The made-over Corolla stands out just enough, with sheetmetal pulled tight over the forward-angled frame. I'm a fan of the interior in particular—modern but minimalist, it's got a lot of appeal. Big, chunky buttons are easy to find by feel and sit amidst some interesting textures. Comfy SofTex seats aren't leather, and they're not trying to be—they're comfy, stain-resistant cloth. The back seat is huge for a car this size.
The whole arrangement shows that Toyota has put a great deal of thought into a pleasant design that won't distract the driver.
Infotainment is courtesy Toyota's great Entune system. It's one of the simplest systems out there—maps lack detail, and interfaces are far from slick—but it works. Virtual buttons are responsive, and physical buttons are plenty.
You can also get access to the Entune App Suite, which lets you book a restaurant reservation on OpenTable or listen to various streaming audio sources. It uses your smartphone's data connection, so make sure your data plan has GBs to spare.
Voice recognition is very good. For instance, navigation allows for "one shot" address entry. Just tell the car "123 Main Street, Tupelo, Mississippi"—there's no messing around with selecting a city, then a street. With Entune Apps running, I asked for a "table for two at 7 PM" at my favorite restaurant, and Entune obliged. Cars that don't feature navigation and apps will still feature a touchscreen.
I got the chance to taste two flavors of Corolla: a fuel-sipping LE Eco without any options, and a fully loaded, sport-oriented S, both with continuously variable transmissions (CVT). I wouldn't recommend paying any extra for the LE Eco in hopes of saving gas, though.
Yes, the new Valvematic technology that debuts on the LE Eco's engine is both innovative and simple, and I expect it'll show up across the Toyota lineup. But for now, the price premium doesn't make sense: I got a little over 33 mpg in a combination of city and highway driving in the Eco, while the S delivered a hair under 32 mpg under similar conditions. Just be sure to stay away from the base car, with its antiquated four-speed automatic transmission that sandbags gas mileage.
Despite the effort that Toyota put into the Corolla's looks, infotainment system, and engine, the car felt sloppy on the road. I preferred the slightly stiffer suspension found on the S, but that's faint praise: A tiny bump might set the car going slightly to the left or right of where you thought you were headed, and the lethargic, electric power steering isn't precise enough to compensate.
"But how does that affect me?" you may ask. "I'm just a daily commuter, I don't care about driving, and I'm not going to take my Corolla to a track."
Well, I'll give you an example: I drove the LE Eco on the Long Island Expressway, where potholes the size of small houses share lanes with twisted hunks of scrap metal. If you can't react quickly enough to miss one, you'll shred your tires and end up stuck on the side of the road instead of at that Michael Bublé concert you were headed to. And instead of meeting you for the first time, the stranger you were destined to marry will end up sitting next to an empty seat.
...Or you could hit the pothole, hard. And that's why it matters if a car has lazy steering and a rough ride.
Aside from their handling, both Corolla variants were responsive to throttle inputs, even when a heavy foot made the engine strain to merge on a hill. The car had plenty of pep around the city, and the 1.8-liter four-cylinder had no problem on a long highway journey.
Toyota has done some great things with the new Corolla. It's a shame the steering and suspension aren't a bit more crisp, because they're a couple of killer flaws in a car that otherwise deserves its popularity.
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