The Toyota Corolla has long been the antithesis of the enthusiast car. It’s the automotive equivalent of smooth jazz — ubiquitous and innocuous but seldom loved. And like a forgettably syrupy Kenny G ballad album, it’s also enjoyed enviable success over the years; in 1997 it beat out the Volkswagen Beetle to become the best-selling car of all time, and is always near the top of the charts for its segment, selling 290,947 units in 2012 in spite of being near the end of its model cycle.
But reputation and bulletproof reliability alone hasn’t been enough to stave off competition in recent years, and it’s been sparring with the Ford Focus for bragging rights as the best-seller. Since a half-hearted makeover would likely lead to losing more market share, Toyota has unveiled a new, eleventh generation Corolla that’s sleeker and dare I say, interesting.
Surprisingly similar to the carbon fiber-trimmed Corolla Furia concept from this year’s Detroit Auto Show, the production version sheds the frumpy profile from the existing car by stretching the wheelbase and overall length by almost four inches. With chiseled lines and sculpted creases on the outside and a sportily svelte cabin within, it’s the best-looking Corolla yet. Nonetheless, the smallish tires tucked into cavernous wheel wells show it’s still an economy car at its core.
And while the fundamentals of the car won’t change much — there’s still a 1.8-liter, 132-hp engine, a four-speed automatic (in addition to a six-speed manual and CVT) and a torsion beam rear suspension — Toyota promises a more engaging drive. Steering has been slightly quickened to 3.19 turns lock-to-lock similar to the pre-refresh 2012 Honda Civic, and the electronic power steering unit touts better road feedback and accuracy. The S trim traditionally has little frills and no thrills, and for 2014 it’ll see a stiffened suspension setup as well as a 140-hp engine.
So the “sporty” grade won’t take on a Volkswagen GLI at a stoplight, but efficiency, not speed, has always been one of the key selling points of the Corolla, and Toyota is targeting 42 highway mpg for the LE Eco trim. The compact will also see more standard features across the line-up, including Bluetooth connectivity, LED-adorned headlights and eight airbags.
None of those are groundbreaking specs, but what’s game changing is Toyota’s shift towards the sporty, even with what has long been a hopelessly forgettable appliance. If the Corolla gets a competitive pricepoint and driving dynamics that don’t induce sea sickness, it may not only be a value-minded purchase for buyers, but an enjoyable one.