The Toyota Corolla is the automotive equivalent of comfort food. Safe, bland and dependable, it offers neither delight nor distress. It is the perfect car for the driver who considers humility to be the primary virtue.
The Corolla’s major strengths are its peerless reliability, its smooth, comfortable ride, and Toyota’s massive dealer network. The base model, the Corolla L, is also quite inexpensive at $16,230. That’s hundreds less than the base Hyundai Elantra, a model renowned for its low price of admission. (The Elantra has a more powerful engine, higher fuel-economy ratings and a longer standard-equipment list, however.)
Our Nautical Blue Corolla S had a sticker price of $21,729, just $124 more than the Honda Civic EX we test-drove a few weeks earlier. The Honda rode more stiffly than the Corolla but was more enjoyable to drive, thanks to its crisp handling and 140-horsepower engine, compared with the Corolla’s 132-horsepower unit. The Honda also had a rear-view camera as standard equipment.
Functionally, the leaders in the compact segment, including the Civic, Elantra, Ford Focus, Nissan Sentra and Chevrolet Cruze are similar. For drivers whose main concerns are engaging road manners or top fuel economy, the Corolla can’t compete.
On the highway, the Corolla revives memories of Buicks from a few years ago. Its ride is soft and compliant, its sense of balance around sharp corners a little mushy. Also Buick-like is the admirable simplicity of its controls. It feels just fine on a straight, open highway, even at 80 mph, but it doesn’t beg to be turned loose on a mountain road with hairpin curves and steep grades. And it’s among the least temperamental of cars. Owner surveys by Consumer Reports magazine place the Corolla much better than average in almost every frequency-of-repair category.
Under the skin, the Corolla falls short of the Civic. It has a four-speed rather than five-speed automatic transmission, which may be a factor in the engine’s leisurely performance; and it has rear drum brakes rather than discs all around. Both cars at ranked as Top Safety Picks by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The Corolla S’s standard-equipment list includes tilt/telescopic sport steering wheel with audio controls, power locks and windows, cruise control, remote keyless entry, and heated power outside mirrors. Options, including a premium audio system with navigation and Toyota’s Entune system, which provides mobile applications and data services, added about $1,900 to the sticker price.
Unlike the Toyota’s gasoline-sipping Prius hybrid, the Corolla is not a fuel-economy leader. With the automatic transmission, it’s rated at 29 mpg city, 34 highway, in an era when 40 mpg is the magic number for compact and subcompact sedans. The Civic comes within 1 mpg of that goal, while the Elantra is rated at 38 mpg on the highway.
Despite these shortcomings, the Corolla remains a sales leader, with 24,999 units sold in February. Corollas are built in Blue Springs, Miss.
Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.
Engine: 1.8-liter Four, 132 horsepower, 128 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Weight: 2,800 lb.
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear
Wheels: 17-inch alloy (optional)
Tires: 215/45R17 89H all-season (optional)
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 12.3 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 13.2 gallons
Fuel economy: 26 mpg city, 34 mpg highway
Fuel type: Regular