SAN DIEGO -- Toyota has sold 10 million Corollas in the U.S. market over the past 45 years. And while Toyota's compact sedan has long stood for reliable transportation, it also has been saddled with the reputation of a boring appliance for people who don't really care about cars.
For the 2014 redesign, Toyota is trying to change that perception.
The basics: While its looks are not as snappy as the Mazda3, Ford Focus or the Hyundai/Kia siblings, the latest Corolla sports a much more expressive front fascia, with angular contours and squinty headlamps. The side body panels don't change much though.
Dimensionally, the Corolla gains 4 inches in wheelbase and overall length, with a longer wheelbase than a 1996-2001 Camry. That added wheelbase goes mostly into the back seat. A 6-footer has decent legroom in the back, although the headroom is a bit tight.
The base 1.8-liter four-banger is a carryover engine. However, Toyota also is offering an optional "Eco" version of the same engine with an additional intake-timing actuator that adds 8 horsepower and boosts highway fuel economy to a claimed 42 mpg. Because of a supply-chain snag with the actuator supplier, however, Toyota expects only 10 percent of Corollas to be available with the higher-zoot engine.
Notable features: Although the base Corolla still offers an ancient four-speed automatic transmission, the majority of the lineup will come with a new continuously variable transmission from supplier Aisin.
The pulley-style CVT comes with artificial shift points that give the impression of a typical geared transmission. There is much less "hunting" and rubber-band feel to this unit than those of the competition.
The CVT's shift points are determined by software, and account for speed, RPM, braking, cornering-yaw angle and throttle position. In other words, someone slamming the car into a tight corner will get a different downshift ratio than someone gently descending, even if they are both driving at 40 mph.
Standard features on the base model include: Bluetooth, 15-inch wheels, eight airbags, air conditioning, LED headlamps, power windows, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, AM/FM/CD stereo with USB and iPod interfaces, and two years of maintenance and roadside assistance.
The base Sport trim level is basically an appearance package with paddle shifters, but the upgraded version with 17-inch wheels gets rear disc brakes and stiffer suspension tuning.
All Corollas for the U.S. market will be built at one of two Toyota assembly plants: Blue Springs, Miss., or Cambridge, Ontario.