It is one of the few sedans that still is.
As a class, they have been plummeting in popularity.
People are starry-eyed for crossovers, leaving traditional sedans to collect dust on dealership lots.
The Reasons Why are not hard to divine. Crossovers are basically cars that ride higher (people love this) and which have much more cargo space and versatility than a sedan, with its traditional (and traditionally tiny) trunk.
This also probably why one of the Corolla’s main rivals – the Honda Civic – is now as close to being a crossover as Bruce Jenner is to becoming a woman. The just-redesigned ’16 Civic has a crossover-esque roofline and if it rode two inches higher off the ground (and came with all-wheel-drive) it would be a crossover.
But if you’re not into that – if you don’t want a sedan that’s, errm, “transitioning” – there are still a few traditional choices left.
Like this Corolla.
The Corolla is Toyota’s compact sedan, a notch above the Yaris in size and a notch below the Camry in price.
It’s not flashy – despite some movement in that general direction – but it is as Blue Chip as cars get, with a decades’-long track record of better-than-most reliability, lower-than-most upkeep costs and higher-than-most resale value. It helps that it also has more interior room than some full-size sedans – including Toyota’s own Avalon sedan.
And much more than all its compact-sized competition.
Base price is $17,230 for an L trim with six-speed manual transmission.
The same trim with a four-speed (yeah; give me a minute) automatic lists for $17,830.
There are also sporty S and max-economy LE Eco trims. The LE Eco starts at $19, 065 and runs to $22,835. A top-of-the-line S Premium with a CVT automatic has an MSRP of $23,055.
Cross shops include the Honda Civic (all-new for 2016), the Mazda 3 (which is available as a sedan as well as a crossover-esque wagon) as well as the Ford Focus and the Hyundai Elantra (which is available as a coupe as well as a sedan).
Of the above, only the Elantra and Focus undercut the Corolla on price … by about the price of a large pepperoni and sausage pizza ($17,210 and $17,225 to start, respectively).
And neither comes even close to matching the Corolla’s class-best roominess (8.1 inches more legroom in the second row than either of them).
They are compacts in every sense of the word.
Even the new Honda Civic – which is a much roomier-than-before Civic – can’t touch the Corolla on spreading out room.
Or, on price.
The ’16 Civic starts at $18,460 – $1,230 higher than the Toyota. And bet your bippie – as they say in the Big City – that there’s less haggle room on the Honda, it being both “all-new” and an almost crossover.
Well, there’s inflation.
Despite being pretty much the same car this year as it was last year, the ’16 Corolla is $280 more expensive than the ’15.
Don’t blame Toyota.
Thank Uncle. Our money is worth less and less each year – so it takes more money to buy stuff, including the same stuff.
There is one new thing: You can buy a 50th Anniversary SE edition that comes with a special red/black interior and exterior treatment and a unique-to-this-model 17-inch wheel/tire package.
The Entune suite of apps has been updated, too.
Untouchable backseat room.
Probably the best value of the bunch, especially when you take the blue chip rep (and lower-than-average depreciation) into account.
Simple mechanicals. No turbos or automated manual gearboxes to break down, post warranty.
Sensible 15-inch steel wheels with soft-riding (instead of stiff-sidewalled) tires.
Plush, quiet ride.
No Motel 6 issues. This is a low-cost car that does not feel cheap.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Smallish trunk (13 cubic feet) for the class and otherwise.
Just one engine; no optional upgrade. Slower than almost all the others in this class.
Four-speed automatic (base L trim) is two gears shy of what’s currently par for a 2016 car. Gas mileage with this box is slightly less, too.
Toyota charges extra to get gas-saving features such as variable valve timing and the more up-to-date CVT automatic transmission – which cost may no longer be justified given the current low cost of gas.
The turbos are coming! The turbos are coming! Which is why you might want to buy something like the Corolla – which (for now) hasn’t got one.
The new Civic does. So does the Ford Focus.
It’s likely more – maybe all – of the others will go down this road, too. It’s become a popular way for the car companies to tout theoretically very high gas mileage… if you don’t actually use the turbo. If you do, the mileage is (in my experience) usually less-than-advertised.
You may also have to deal with expensive turbo repairs, post-warranty. More parts – more stuff that could go wrong.
Just what you’d expect – and, arguably, want – in an economy-minded car: A straightforward 1.8 liter four that makes 132 hp (140, if you opt for the LE Eco trim, which gets variable valve timing, VVTi).
A racehorse it’s not (zero to 60 in about 9.2-9.3 seconds, slower than the Mazda3 and the new Civic as well as the Focus ) but it’s likely to need nothing but oil and filters for the next 200,000 miles. The Toyota engine has a sterling rep in that respect.
A weakness, though, is what’s mated to the sturdy little four.
Base trims can be had with either a six-speed manual or – incredibly, for 2016 – a four-speed automatic.
Yeah. A four-speed automatic.
That’s like finding a tape deck inside a 2016 model year car. There’s nothing wrong with it, per se. Like a tape deck, the four-speed box works; it does what it’s supposed to do. It’s just dated technology for 2016 – and vs. what you’d find in rivals.
In Toyota’s defense, the four-speed box is … simple. It’s like they used to make ’em, back in the ’90s. That’s probably good in terms of long-haul reliability (simpler, proven technology is less likely to break on you) and lower repair/replacement costs if the thing does break on you.
The downside is the base Corolla’s fuel economy is a bit less than rivals deliver and the blame for this can be laid at the feet of the simpler – and less efficient – four-speed automatic.
To wit: An L with the six-speed manual rates 28 city, 37 highway. But with the optional four-speed box, this dips to 27 city, 36 highway. It’s not much of a difference – but it is a negative difference.
In pretty much every new car, the automatic version will give you better mileage than the same car with a manual transmission, because the automatic is more efficient than the manual.
How much better would Corolla do with a more modern transmission?
Actually, we know the answer to that question.
With the continuously variable (CVT) automatic that’s available in the higher trims (S, LE) the Corolla’s mileage rises to 29 city, 38 highway – within a hair of being best-in-class.
If you buy the LE Eco trim – which adds variable valve timing (VVTi) to the 1.8 liter engine and also buys you the CVT box, the Corolla’s mileage upticks to 30 city, 42 highway – and that is best-in-class.
Better than the Mazda3 (30 city, 41 highway) and the new Civic (27 city, 40 highway) and the Ford Focus (also 27 city, 40 highway).
The catch is the models just listed give you those numbers with their standard engines and standard transmissions. The Corolla only gives you its best numbers if you buy the LE Eco trim, which comes with the variable valve timing-equipped engine and the CVT transmission.
It also comes with a base price of $19, 065 – an upward bump of $1,835 over the base L trim with the non-VVTi engine and the standard six-speed manual transmission.
The Corolla is the comfort food of compact economy cars.
Nothing daring or exotic here. But lots of down-home goodness. It’s what has – historically – sold this car.
It’s not as quick as a Mazda3 or the new Civic, but the Corolla is quick enough to satisfy the typical buyer, who probably just wants enough scoot to comfortably keep up with traffic.
Which the Corolla has – and does.
One thing it specifically doesn’t do is make a lot of noise.
Toyota has put a great deal of thought (and sound deadening) into making the engine a non-presence. Even when the gas pedal is floored, the engine is noticeably less audible than rival cars’ engines. This is deliberate policy. People who buy Corollas are not looking for loud.
The Mazda3, in contrast, touts its sportiness and one way this manifests is – you guessed it – mechanical music. The 3 sounds snarly – but the point is, not everyone wants to hear the engine (or the exhaust).
The Corolla is supremely quiet – uniquely so, among cars in this class. This includes the CVT-equipped versions, incidentally. Some CVTs make a lot of racket. The Corolla’s is so quiet you’ll only know it is a CVT if you read the paperwork that comes with the car. Or decide to play with the manual mode via the paddle shifters (Sport trims).
Ride is another aspect of the Corolla’s quietude.
This car comes standard with 15-inch wheels, which means fatter and more forgiving sidewalls and a more compliant (and more quiet) ride. Rivals like the Mazda3 and Civic come standard with 16-inch wheels, which means stiffer sidewall tires and a firmer, less forgiving ride.
The downside – if you care about such things – is that the Corolla’s not a high-speed corner-carver. If you try to make it do such work, it won’t slide so much as balk.
Toyota – recognizing the car’s limits – set up the traction/stability control system to intervene early, like a good friend at a bar who keeps you from picking a fight with a bruiser twice your size. The throttle dials back, the ABS is applied as necessary – and you stay on track.
At normal (legal) road speeds you will notice nothing – except that the car is exceptionally pleasant and easy to drive. Try to make it go fast – in a curve – and it just won’t comply. It is almost impossible to upset this car’s apple cart.
Loping along, it feels bigger than it is – not in terms of its physical size but in terms of solidity and calm and – yes – quiet. Rack it up to 80, 90 MPH and see for yourself. Virtually no wind or drivetrain noise.
It’s easy to imagine you’re in a Camry – or even an Avalon.
In part because the Corolla’s got more room inside than either of them.
Fault the Corolla for not being particularly sexy, not quite as speedy as some of its rivals, not quite as fuel-sippy as they are (well, without paying a little extra).
But there’s no faulting the Corolla’s spectacular spaciousness.
This is a compact car with a full-sized car’s interior specs.
Unless you think that having 8.1 inches more second row legroom than several rivals (Elantra, Focus) and 2.5 inches more back there than you’d find in a Camry is not “spectacular.”
As opposed to 33.1 in the Hyundai Elantra, 33.2 in the Focus, 35.8 in the Mazda3 and 37.4 (nice try) in the all-new ’16 Honda Civic sedan.
Nothing in the Corolla’s class even comes close. To get close, you’ll need to move up a class, to mid-sized cars.
Or even full-sized cars.
But physical space is not the Corolla’s sole virtue.
In addition to the interior roominess of a much larger car, it has the ambiance of a much more expensive car.
The dash pad, for example, is literally padded – and stitched, too. Below this are brushed nickel trim plates (with handsome, contrast color “pinstripe” accents) and available piano black facings, standard chrome-ringed main gauges and a standard 6.1 inch LCD color touchscreen in the center stack.
The car has a very almost-Lexus ambiance that will pleasantly surprise you, especially when you consider the Corolla’s un-Lexus-like MSRP.
Even the base L trim comes with LED headlights, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, as well as an infotainment suite that includes Siri Eyes Free voice control and the latest version of Toyota’s Entune system with Pandora and Stitcher audio piped through a six-speaker audio rig.
Add heated seats and a few other bells and whistles and you’ve got a helluva nice car for relatively little coin.
Another manifestation of Toyota’s simpler is cheaper (and so, better … in an economy car) is the Corolla’s standard rear drum brakes.
The others in this class mostly have four-wheel-disc brakes.
Discs all around are available, if you want them (Sport models) but the drums – like the standard 15 inch steel wheels – will cost you less both to buy and to maintain.
It’s true that disc brakes will usually stop you a bit sooner, but the rotors and calipers are also more expensive – and more fragile. All it takes is one careless greasemonkey with an air gun at state inspection/tire rotation time to ruin the rotors (by overtightening the lug nuts). Then you have to replace them. Calipers, meanwhile, seize up.
They are not cheap to replace, either.
The four-speed automatic in the base L trims is more of a perceptual than functional issue. The gas mileage difference between it and the CVT that’s available in the higher trims is not huge, making it hard to justify spending the extra money to get either the CVT or the VVTi version of the 1.8 liter engine (which, recall, will add about $1,800 to the tab) when gas is only about $2 a gallon vs. $4 a gallon.
I’d go with the base L trim myself – with the six-speed manual. It just about matches the MPGs of the CVT-equipped Corolla and it’s more fun to drive.
I asked Toyota reps why, given both the burgeoning popularity of crossovers and the fact that several of the Corolla’s competitors are available as almost-crossovers (i.e., hatchback wagons) they decided not to offer such a variant of the Corolla. Especially given that they do offer such a variant in Europe – where the Corolla is known as the Altis.
I got no good answer.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Some rivals do this – or that – better than the Corolla. Few do everything as well as the Corolla does.
Which explains why it’s still selling well… even though it’s not a crossover.
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