The Toyota Corolla compact sedan offers reliable, inexpensive transportation. The Corolla delivers high value for its moderate price. It looks fresh, with crisp lines, it’s quiet underway, and it boasts all the technology expected by today’s compact-car shoppers. Though classed as a compact, it’s not tiny.
Redesigned for the 2014 model year, the current model represents the 11th generation of the Corolla. A new Special Edition model featuring special trim joins the 2016 Corolla lineup. Otherwise, there are no significant changes for 2016. Toyota Corolla is among the best-known names in the automotive world, following decades at or near the top of the sales charts in the U.S. The Corolla nameplate has represented basic, trouble-free, and relatively comfortable motoring for 40 years.
Two 1.8-liter four-cylinder engines are used with two different transmissions. Corolla L, LE, and S models come with a 1.8-liter engine is rated at 132 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. A slightly more fuel-efficient version for the Corolla LE Eco makes 140 horsepower (though, of course, it’s more expensive). Most buyers choose the continuously variable transmission (CVT), which is tuned to provide a nearly linear, reassuring feel when accelerating moderately. As a result, there’s less of the droning common with CVTs. The CVTs offer the best fuel-economy estimates, led by the Corolla LE Eco.
The 2016 Corolla with CVT is EPA-rated at 29/38 mpg City/Highway, or 32 mpg Combined. Corolla LE Eco is rated 30/42 mpg, or 35 mpg Combined.
Corolla L and Corolla S offer a 6-speed manual gearbox. The transmission option for the Corolla L is Toyota’s ancient, sluggish 4-speed automatic. In contrast, the CVT in the S model echoes a 7-speed automatic, with paddle shifters that can select virtual gearchanges. Little has changed for 2016 except for a new Special Edition model, based upon the sporty Corolla S. Only 8,000 will be sold, in three exclusive colors.
Infotainment systems are among the better ones in the affordable-car class. In some models, the latest Entune system features navigation and apps.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the Corolla a five-star overall crash-test rating, with five stars in every test except rollover. In testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the 2015 Corolla earned top Good ratings, except for a Marginal score in the small-overlap frontal test. Only a few active-safety systems are available in Corollas.
The 2016 Toyota Corolla comes in L, LE, S, and new LE Eco trim levels. All but the L also come in Plus or Premium form.
Corolla L ($17,300) comes with air conditioning, fabric upholstery, Bluetooth hands-free phone/audio, LED low-beam headlights, a 60/40 split fold-down rear seat, power locks/windows, Entune Audio with 6.1-inch touchscreen, USB/iPod connectivity, and 15-inch steel wheels. A 6-speed manual is standard; a 4-speed automatic ($600) is optional.
Corolla LE ($18,735) comes with the CVT and upgrades with automatic climate control, steering-wheel controls, voice recognition, 16-inch steel wheels, heated power mirrors, remote keyless entry, cruise control, and a rearview camera. LE Plus ($19,135) adds integrated foglamps and 16-inch alloy wheels. LE Premium ($22,195) includes SofTex-trimmed heated front seats, a power driver’s seat, and a moonroof.
Corolla LE Eco ($19,135) gets the more fuel-efficient 140-horsepower engine with CVT, 15-inch low-rolling-resistance tires, a rear spoiler, and aerodynamic underbody covers. LE Eco Plus ($19,835) and LE Eco Premium ($22,895) models are offered.
Corolla S ($19,295) features a Sport drive mode that firms up steering and quickens throttle response and paddle shifters for the CVTi-S, along with sport-bolstered seats, a multi-information display, and special trim. S Plus comes with 6-speed manual ($21,665) or CVT ($20,065). S Premium ($23,125) comes only with CVT. Special Edition ($20,635) features 17-inch black alloy wheels, black upholstery with red stitching, and red interior accents. Eight airbags are standard, including a driver’s knee bag and passenger seat-cushion bag.
The Corolla is conservative in appearance. Attractive, with crisp lines, but not particularly distinctive. LED headlights and running lights help give the Corolla a sportier aura. So does the lengthened wheelbase of the current generation (2014-2016), which added some interior space.
Corolla LE models have a grille that differs from the one in the base L version, while the S sedan gets a blacked-out grille, with a bolder airdam flanked by foglamps. Decisively angled frontal shapes, coupled with an upward-tilted beltline toward the rear, help create a wedge profile.
Roomier than expected, the Corolla can hold four six-footers. Long cushions and full adjustments help make front seats comfortable, while the driver gets a relaxed position, as if in a larger car.
Leg space in back is good; headroom, not so much. Still, for the first time, two long-legged passengers can expect comfort in the back of a Corolla. Outward visibility is good.
Trunk space ranks as average, with a wide opening and low, flat cargo floor. All models have flip-forward back seats.
The cabin has a rather conservative look and feel, though upscale materials help provide a sense of spaciousness. So does the two-tier dashboard, covered with soft-touch material. S models get SofTex leatherette bolsters, with coarse, contrasting seat upholstery.
Overall, the Corolla feels refined, though short of best in class. Engine sounds are nicely isolated. Fuel-efficiency is a strong point and all models run on Regular 87 octane gasoline, so no need for more-expensive Premium. The 2016 Toyota Corolla with CVT is EPA-rated at 29/38 mpg City/Highway, or 32 mpg Combined. Corolla S with CVT gets just slightly less, rated 29/37 mpg. Corolla S or Corolla L with 6-speed manual is rated 28/37 mpg. Corolla L with 4-speed automatic is rated 27/36 mpg.
The Corolla LE Eco model is EPA-rated at 30/42 mpg City/Highway, or 35 mpg Combined. Eco Plus or Eco Premium editions are slightly less thrifty. Driveability is decent in a CVT-equipped Corolla, though they lack energy from a standing start, especially when is facing a hill or filled with passengers.
That said, a CVT Corolla feels downright jaunty compared to a base model with the 4-speed automatic. Not only is the Corolla L with automatic slow when passing, it consumes more fuel. For this reason, we don’t recommend the Corolla L with the automatic; for the Corolla L, we recommend the 6-speed manual transmission.
The 6-speed manual shift linkage doesn’t reach sports-sedan precision, and the throws are somewhat long, but the clutch operates lightly and predictably, making a stick-shift Corolla easy to drive in stop-and-go commuter traffic. Despite a bit more horsepower, don’t expect the Eco model to feel discernibly quicker.
Underway, the Corolla rides almost pillow-like, though wiggly rural roads can keep the suspension busy trying to accommodate curves and surface undulations at the same time. Expect some rebounding over railroad tracks and prominent bumps.
Only the sporty Corolla S delivers authentically rewarding handling. The Corolla S suspension is enjoyably taut and controlled, yet free of harshness.
The Toyota Corolla offers low operating costs and high value, excellent fuel-efficiency, and a spacious interior. For most buyers, we recommend the Corolla LE with its nice set of features, smooth ride, and easy-to-use CVT. For more driving fun, opt for the Corolla S, especially with the 6-speed manual. Not only is its suspension more taut, a Sport button can tighten the steering. The ride is firm, yet absorbent and nicely controlled. Avoid the Corolla L with 4-speed automatic.
Driving impressions by John Voelcker, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report; with New Car Test Drive editor Mitch McCullough reporting from New York.