2014 Toyota Corolla S first drive review: Keeps on rolling…

2014 Toyota Corolla S

2014 Toyota Corolla S

Ten million is a big number, but indeed, that’s how many Toyota Corollas have been built since 1968. The number represents 38 percent of all Toyotas ever made. To say that the next generation 2014 Toyota Corolla is important to the automaker is huge understatement.

Yet it is one long overdue. The outgoing Toyota Corolla was plainer than Jane and one has been around longer than a wait at the DMV. And according to Toyota v.p. of communications Jim Colon, it had been a car that was bought not because it was one anyone necessarily wanted to buy, but instead was one that savvy, though not necessarily emotional, car shoppers should buy.

Insider the 2014 Toyota Corolla S

Insider the 2014 Toyota Corolla S are piano black trim and sport seats. (click to enlarge)

It’s another way of saying—as has been said before— the Corolla has been an appliance, like a refrigerator or a dishwasher, not exciting but good to have. And the Corolla met Toyota’s goal of QDR—quality, durability and reliability—to a tee. It just lacked the excitement that competitors have brought to the market. Zoom, zoom, anyone? Not the Corolla.

Of course, the Toyota Corolla handily outsells most of its rivals. Even in the waning days of the current generation, the Corolla outsold almost all of its rivals, taking second place in sales. People apparently liked the Corolla as it was.

Of course, as Volkswagen learned in the 1970s—as the Corolla allowed Toyota to overtake the Beetle-dependent German manufacturer in 1975—staying in the same place is falling behind. Ergo the 2014 Toyota Corolla, longer, lower and wider, and with a dramatic new face.

2014 Toyota Corolla back seat

The back seat of the 2014 Toyota Corolla has a fold-down arm rest. (click to enlarge)

Two new faces, in fact. The 2014 Toyota Corolla comes in four trim levels, the base L, the better-equipped LE, the high-mileage LE Eco and the top of the line S. While the first three share a common grille and front fascia, with a trapezoidal grille that’s wider at the bottom, the Corolla S has a mostly trapezoidal grille but it’s wider on top and it doesn’t have a lower edge. The grille opening goes all the way to the bottom.

It’s not often that a manufacturer gives a trim level a completely different grille from its model-mates—the L, LE and LE Eco have differences but just in what’s black and what’s in body color—but when you make as many cars as Toyota makes Corollas, you can justify the extra tooling to split the ranks.

Despite the different faces, however, all Corollas will have, not LED accent lights, but full LED headlights, something that’s still mostly reserved for luxury models. It’s a more expensive technology, but the headlights are brighter and have a color closer to daylight for better vision after dark.

The overall styling of the 2014 Corolla, however, perhaps treads the line between too radical for the Corollas traditional buyers and just plain, well, plain. The overall profile is stylishly raked and the fenders have prominent wheel openings, but there’s little of the surface action that’s going on with its competition.

Like the exterior, the Toyota Corolla S has a different interior as well, with sportier seats with bigger side bolsters, and different instrument panels. The lesser 2014 Toyota Corollas have the speedometer centered and set over a smaller tachometer to the left and secondary gauges to the right. The Corolla S, however, has an equal-sized tachometer and speedometer. Even on the S, however, the interior looks low-budget, a particular offender the molded faux “stitching”  on the dash. Everyone knows—and expects—the materials on this class of car to be plastic. Don’t try to make it look like something it isn’t, because it won’t.

2014 Toyota Corolla S wheel

The 17-inch wheels on the 2014 Toyota Corolla S wheels look like they were designed for a more expensive car. (click to enlarge)

On the other hand, the gauge cluster of the Corolla S isn’t real dials and needles, but a digital representation on a TFT film, and it’s reconfigurable. And the steering wheel goes a long way towards making up for the bogus dash treatment.

The trim levels differ mechanically, too. All except the LE are powered by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder with dual variable valve timing, while the LE Eco has Toyota’s “Valvematic,” which has a broader range of continuously variable valve timing (lift and phasing, on intake only) to optimize intake valve operation vis a vis engine demands.

Toyota claims Valvematic offers more than a five-percent improvement in fuel economy and engine output, and indeed the LE Eco’s engine is rated at 140 horsepower versus 132, although at 128 lb-ft, the regular engine bests the Eco engine by two in maximum torque.