2016 Toyota Corolla LE Plus Review
Do you want to guess how many different compact models Chevrolet has produced since the Vega hit the scene in 1971? Just after Vega came Monza and then Chevette, all sold simultaneously and all falling under the old subcompact category, then Metro, Cavalier, Cobalt, and Cruze. Ford and Chrysler group’s compact entries follow similar paths, with names like Cortina, Pinto, Escort and Focus for the blue-oval bunch and Omni, Shadow, Neon, Caliber and now the old Dart designation dug up for Dodge. Why the history lesson? I’m just wondering how much better domestic brands would have fared in the compact segment if they’d followed Toyota’s lead with just one compact nameplate over 50 years like the now legendary Corolla.
We wouldn’t use “legendary” to describe the Chevette, Pinto or Omni, although the latter model’s GLH was nutty fun for the era, not to mention the Shelby GLH-S version, but is it possible the Big 3 domestics would enjoy the same level of compact loyalty the Corolla benefits from if they’d simply maintained a constant naming strategy? That’s difficult to say because some of the above needed to change their names in order to escape infamous problems that Toyota’s small car never experienced, but as it is the Corolla, now a household name, sold 339,498 examples in the US last year, while the Chevy Cruze had a respectable showing of 273,060 unit sales, the Ford Focus a reasonable 219,634, and the Dodge Dart a comparatively measly 83,858—ouch! There’s something to be said for name recognition, but then again there’s something else to be said about building a very good car.
I’m not going to knock the Cruze, Focus or Dart, as these are the very best compacts their makers have ever offered and each one offers specific attributes and features that are better than any competitor, and while Toyota was riding on the Corolla’s good name for a bit longer than it probably should have, with a car that was fuel-efficient, solidly built and plenty reliable yet made an AMC Pacer seem exciting (speaking of classic compacts), this latest eleventh-generation iteration is one of the sexiest small sedans in the industry.
OK, sexy might be an overstatement unless done out in sportiest S trim with its reworked front and rear fascias and optional 17-inch alloys, yet even the base CE and upgraded LE that I recently drove look fresh and new despite just beginning the third model year of this redesign. LE and LE Eco trims received a slightly sported up grille last year, and despite any mention made by Toyota’s press release I noted a subtle change from a matte carbon patterned black plastic treatment on the front bumper cap and solid matte black plastic surrounding the fog lamps to the same glossy metallic argent-gray for both areas that surfaces the grille inserts, which is certainly a step up for those of us who dote on details. Everyone else will just enjoy the LE’s overarching sporty appearance that includes a menacing set of headlights, an edgy lower spoiler incorporating those just noted fog lamps, a gorgeous set of optional 16-inch multi-spoke alloys with gray painted pockets, the particularly handsome stock taillights with their sharply angled shapes, and cool carbon fiber-patterned diffuser-style rear bumper cap. Like I said, the Corolla is downright sexy.
It gets even better inside, where a premium-like soft-touch dash top joins an attractive instrument panel done out in the same soft synthetic material, the latter boasting a lighter shade of gray in my tester. The same effect enhanced each door panel, while these light gray panels included a cool blue pinstripe spanning their upper edges, a beautiful brushed aluminum-look inlay above that, and plenty of glossy piano black surfacing to enhance the upscale ambiance. The seat upholstery was a mix of high-quality woven fabric in solid light gray for the bolsters and a textured treatment in the same color for the inserts, while the floor mats were some of the nicest in the biz, with the same blue highlighting as on the dash, plus stylish Corolla embroidery.
Those who read my rants regularly know I don’t comment on floor mats very often if ever, so you’ve got to realize we’re talking something special here, but such is the Corolla LE. The 6.1-inch touchscreen infotainment system isn’t the highest resolution in the industry, but it’s filled with functionality, its reverse camera especially useful, while the audio system’s sound was superb for the class, with clear and crisp highs plus surprisingly deep resonant bass tones. USB and aux plugs join Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity, the latter controls found within the infotainment display as well as on the steering wheel spokes, which also include switchgear for audio and the multifunction trip computer, while a stalk for cruise controls gets attached to the steering column.
The LE’s climate control system is automatic for ease of use, dual cupholders on the center console large enough for big coffees and really healthy sized bottle holders in the door pockets capable of securing the massive refillable containers I bring along everywhere to satiate my water addiction, while the cloth covered center armrest was comfortable while concealing a big useful storage bin, plus those seats I mentioned a moment ago were extremely comfortable. Rear seat comfort is good too, while roominess is excellent front to back. The trunk is also relatively spacious for the class with 13 cubic feet available, while standard 60/40 split-folding seatbacks allow expansion when required.
The Corolla LE rides like a much larger car than it is, Toyota setting it up primarily for comfort although it takes to the curves quite well too. Power off the line is smooth and linear, this much to do with the excellent CVT that gets a Sport mode for quicker response and gear-holding capability, as well as “B” mode that engine-brakes when needed.
All Corollas leave either Toyota’s Blue Springs, Mississippi plant or the Canadian factory in Cambridge, Ontario with a 16-valve, DOHC, 1.8-liter four-cylinder incorporating variable valve timing with intelligence (VVT-i) driving the front wheels, although depending on trim it either produces 132 horsepower and 128 lb-ft of torque or 140 horsepower and 124 lb-ft of torque. The oddity here is that the more powerful version is offered in the greenest LE Eco trim level, not the Corolla’s sportiest S trim that makes do with the same base state of tune that I tested in this LE.
The LE’s base engine and CVT combination offered up the second-best fuel economy of the Corolla’s various tuning and gearbox pairings, its EPA rating being 29 mpg in the city, 38 on the highway and 32 combined. Only the LE Eco is better at a claimed 30 mpg city, 42 highway and 35 combined.
I keep talking trim levels so it’s probably a good idea that I lay them out and then comment on features. The 11 trim levels are L, LE, LE Plus, LE Premium, LE Eco, LE Eco Plus, LE Eco Premium, S, S Plus (with a CVT or six-speed manual), S Premium and lastly the S Special Edition. For this review I’ll limit comments about the various S and the LE Eco trims to what I’ve already said, and reserve my ramblings to the base L and mid-grade LE models.
The L, which starts at $17,230 plus $835 for freight and pre-delivery prep with its base six-speed manual or $18,665 plus freight with the rather outdated optional four-speed automatic, includes LED headlamps (yes, full low beam LEDs) with halogen high beams, LED daytime running lights, 15-inch steel rims with covers on 195/65R15 all-season rubber, body-color door handles, a six-way adjustable driver’s seat and four-way adjustable front passenger’s seat, a cloth-covered center armrest/storage bin lid, fabric upholstery, a tilt and telescopic multifunction steering wheel, a convenient one-touch three-blink turn signal indicator, powered locks that automatically engage when underway, powered windows, powered body-color side mirrors, intermittent wipers, dust- and pollen-filtered air conditioning, six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA 6.1-inch display audio with auxiliary and USB 2.0 ports, Bluetooth, Entune Audio, advanced voice recognition, Siri Eyes Free, a rear window defogger, and more.
The Corolla LE starts at $18,665 and includes the CVT as standard, slightly larger 16-inch steel wheels with covers, remote keyless entry, silver metallic interior trim, color-keyed door panel piping, chrome inner door handles, automatic HVAC, a reverse camera with active guidelines, cruise control, shift mode, an Eco indicator, a folding rear center armrest, and 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks.
My tester was done out in $19,065 LE Plus trim, which adds that argent-gray painted grille mentioned earlier, 16-inch alloys, fog lamps, variable intermittent wipers, and heatable side mirrors, while it also included a standalone optional tilt and slide powered glass sunroof for $850.
Making this already very impressive small sedan downright luxurious is a $2,360 optional Driver’s Convenience package featuring proximity-sensing passive access with pushbutton ignition, plus an Entune Premium Audio system with navigation and more included apps, while the LE Premium upgrade adds these features as well as an eight-way powered driver’s seat, SofTex simulated leather upholstery and more for $22,125 plus freight. There are no package upgrades for this last trim, but as noted earlier Toyota offers additional trim levels to upgrade your Corolla further, although for now we’ll leave it with the LE and its various enhancements.
All Corollas get front discs and rear drums (other than six-speed manually equipped S models and above that get standard rear discs), plus ABS, electronic brake-force distribution, emergency brake assist, traction control, stability control, and Smart Stop Technology (SST) that limits engine power during braking, while Whiplash-Injury-Lessening (WIL) front seats, front seatbelt pre-tensioners and force limiters, front seatbelt anchor height adjusters that also make the shoulder belts more comfortable, tire pressure monitoring, hill start control, and all the usual airbags including a driver’s knee blocker and a front passenger seat cushion airbag join the standard safety kit. These features, along with an extremely rigid body structure, contribute to a 5-star crash test rating by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Also worthy of note, the Corolla was the highest ranked small car in the latest J.D. Power and Associates 2015 Vehicle Dependability Study (VQS), while the namesake Toyota brand ranked third out of 33 total auto brands available in the US (Toyota’s Lexus brand was number one). Additionally, the Corolla tied for second amongst small cars in the latest J.D. Power 2015 Initial Quality Study (IQS), while the Toyota brand was rated well above average with a top 10 ranking.
While the Corolla isn’t Toyota’s best-selling model in the US it’s a solid number two, not to mention the brand’s bread and butter car globally, although as you’ll likely agree it’s no longer a bland doughy white bread covered with a no-name brand of butter. It’s more like German bauernbrot and freshly churned New Zealand butter, a cut above any previous Corolla and seriously competitive within one of our most important automotive market segments. With five decades under its very stylish beltline, there’s no wondering why the Corolla name is now legend.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press; Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press; Copyright: American Auto Press