Corolla is all grown up: Toyota model still solid for looks, comfort, affordability
I owned a Toyota Corolla back in the 1980s. The car provided reliable transportation and excellent fuel economy. Corolla continues to deliver on that formula in its 2011 format. It’s a larger car now, a compact instead of a subcompact, and with its Toyota-style bulging head and taillights, it actually has a lot more style than my econobox model of more than 20 years ago, and of some smaller cars today.
There’s more power under the hood and air bags all around, including side curtains front and rear, and the seats are a bit plusher while the interior overall is much quieter. I still like the Corolla, but there are a lot of good compacts to like these days.In the Corolla’s plus column are its affordability, good looks and ability to carry four adults and their luggage, plus a quiet interior that gives it a more upscale, quality feel.
Power is good from its 132-horsepower 1.8-liter I4 that features variable valve timing. Hook it up to a five-speed manual transmission and it’ll give the car a little pep. Tied to the 4-speed automatic and it’s not all that swift to highway speeds. It’s not slow, just steady, and the automatic shifts abruptly if you accelerate the least bit hard. Additionally the transmission groans a lot if you ask for more power, negating that quiet cockpit. Toyota really should upgrade this to a 5-speed automatic.
Not that the engine should have to work that hard. The Corolla weighs 2,800 pounds and rides on a 102.4-inch wheelbase. That latter point and 16-inch tires help give Corolla one of the better rides among compact cars. You’ll still feel the big bumps, but Corolla handles them fairly well.
Up front is an independent suspension while the rear features a semi-independent layout with a torsion beam. That’s older technology, but it handles our decrepit Wisconsin roads better than some of the newer, fully independent systems.Handling is fine with a little lean in turns, but a light, easy-to-control feel to the wheel. The power steering feels overly aggressive, so there is really no road feel or feedback. You tend to oversteer when first getting used to its light touch.
Braking is good from discs up front and drums in back. ABS is standard as are traction and stability control. That’s nice on cars starting at less than $20,000.
And that’s where Corolla shines again. The base model with manual transmission goes for just $15,600, while an automatic begins at $16,400. There’s an LE with automatic at $17,300 and then the sportier S test model. The dark metallic blue test car with automatic started at $18,300 and ended at $20,855 with options. A manual S model lists at $17,470.
I could live without a stereo upgrade and sunroof to keep the costs down. They add $520 and $890, respectively.
The S model comes with plenty, including fog lights, a spoiler and color-keyed rocker panels, all to give it a sportier appearance. There’s also a front air dam, upgraded sporty-looking cloth seats and keyless remote entry and trunk release.
The interior is comfortable with mildly-contoured cloth seats, including a pump handle to adjust the driver’s seat height. The seats are supportive and look good with a textured black cloth with variable blue stripes. The rear seat feels better than most compact seats and was easy to get in and out of.I’m not as wild about the dash and doors’ looks. The black dash plastic looks pretty cheap. There’s matte silver plastic trim on the door handles and armrests, and vertical trim by the center stack and a silver ring around the shifter.
The good news is that it’s all perfectly laid out and functional. The main gauges are easy to see and there’s a manual tilt/telescope steering wheel. The Corolla has a 12.0 cubic foot trunk that is well suited to its size and a 60/40 split rear seat that will fold fairly flat to accommodate larger loads.
Gas mileage also is favorable. I got 30.8 in about 60% highway driving and with up to three passengers. The EPA rates this at 26 mpg city and 34 highway.