It may be inexpensive, but it’s still uncompetitive
The Toyota Corolla isn’t the newest or most exciting car in its class, but it sure is popular. Through April, Toyota sold more than 100,000 Corollas in the North America. For context, that’s more units than total Mazda3s sold in all of 2017. So even though the current Corolla dates back to the 2014 model year, sales haven’t exactly suffered.
The Corolla is a commodity car, and, much as we hate to admit it, there’s a strong percentage of Americans who just want A-to-B transport. If you are one of those folks, scroll down nine paragraphs to learn about the Corolla’s features and accoutrements. But if driving matters to you, keep reading straight on.
Although the 2018 Corolla XSE we recently tested benefits from several updates added since its 2014 redesign, the segment as a whole has changed drastically. Among other things, the popularity of crossovers has eaten into compact car sales, advanced technology and safety features have gone mainstream, and turbocharged engines are no longer reserved for performance models.
Back in 2014, when the Honda Civic had a 1.8-liter I-4 that made 143 hp and 129 lb-ft of torque, the 1.8-liter Corolla’s 132 hp and 128 lb-ft was considered relatively competitive. And if the modern Civic still needed 9.0 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph, it wouldn’t be as big a deal for the Corolla to make the same run in 9.9 seconds. Unfortunately for Toyota, Corolla XSE money buys a comparable Civic trim with a 1.5-liter turbo, not just the base Honda 2.0-liter engine (which still outpaces the Toyota). With 174 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque, the turbocharged Civic we tested hit 60 mph in 6.8 seconds.
In the quarter mile, it’s the same story. The 2014-edition Civic did it in 16.9 seconds at 84.9 mph (136.6 km/h), ahead of the 2018 Corolla’s 17.5-second run at 80.9 mph (130.2 km/h). The modern turbo Civic, however, laid down a 15.3-second quarter mile at 93.0 mph (149.7 km/h). That means the Corolla is no longer just the slower of the two (and slower than even the base 2.0-liter Civic). It’s straight-up slow, and that means a lot on a freeway on-ramp.
The “transmission did hold gears close to redline,” noted associate road test editor Erick Ayapana, but the Corolla was still “consistently slow no matter what I tried. Brake overlap didn’t help, nor did manual mode.”
Interestingly, the Corolla’s braking and handling results hold up a little better despite Ayapana’s observation of “lots of noise but not a lot of bite.” Our tester stopped from 60 mph in 131 feet, 4 feet shorter than it needed back in 2013. The Corolla still couldn’t out-brake either generation of Civic, but the new Honda didn’t blow away its predecessor, either. In fact, it performed slightly worse (although a difference of a few feet is hardly significant when cars are tested several years apart).
In our handling tests, road test editor Chris Walton found the Corolla “pretty dull, as you’d expect.” It averaged 0.81 g around our skidpad and completed the figure eight in 28.4 seconds at 0.59 g. The current Civic, on the other hand, averaged 0.84 g on the skidpad and needed 27.4 seconds to finish the figure eight at 0.64 g. To put that difference in context, the Corolla’s results are more in line with full-size pickups than the rest of the compact car segment.
“You sure want to avoid early-onset understeer, as you’ll never get rid of it,” Walton warned. “The first lap was the quickest, and it was downhill from there. Obviously the tires are quickly, quickly overheating.” He also noted that “exiting the corners, I still had some noticeable nanny effect sitting on the throttle, slowing me down, but there’s not much you can do about that.”
As critical as he was of the Corolla, Walton did point out that although there’s “not much steering feel, the effort is plausibly realistic.”
Behind the wheel, the Corolla feels even less agile than its unimpressive test results might suggest. There’s simply nothing about the Corolla XSE that encourages enthusiastic driving. Even the aging Ford Focus is more fun.
Now, back to the commodity car items—for those of you who buy a Corolla because it’s affordable, reliable, spacious, and fuel efficient.
The top-of-the-line Corolla XSE costs $23,675 USD, and with the upgraded infotainment system, our tester came out to $24,200 USD. For that price, you get heated synthetic leather seats, a moonroof, keyless entry, and several active safety features such as adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking. In fact, those safety features come standard, so even the $19,495 USD Corolla L has adaptive cruise control.
The adaptive cruise control system doesn’t work below 25 mph (40 km/h), though, so if you spend much time in traffic, pick one of the Corolla’s competitors instead. And although there is a lane keep assist function, its usefulness is limited. Toyota also doesn’t offer the Corolla with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, even on high-end models. For younger buyers, that alone might be a deal breaker. Also, the Corolla’s gas mileage no longer stands out in its class; the Civic’s is far better.
In the next year or so, expect Toyota to introduce a completely redesigned model that addresses most of the current car’s shortcomings. We’ve already driven the 2019 Corolla hatchback, which rides on a new platform, gets a more powerful engine, offers more technology, and even includes Apple CarPlay. Based on our initial impressions, the upcoming sedan version should be much more competitive.
Until the next-gen Corolla gets here, consumers will be much better off buying a different car. Not because the Corolla’s bad. Sure, it’s affordable, and dealers are pricing it to move. But the segment has evolved considerably, and the Corolla sedan needs a full redesign to catch up. If you really want a compact Toyota, either wait for the new model, or consider the Corolla hatch.
|2018 Toyota Corolla XSE|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$24,200|
|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)||2,928 lb (61/39%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||183.1 x 69.9 x 57.3 in|
|0-60 MPH||9.9 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||17.5 sec @ 80.9 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||131 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.81 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||28.4 sec @ 0.59 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||28/35/31 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||120/96 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.63 lb/mile|