When all people demanded from small cars was low cost, fuel economy, and reliability, the Corolla was superlative. But to get in one today is to realize how much the bar has been raised in the segment since the Corolla’s heyday. The interior is well finished, blessedly easy to use, and the cloth upholstery is better than most, but amenities are sorely lacking. There’s no attempt to make this cabin seem anything more than basic; it’s utterly devoid of style. The latter comment applies to the exterior as well. There’s really nothing beyond rational measures to make you want this car. You certainly won’t be eager to get in and drive it, what with its loose and sloppy steering. And even by coldly rational measures, the aging Corolla is beginning to slip. That’s particularly the case in fuel economy, where fresher competitors with more modern, 5- and 6-speed transmissions, direct-injected and/or turbocharged engines now leave the Corolla behind. The Corolla continues to be very popular, and its resale value is excellent, but both of those characteristics look vulnerable as buyers discover more capable, more exciting competitors.
Joe Lorio, Senior Editor
My, my, how time has marched on. Getting to spend some time in the Corolla was fortunate, as it helps to put the rest of the compact sedan market into perspective — that is, almost every other competitor is the segment has advanced well past Toyota’s offering. While I was impressed with the extremely simple and intuitive ergonomics, the interior quality seems a generation behind everything else on the market; Playmobil-simplicity in controls, good; Playmobil-quality plastics, bad. I disagree with David that it has Lexus-like quality, as I noticed a number of panel gaps and pieces that didn’t line up quite right. It is not the segment leader by any means, especially not with the likes of the Mazda3, Hyundai Elantra, and Ford Focus all gunning for the same customers.
With a segment so fresh and new, I am amazed that Toyota’s 2011 update did so little. The current Corolla is essentially the same model we saw in 2006, which was just a heavy rework of the one introduced on 2000. No wonder it seems to fall below its class.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
Progress can be hardest on pioneers. Early rockers like Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, and even Elvis Presley were pushed out of the spotlight by the British invasion they inspired. Bespectacled George Mikan, the first professional basketball superstar, is largely unknown by fans of today’s high-flying NBA game.
The Toyota Corolla is a pioneer. The Corolla, along with the likes of the Honda Civic, introduced American car buyers to the notion of cheap, efficient, and reliable compacts back when Domestic automakers insisted those qualities were incompatible. General Motors was so mystified that it entered a partnership with Toyota (NUMMI) to figure out how the Japanese automaker built this little car.
Fast forward to 2011, and the Corolla still embodies those early attributes. The interior is as precisely put together as that in a Lexus – the door panel gaps, cutlines et cetera are a work of art for those who appreciate that sort of thing – and the seats are about as comfortable as in anything I’ve recently driven. The 132-hp, four-cylinder does its job quietly, and the soft suspension provides a ride suited to a bigger car. Though surely no enthusiast’s ride, the Corolla performs with effortlessness many commuters will appreciate.
Of course, Chuck Berry played guitar as well in 1967 as he did in 1959. The problem was he couldn’t match the creativity and freshness of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, or the Who. And even if George Mikan were alive and in his prime today, there’s little chance he’d fare well in a one-on-one game with LeBron James. In the same fashion, new entries like the Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, and Chevrolet Cruze have evolved beyond the formula that has worked so well for the Corolla. Their interiors have much nicer materials and more features, their powertrains are more sophisticated and achieve better fuel economy, and their steering and handling is superior enough that even a lay driver will notice the difference. The current-generation Corolla has been on the market only two years, but it might as well be fifteen.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
Base price (with destination): $18,060
Price as tested: $20,485
1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine
4-speed automatic transmission
15-inch steel wheels with plastic covers
Tire pressure monitoring system
AM/FM/CD player with 6 speakers
60/40-split fold-down rear seat
Remote keyless entry
Options on this vehicle:
Power tilt/slide moonroof — $890
16-inch 5-spoke alloy wheels — $580
AM/FM/CD player — $570
XM satellite radio
Auxiliary audio input jack
Alarm — $359
Cup holder with ashtray — $26
Key options not on vehicle:
1.8L DOHC 16-valve I-4
Horsepower: 132 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 128 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm
Curb weight: 2800 lb
Wheels/tires: 16-inch alloy wheels
205/55R16 Continental ContiProContact all-season tires