For the United States, the Toyota Corolla has been an automotive staple of economical transportation bent on getting occupants from point A to point B with no fuss or issues. The last 46 years have proved the Corolla to be a reliable nameplate worthy of its nearly 40 million units sold worldwide since 1966.

The current Corolla has been around since 2008 and can, in a more or less frank way, be described as a bulletproof econo-box that does exactly what it should and little else. The plane-Jane interior and inexpressive exterior do an excellent job of going unnoticed. But – all that’s changing for 2014.

 

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The all-new Corolla still offers the great reliability and affordability, but now comes in a rather attractive wrapper with a stylish cabin and updated powertrains.

We recently got to spend some time getting to know the new 2014 Corolla in the balmy heat of Miami amidst the busy downtown streets and laid-back beaches of the ritzy metropolis.

Exterior changes are quickly noticed, especially up front. The Corolla’s new nose is much more distinct with an aggressive forward lean accented with LED headlamps and faux carbon fiber fascia. Distinctive bodylines continue around the side and culminate between the bright rear tail lamps. Heavily creased wheel arches help promote the car’s more sporty vibe, making it appear lower and more planted to the ground.

Even more impressive is the all-new interior. Soft touch materials abound and styling is much more expressive. New SofTex heated front seats are supportive and comfortable wrapped in either leather or sport cloth depending on trip package. The premium feel continues in the switchgear, door panels, and center console with a great looking boot wrapping the gear shifter’s base.

Toyota’s updated Entune audio system finds itself in the new Corolla as well – except for the base L trim level – and is a very welcome addition. Maps and audio features work intuitively and without lag. The split screen feature makes navigation and music viewable simultaneously on the 6.1-inch touch screen. However, we did find ourselves wishing for more than one USB port. Perhaps engineers expect passengers to use the standard Bluetooth connectivity with smartphone integration. The updated Entune comes with some really nifty features like Yelp, Bing, iHeartRadio, Pandora, OpenTable, MovieTickets.com, Facebook Places; and a suite of news, traffic, and weather applications.

The Corolla’s overall length has grown for 2014 to the benefit of the rear passengers’ legroom. Even with the front seats adjusted for the vertically endowed, a person of the same stature could easily fit behind. It’s no limousine, but rear passengers won’t be getting leg cramps. Headroom isn’t tight either thanks to a generous 37.1 inches of space. Our only gripe with the back seat is the omission of a fold-down center armrest.

On The Road

Driving the new Corolla is a fairly uneventful experience. The familiar 1.8-liter 4 cylinder produces an adequate amount of power for keeping up with traffic. Depending on model, it’s either mated to a standard 4-speed automatic, a nifty 6-speed manual, or a CVT. The CVT will likely be the volume transmission for regular consumers, whereas the 4-speed auto – offered only in the L trim – will probably find more homes with Avis, Enterprise, and Hertz.

The CVT has been tweaked with what Toyota calls CVTi-S, or Intelligent Shift, which provides simulated shift points for added driving excitement and a reduced “rubber band” sensation typical of CVTs. Corolla S models are further equipped with a manual mode with both a gated +/- shifter and steering wheel-mounted paddles that modulate 7 different shift points in the CVT.

The enthusiast’s choice of transmissions, of course, is the 6-speed manual. Throws are relatively short and with a positive engagement that makes driving a lot more entertaining. The 1.8-liter is happiest in its middle and upper rpm range where peak power of 132 horsepower is generated at 6,000 rpm. Peak torque of 128 lb-ft. happens at 4,400 rpm. The 6-speed is only offered in the base L trim package and the sportier S model.

Road and wind noise are well controlled within the cabin, but the whine of the CVT-equipped 1.8-liter’s exhaust is rather grating under heavy acceleration and enters the cabin far more than expected. The Corolla could greatly benefit from extra sound deadening materials to help mitigate the issue, but otherwise, is a pleasant place to spend time.

Also new for 2014 is the LE Eco trim line. It’s powered by the same 1.8-liter 4-cylinder, but comes with an innovative new intake valve management system called Valvematic. Basically the system varies the amount the intake valves opens to specifically control the volume of fresh air entering the combustion chambers. Valvematic is good for an extra 3 mpg and 8 horsepower over the regular 1.8-liter, although torque drops by 2 foot-pounds.

Overall EPA estimates for the 2014 Corolla are class leading for gasoline-powered vehicles with automatic transmissions. The ratings vary slightly based on trim package and transmission, but ranges from 28city/37highway/31combined in the base L trim equipped with a standard 4-speed auto up to 30/42/35 in the LE Eco.

Pricing is competitive in its class as well. Entry fees range from $16,800 for a base Corolla L with the 4-speed auto to $20,100 for a Corolla LE Eco Plus. A moon roof at $850 and driver’s convenience package at $1,510 are the two major options available for LE, S, and LE Eco models.

Overall, our first impressions of the new 2014 Corolla are positive. It offers plenty of room and comfort for passengers and style and technology for the driver. With good gas mileage and a fair starting price, combined with the updates, we full expect the new Corolla to build upon its already stellar sales. We look forward to spending more time behind the wheel and getting real-world mpg numbers.

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