periods, such as at stoplights or in stop-and-go traffic. You'll see this in numerous competitors.
The starting-point Corolla, which carries a $17,600 base price, has air conditioning, split-folding rear seat, power windows and locks plus a basic four-speaker audio system. The LE/LE Eco trims include fog lights, 16-inch alloy wheels (15-inch steelies are on the L). You get climate control, backup camera, remote keyless entry heated front seats (power-adjustable for the driver), touch-screen display with voice recognition and Bluetooth connectivity.
Opting for the Sport brings with it a blacked-out grille, 17-inch wheels, heated outside mirrors and additional instrumentation with customizable settings. A navigation system, power moonroof and push-button start head the list of options.
Despite its generally more athletic appearance, at its heart the Corolla is a sensible people transporter that carries with it a reputation for reliability and quality that's the envy of the industry. You'll need to check elsewhere for a budget-based pocket rocket, but joining the millions of contented Corolla owners around the world will at least put you in solid company.
2014 TOYOTA COROLLA
Type: Four-door, front-wheel-drive compact sedan
Engine (hp): 1.8-liter DOHC I4 (132/140)
Transmissions: Six-speed manual (std. for L, S); four-speed automatic (opt. on L) continuously variable (std. on LE, LE Eco, opt. on S).
Market position: The world's most popular automobile brand faces some tough competition in North America as both foreign- and domestic-based rivals keep the pressure on with new and improved compact cars of their own.
Points: New styling is much less anonymous; Returning four-cylinder engine not overly powerful, but is known for durability; An automatic transmission with only four speeds is rare in any vehicle these days; Adding coupe, hatchback versions would match competition; An important vehicle for Toyota that should hold its own.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy): 28/37 (MT)
Base price (incl. destination): $17,600
Base price: $18,950
Both sedan and coupe have moved for upscale in base content and price.
Base price: $17,000
A relatively new compact sedan player that's tops in its class for size.
Base price: $17,750
New-for 2014 sedan and hatchback models are both stylish and sporty.