November 27, 2013 3:00 PM | By Jeremy Sinek for MSN Autos

2014 Toyota Corolla LE Eco road test



2014 Toyota Corolla LE Eco (© Photo: Jeremy Sinek)
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  • 2014 Toyota Corolla LE Eco (© Photo: Jeremy Sinek)
  • 2014 Toyota Corolla LE Eco (© Photo: Jeremy Sinek)
  • 2014 Toyota Corolla LE Eco (© Photo: Jeremy Sinek)
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2014 Toyota Corolla LE Eco

It’s bigger and it looks sharp, but is it any spicier to drive?

2014 Toyota Corolla LE Eco (© Photo: Jeremy Sinek)

Every five years or so there comes around one of the most notable non-events in the automotive calendar: Toyota redesigns the Corolla.

Being as it is the most purchased car in history, any re-do of the Corolla is clearly a significant occurrence for the industry and for many of its customers.

And yet, being the designated poster child for the concept of “car as appliance,” the very existence of the Corolla is a matter of supreme indifference for those who actually like cars and enjoy driving them.

Or at least, engaged drivers would be happy to ignore Corollas, if the darn things didn’t keep getting in the way. A great automotive cliché of our times is the dreaded beige Corolla, holding up freeway traffic as it fumbles along in the passing lane doing 10 below the speed limit.

Such is the downside of a car that, for almost 50 years, has achieved record-breaking popularity by being a no-brainer to own and a no-brainer to drive.

It’s new, but has it changed?

2014 Toyota Corolla LE Eco interior (© Photo: Jeremy Sinek)

So, now that there’s an all-new Corolla for 2014, has anything really changed? Too soon to say on the socio-cultural side, but the metalwork sure looks different. The body has not only taken a sizeable step up in size (100 mm more length -- all of it in the wheelbase -- and 16 mm more width) it has also acquired some genuine visual presence.

The wheelbase stretch has been used to good effect, delivering best-in-class rear-seat legroom and (by a whisker) segment-topping overall passenger volume. Despite slightly sub-par trunk volume, the Corolla joins the ranks of “compact” sedans that are actually considered midsizers based on their interior volumes.

Mechanical alterations are less sweeping. The basic underpinnings are tried-and-true simple – MacPherson struts up front, semi-independent twist-beam suspension behind, braking by front discs and rear drums. The base 1.8-litre, 132-hp engine is basically carryover, as is an optional four-speed automatic transmission.

But that’s not the whole story. First, the standard manual transmission is now a six-speed. Second, the four-speed-slushbox option applies only to the base CE trim; other trims get a continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT) -- optional on the S trim, standard on the LE and LE Eco. As well, the Eco has its own unique 1.8-litre engine that not only supports its fuel-stretching mandate but also, paradoxically, generates eight more horsepower (though marginally less torque) than the base unit.

The Eco mill is distinguished primarily by Valvematic, a system similar to BMW’s Valvetronic that employs variable intake-valve lift, instead of a throttle butterfly, to regulate air flow into the engine.

Two levels of equipment, plus packages galore

2014 Toyota Corolla LE Eco (© Photo: Jeremy Sinek)

The CE performs its base-model role with an appropriately modest list of standard amenities (though it does include Bluetooth and a USB port). The LE, S and LE Eco are distinguished from each other more by their flavours than their actual contents: additional features common to all three include A/C, voice recognition, a 6.1-inch touch-screen audio, back-up camera, cruise, seat heaters, and automatic headlamps. The “sporty” S adds sport-tuned suspension plus some sportier styling cues inside and out, while the Eco uniquely has automatic climate control.

The only option on the CE is air conditioning. On the other trims, available upgrade packages variously add items like a power sunroof, aluminum wheels, 8-way power driver’s seat, push-button start and navigation. Surprisingly, satellite radio is available only in the most expensive package, and only on the LE and S.

My Eco test sample included an Eco-specific upgrade package that adds the moonroof and 16-inch aluminum wheels, plus some other lesser frills, for an as-tested MSRP of $22,200.

The bigger wheels and the fatter tires that come with them are a mixed blessing: according to the official data, they worsen fuel consumption by 3.4 per cent combined. But even on the 16s, my tester still achieved a measured 7.5 L/100 km (7.3 if you believe the trip computer) over an early-November week of mixed driving. That’s among the best results I’ve seen in a compact automatic sedan.

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