Toyota Motor coming off two straight months of knocking Ford Motor out of its traditional Number Two sales position in the U.S. market is introducing an all-new Corolla model. Not only will this present formidable competition for the Ford Focus, but Corolla will also challenge Honda Civic, Nissan Altima, Mazda3 as well as the rest of the compact cars in this high volume segment.
Corolla is a strong contender in the U.S. – where more than 9 million have been sold – because of its durability and satisfied owners who bolster its reputation. However, it is not a breakthrough car in terms of technical innovations with its conservative approach. (Read Asian Brands Dominate U.S. August Sales)
After selling more than 40 million Corollas since its 1966 debut in Japan, the new Mississippi-built Corolla is just arriving in U.S. dealerships priced from under $18,000 up to $22,000 for its 12 different versions.
The 2014 Corolla offers two 1.8-liter, all-aluminum four-cylinder engines. The base 1.8-liter engine with VVT-i (intake valve only) is available on the L, LE, and S grades, rated at 132 horsepower 6000 rpm, 128 lb. ft. torque @ 4400rpm (Civic 1.8-liter 140 horsepower/128 lb. ft.). The Corolla’s new LE Eco trim model has a 1.8-liter engine with continuously variable valve timing (lift and phasing) to provide optimal intake valve (but not on exhaust side) operation relative to engine demands. The so-called Valvematic system provides more than a 5% improvement in fuel economy and increased engine output to 140 horsepower. Toyota will eventually offer a hybrid version of the Corolla, and that will be the fuel economy leader of the line, albeit at an as yet undisclosed price premium. The top of the line Honda Civic Hybrid lists for more than $28,000.
The 2014 Corolla now also offers improved fuel economy thanks to its Continuously Variable Transmission, the first pulley-style CVT offered by Toyota in North America. Hover the base automatic is a badly outdated 4-speed. The standard manual transmission has six forward gears. (Offshore Brands Move Ahead in July. Toyota outsells Ford)
This so-called CVTi-S (i for intelligent, S for shift in marketing speak), is optional on the LE, S, and LE Eco Corolla models. One technical tweak– already in use at Honda on the Civic hybrid, among other automakers – provides discrete shift points that help create a feeling similar to a traditional hydraulic automatic transmission. As it is Toyota has one fuel economy leader to advertise, the EPA Estimated Fuel Economy of the CVTi-S is projected at 30/42/35 for city/highway/combined miles-per-gallon. The more prosaic 6-speed manual is rated 28/37/31 (Civic 28/36/31), the 4-speed auto 27/36/31. Yes, it’s only a 4-speed automatic compared to the best selling Civic’s 5-speed auto trans rated at 28/39/32.
While the efficiency and reduced weight resulting from a pulley-type based CVT has never been questioned by reviewers including AutoInformed, the traditional CVT “rubber band” driving effect of the engine revving its power band upon acceleration is widely derided. With the CVTi-S, Toyota’s engineers improved the driving feel of the new Corolla by adapting discrete stepped “gears” or shift points, into the car’s acceleration and deceleration curves. CVTi-S emulates the familiar characteristics of hydraulic automatic transmissions with this positive shift engagement. On the Corolla S, up to seven shift-points can also be manually invoked at the shift gate or with steering wheel paddles.
The suspension is typical econobox with Macpherson struts in front with a new, more rigid control-arm design connecting the strut to the wheel. At the rear, is a torsion beam or semi-solid axle. Toyota said that both setups are designed to take advantage of additional unit-body rigidity to provide improved handling response and steering control. Unfortunately, Corolla is now equipped with an electric power steering system, along with the usual false claim (made by most automakers) that it “offers enhanced feel and ‘weight’ in the hands of drivers, while increasing its sense of directness with little effort.” It is fast on paper – 3.19 turns from lock to lock – subject to verification from an AutoInformed test drive.
Spring rates on Corolla are tuned for ride comfort, it is said, but the S-model will be harsher with its larger 215/45R-17 tires and wheels and firmer coil, damper, and bushing tuning for S – sportier -driving characteristics. Other wheel sizes are 15-inch with covers (hubcaps on L and LE Eco grades), 16-inch steel wheels with covers (LE and S), 16 inch aluminum wheels (LE), a 16-inch aluminum design unique to the Eco grade. The 15-inch wheels have low rolling resistance 195/65R-15 tires. The 16-inch wheels used for the LE, both the steel and aluminum, and the 16-inch aluminum aero-wheel for the LE Eco model all use a 205/55R-16 tire.
The rear beam-axle attachment points at the body are now at a slanted, diagonal angle for its bushings as opposed to the straight attachment orientation of the previous generation vehicle. This diagonal attachment point layout should improve rear handling, grip, and stability. Earlier generation Corolla models were notorious for squirrely tail wagging when pushed at the limits by auto testers particularly during lane changes and slaloms. Traditionally, the Civic is a much crisper predictable and more exciting drive car.
The braking system includes a 10.82-inch (275-mm) ventilated front discs, and either a 10.19-inch (259-mm) solid rear disc (available on S-grade) or nine-inch (229-mm) rear drums on all other grades. Like all Toyota models, the 2014 Corolla has Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Traction Control (TRAC), Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist. It also has standard a “Smart Stop Technology” brake-override system.
As we said above, Toyota started annual production of the Corolla in November 1966 with 240,000 vehicles produced at its new Takaoka Japan factory. Exports began immediately. Today, 11 generations later, more than 1.1 million Corollas are produced each year. Every hour a combined 125 new Corollas drive out of factories in Blue Springs, Miss., Brazil, Canada, China, India, Japan, Pakistan, South Africa, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Vietnam and Venezuela. With customers in more than 150 countries, Corolla is truly a World Car.
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