The venerable Corolla compact car is Toyota’s No. 1 model as well as the world’s best-selling car of all time, with cumulative sales from 1966 through 2010 surpassing 37 million units. And despite a safety recall for throttle-pedal modifications and replacement floor mats designed to prevent unintended acceleration for all 2010 Corolla’s, it was the top-selling small car, as well as, the fifth best-selling vehicle in the U.S. in 2010.
What is it that makes this little sedanlette so popular?
If you’re thinking about buying a Toyota Corolla, you might also consider a Toyota Camry Hybrid or Toyota Prius. Compare these vehicles.
The Corolla is a highly refined economy car that offers textbook Toyota reliability, a comfortable and well-conceived cabin, and fuel-efficiency that rivals many hybrids and subcompacts. It’s the consummate commuter car and is ideal for small families willing to ride in an efficient alternative to minivans, crossovers and larger midsize offerings.
Corolla underwent a complete makeover in 2009 that increased its size, added sophistication to the engine and brought a fresh look inside and out. For 2011, Toyota modestly restyled the exterior and improved aerodynamics. The 2010 XLE and XRS models have been discontinued, and several high-end options are no longer offered.
Corolla follows the design theme of its bigger brother, the Camry: Offend no one, please nearly everyone. In fact, from a distance with no size reference handy, it’s easy to think it’s a Camry. That’s not to say its an ugly car, it isn’t, but you won’t find a Corolla poster tacked to a teenage boy’s bedroom wall.
While not dramatic, the styling tweaks for 2011 give the Corolla a fragrance of modernity. Up front, a new horizontally split grille, sleeker headlamps and broader air dam, combined with A-pillars that have been stretched backwards, approaches the looks of, dare we say… Lexus. In back, a new rear decklid, bumper and a chrome strip that joins the taillights add a distinctive appearance missing from last year’s edition.
Those wanting a sportier look should check out the Corolla S. It adds fog lights, ground affects, a rear spoiler and 16-inch chrome wheels.
Unlike most competitors with both sedan and hatchback models, the Corolla is only available in a four-door sedan body style. However, the Toyota Matrix is a smartly styled four-door hatchback version of the Corolla. An updated 2011 Matrix arrives in late spring and offers a couple features not found on the Corolla, all-wheel drive and a more powerful engine.
As with the exterior styling, the Corolla’s interior mimics the Camry, which means it is clean and functional. Material quality and fit and finish, while no longer class leading, are in line with it prices. Hard plastic surfaces have a nice pebble grain complemented by a center stack featuring low-gloss black plastic with silver trim across the top and down the sides.
Instrument gauges are large and easy to read with distinct numbers and needles. Audio and climate controls are as logical as they come, are easy to reach and operate with a smooth mechanical feel. Column stalks for the windshield wiper and turn signals can be easily activated without moving a hand from the steering wheel.
A tilt and telescoping steering column combines with a height-adjustable driver’s seat for set-and-forget positioning. Outward visibility for the driver is quite good, and narrow door pillars are revered during lane-change over-the shoulder glances.
Side-by-side, and front-to-rear, passengers sit far apart with generous hip, shoulder and legroom for a car this size. Typical of Toyota, the Corolla’s seats are comfy soft, but a firm rear seat cushion would make long trips more comfortable. Those who tote wee ones around will find front or rear facing child seats easy to install, and the trunk’s 12.3 cubic feet is more than adequate to stash a stroller along with the accompanying necessities.
Standard safety features include six airbags: dual front, front side-impact, and side curtain airbags. Anti-lock brakes are standard as is electronic stability control.
On The Road
Dropping last year’s XRS model powered by a 2.4-liter engine leaves the 2011 model year Corolla with only one powerplant: a 1.8-liter four cylinder with horsepower output of 132 and a decent 128 pounds-feet of torque. Acceleration is adequate with a 0-60 spurt taking a little less than nine seconds, about average for this class of car. Performance is very good around town, but head out on the highway and the engine struggles with full-throttle on ramp runs and hills. Once merged into traffic, it is a capable and fairly quiet cruiser.
There are two transmissions available. A five-speed manual is standard on the base and S trims levels, and a four-speed automatic is standard on the LE, optional on the base and S. Both setups yield impressive fuel economy, 28/35 mpg city/highway for the manual and 26/34 for the automatic. And that’s without hybrid batteries, motors and computer systems.
To pack the most fun into your daily driver, choose the manual. It has low efforts, is simple to use and as a bonus, will save a bundle on cash on purchase. While several competitive cars now have five, and even six-speed automatic transmissions, the Corolla is saddled with a four speed. (More gear ratios allow more efficient extraction of engine power and better fuel economy.) It inhibits acceleration—add another second to 0-60 scoots—and it continuously hunts for gears during uphill climbs.
As in the past, the Corolla offers a soft, compliant ride. Its emphasis is on road comfort, which is why it is a great daily driver or commuter car. It is also ideal for longer highway journeys, but don’t expect the Corolla to handle like a champ or zip you in and out of traffic the way a Mazda 3 or a Mitsubishi Lancer would. The Toyota Corolla might disappoint some younger drivers looking for a more responsive experience on the road.
But performance isn’t what Corolla owners care about. They appreciate the hushed engine, wind and road noise, and the soft ride.
The base Corolla starts at $15,600. The step-up LE is priced at $17,300 and the S has a sticker price of $17,470. The base model means just that, it’s a base model, and for the $15,600 price you have to lock the doors, adjust the outside mirrors and crank the windows up or down manually. There are no options so, the additional $1,700 for the LE, which has all of most wanted convenience features standard, is the best buy.
The compact car segment has become extremely combative, and the Corolla faces stiff competition like Hyundai’s sleekly styled Elantra that delivers better fuel economy with a starting price of just $14,830. Chevy’s Cruze is attracting buyers with its roominess, refinement and efficiency and is competitively priced starting at $16,275. Ford’s 2012 Ford Focus has just arrived with stunning European styling and a host of high tech gizmos that starts at $16,270.
And then there’s Corolla’s archrival, the Honda Civic that trailed the Corolla in sales last year by less than 7,000 units. An all-new Civic arrives later this year, while the next Corolla full redesign isn’t due until model-year 2014. That advantage might be enough for the Honda to take the top spot in small car sales.
In the world of conventional motoring, the Toyota Corolla remains among the most practical, logical choices. While it’s true that neither the price, performance, fuel economy or interior are enough on their own to make someone instantly realize that the Corolla is their dream car, you would be hard-pressed to find a commuter car that offers so much upside with so few drawbacks.
Prices are Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) at time of publication and do not include destination charges, taxes or licensing.