S for Slow, not Sport
In a race to the bottom, the Toyota Corolla might be pulling ahead of the competition. No one expects the Corolla — even in sportier S trim — to set records in a straight line or around a track, but a few of the compact sedan’s hundreds of thousands of buyers might actually test drive something other than a Toyota. And based on the test numbers we got from a 2014 Toyota Corolla S with the new CVT, the automaker had better hope they don’t.
Even in spiffy Blue Crush Metallic paint matched with two-tone 17-inch wheels, the 2014 Corolla S remains a commuter car for those who care as much about driving excitement as Aventador owners worry about fuel economy. Buyers who want a car with a proven record for reliability and a surprisingly capacious interior will still be served well by the new Corolla, and should stop reading now. But there have never been so many decent compacts vying for consumers’ money, and Motor Trend test numbers help us determine where in the segment the Corolla fits.
Unlike other 2014 Corollas, the Corolla S has available rear disc brakes and 17-inch alloys with a sportier suspension tuning. A low-volume Corolla S with a six-speed manual is available, but for a vehicle like this, we’d go with the CVT, which makes the most of the car’s 132 hp and 128 lb-ft of torque. What sets the 2014 Corolla S apart from its compact-segment challengers — and not in a good way — is just how far behind it falls in instrumented test numbers. Testing director Kim Reynolds’ suggestion? “Take the S badges off to save weight.”
Whether you’re talking about acceleration, braking, or figure-eight performance, the Corolla would have tied for or finished last against the five compacts in our recent Big Test. That comparison involved a 2013 Dodge Dart with an upgraded engine, a 2013 Honda Civic, a 2014 Kia Forte with an upgraded engine, a 2013 Mazda3, and a 2013 Nissan Sentra. The 2014 Corolla S’ 0-60 mph time of 9.7 seconds would have put it behind all of those cars except the last-place Sentra, which also had a 9.7-second time. The new Corolla was, however, 0.1 second quicker than a 2011 Toyota Corolla we tested with the four-speed automatic and the same 132-hp engine. It’s what happens below 60 mph that tells a more complete picture.
When entering a highway onramp, what the car does from a stop to 30-40 mph feeds most people’s perception of a car’s quickness. From 0-40 mph, the 2014 Corolla S’ 5.3-second time is behind the 2011 Corolla (5.0 seconds), as well as everything in that five-car comparison, including the high-volume 2013 Honda Civic (4.6 seconds) and 2013 Nissan Sentra (5.1 seconds). The 2014 Corolla completed the quarter mile in 17.4 seconds at 81.8 mph, behind everything in the five-car comparison except the 2013 Sentra (17.4 seconds at 80.1 mph), and the 2011 Corolla (17.4 seconds at 80.0 mph).
“So what,” you say. “Few Corolla drivers care much about acceleration.” Fair enough, but 2014 Corolla drivers might eventually have to make a panic stop. As with most other compacts, disc brakes are available on higher-trim models but aren’t standard across the line. With the 2014 Corolla S’ 10.8-inch front disc and 10.2-inch rear disc brakes, the Toyota came to a halt from 60 mph in 135 feet. That’s longer than the as-tested 2011 Corolla’s 129-foot distance and all five cars in our Big Test, again including the high-volume Civic (119 feet) and Sentra (124 feet).
But there is one semi-bright spot.
Reynolds found the steering tuning “benign for normal driving” and noted that it “doesn’t feel cheap.” Toyota may now offer the Scion FR-S and a midsize Lexus sedan that twice earned first place in Motor Trend comparison tests, but the new Corolla is still just a basic compact four-door. Get a Mazda3 or Ford Focus if you want a fun-to-drive small car.
On the track, the tires (P215/45 R17s) overheated quickly, and if you drive the car too fast on a winding road or on a track, you’ll be met with lots of understeer. About the Corolla S’ special sport seats on the track, Reynolds said the “seat base cushion is not long enough for this kind of driving.”
Without driving the 2014 Corolla S on the same roads as the Big Test compacts on the same day, and with the same set of drivers, it’s impossible to determine a useful observed fuel economy figure. The estimated EPA ratings for the 2014 Corolla S with the 17-inch wheels are respectable, though not class-leading, at 29/37 mpg. The CVT helps make that happen, and, as we noted in the 2014 Toyota Corolla First Drive, the transmission mimics the feel of a conventional unit, even before you press the S mode button. Road test editor Scott Mortara has a suggestion for CVT-equipped Corolla S models: Borrow the LE Eco model’s Eco mode and allow drivers to choose among Eco, regular, and S transmission settings. Perhaps as a mid-cycle change, the addition would make sense for a car that already has an Eco light in the instrument cluster.
Our $23,570 tester was as loaded as the Corolla S gets, with Softex leather-like seats (real leather isn’t available), a moonroof, navigation on a 6.1-inch touch-screen display, hands-free keyless entry, satellite radio (with a cheap-looking non-body-colored black antenna), power front seats, 17-inch alloy wheels, foglights, a rear spoiler, leather-wrapped steering wheel with paddle shifters, and turn signal indicators in the side mirrors.
As Toyota tiptoes forward with the new Corolla, others in the segment may eventually start eating into the automaker’s compact-segment market share. It won’t happen for the 2014 or 2015 model year, but if Toyota ever needs to expand the Corolla’s appeal beyond consumers whose car search starts and ends at a Toyota dealership, there’s plenty of room for improvement. Until then, if you’re a commuter who is satisfied with Toyota reliability and a carpool-ready backseat despite the driving dynamics, your ride has arrived.
|2014 Toyota Corolla S|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$23,570|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||1.8L/132-hp/128-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|TRANSMISSION||Cont. variable auto|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||2905 lb (60/40%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||183.1 x 69.9 x 57.3 in|
|0-60 MPH||9.7 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||17.4 sec @ 81.8 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||135 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.81 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||28.5 sec @ 0.58 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||29/37 mpg (est)|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||116/91 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.60 lb/mile (est)|