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2015 Toyota Corolla Test Drive Review
If cars like the Mazda3, Ford Focus, VW Golf, and Honda Civic can get you from place to place while providing a degree of driving pleasure to make the trip more fun, why can’t the 2015 Toyota Corolla?
As ever, the latest version of the Toyota Corolla represents reliable and sensible transportation. You could even call it stylish. Where the Corolla falls short is in the areas of “surprise” and “delight.”
Look and Feel
When I was 12 years old, I drafted a list of the qualities I’d like to have in my future husband. Among other things, he had to be rich, smart and look good in a scarf, and apparently I had decided that I absolutely must be able to check off each and every line at the time I was to decide on a life partner. I don’t have the list anymore, but I recall it vividly, mostly because my mom was laughing so hard. Not with me, but at me.
Nowhere on that list were intangible things like how he made me feel. In my callow youth, I didn’t write about how he had to possess a similar sense of humor to mine, or feel comfortable enough with me to dismiss the occasional bodily emission, or to genuinely like being with me, even after a 48-hour Disneyland marathon with two little kids.
I’m not saying that buying a car is anything like choosing a soul mate—although performance enthusiasts might disagree—but if you’re gonna drive the thing every day and spend a good chunk of your life interacting with it, it would be preferable if you found the experience delightful, no?
The 2015 Toyota Corolla is a car that checks off several of the sensible and practical qualities you want. It’s reliable. It’s fuel efficient. It offers some of the modern features you seek. It's even surprisingly roomy and comfortable inside. But it lacks any of the attributes that make driving a pleasure. In a Corolla, your commute to work or your trip to the mall is just another task that must be performed rather than an experience to relish.
Toyota redesigned the Corolla just last year, missing an opportunity to make the car something more than an appliance. Four different trim levels are available, including the basic L, the popular LE, the thrifty LE Eco and the sporty S. All versions include LED headlights; air conditioning; power windows, locks and mirrors; a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel; a height-adjustable driver’s seat; and Bluetooth connectivity with a USB 2.0 port.
Upgrade to the Corolla LE for a more efficient continuously variable transmission (CVT), larger 16-inch wheels, heated side mirrors, automatic climate control, cruise control, remote keyless entry and a 6-speaker sound system with a 6-inch touchscreen display, Bluetooth audio streaming and a reversing camera. An LE Plus Package provides alloy wheels, fog lights and nicer interior trim pieces while paving the way to opt for a power sunroof, keyless access with push-button start, satellite radio, HD Radio, a navigation system and an Entune App Suite infotainment system. Get the LE Premium Package for all of these features as well as a power driver’s seat, heated front seats and SofTex leatherette upholstery.
The LE Eco is equipped like the LE but adds a retuned engine that makes 8 extra horsepower for a total of 140 and gets better fuel economy at the same time. That is, in part, because this model is more aerodynamic and rolls on smaller wheels with low-rolling-resistance tires. Plus and Premium option packages add similar features to the same packages offered on the LE, but with unique 16-inch alloy wheels and chrome window trim.
The sporty Corolla S features unique hubcaps, side mirrors with integrated turn signals, a rear spoiler, sportier front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with paddle shifters, a Sport driving mode and revised dashboard trim. The S Plus Package adds 17-inch alloy wheels, rides on a tighter suspension and steps up from rear drum brakes to better-performing rear disc brakes. Additional upgrades include the convenience features of the LE Plus Package, and, in a somewhat feeble nod to driving enthusiasts, you can even get a manual transmission with the S Plus. The Corolla S trim’s Premium Package is like the one offered for the LE model.
My test vehicle for the week was a Corolla S with the Plus Package and the 6-speed manual transmission, a car that almost nobody buys. The savings from the CVT that almost everyone buys translates to the inclusion of a premium audio system, a navigation system, keyless entry with push-button engine start and sport instrumentation. The grand total came to $22,400, including the $825 destination charge, and while my Barcelona Red Corolla S demonstrated more personality than previous versions of this iconic small car, I wouldn’t venture to call it handsome or sleek.
A 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine powers all versions of the Corolla, and in all but the LE Eco trim, it makes 132 hp. That’s not much, but this engine is refined and quiet, and because the Corolla is relatively light, it supplies a decent amount of power after an initial lack of thrust.
A 6-speed manual transmission is an increasingly rare find in a nicely equipped small car, and while most automotive journalists are, in my opinion, overly excited about rowing their own gears, I can honestly say that none of them would enjoy this one. Not only is shifter action floppy and imprecise, but the clutch lets up at a ridiculously high point. Two seasoned drivers with decades of experience with manual gearboxes stalled the car several times over the course of a one-week loan.
On the other hand, the 6-speed gearbox made it easy to keep engine revs high in order to wring maximum power from the engine. That’s necessary to keep up in traffic, as independent publications show that when flogged it still takes a Corolla about 8.5 seconds to run from zero to 60 mph.
Give up on the quest for maximum forward thrust and you can earn a benefit at fuel pumps. The EPA estimates that my Corolla S test car should have returned 28 mpg in the city and 37 on the highway. I averaged 29.8 mpg in mixed driving.
As for how it drove, in the city the Corolla was decently hushed and provided a mostly peaceful ride, although imperfect pavement jarred the car from its reverie, creating a busy jitteriness, no doubt as a result of its unsophisticated beam axle rear suspension.
On the handling segment of my regular test loop, the word “lackadaisical” kept popping into my mind. While the brakes, suspension and steering handled the curves without trouble, there was no joy experienced during this portion of the drive, no beguiling suspension action or acceleration capabilities urging me to exit a corner with enthusiasm. As a result, I was as bored as a teenager at a mandatory poetry reading.
Look, what most people want from their car is a reliable way to get from point A to point B. The Corolla delivers. But if excellent cars such as the Mazda 3, Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf and even the Honda Civic can also do that while simultaneously providing a degree of driving pleasure that makes your trip more fun and enjoyable, why can’t the 2015 Toyota Corolla? Why wouldn’t you want to look forward to the drive as much as the destination?
Form and Function
If there's an area where the Corolla is substantially improved over the previous version of this car, it's within the cabin. The improvements may not show in terms of cabin materials, where pleasing materials starkly contrast with cheap-looking and brittle-feeling plastics. Rather, I refer to excellent comfort levels, from the front seats that are firm and supportive to the truly massive amount of rear-seat space.
Believe it or not, the compact Corolla has nearly as much interior space as the larger Toyota Camry and most other midsize family sedans. Credit a 5.1-inch increase in rear legroom over the previous version of the Corolla for this gain in cabin room. Add high seating positions and the genuine potential to carry three smaller adults in this car’s back seat, and the cabin’s sheer voluminousness might be its best selling point.
Unfortunately, I can’t say I was pleased with the rough-feeling cloth upholstery in my Corolla S Plus test vehicle. I would probably upgrade to the SofTex leatherette that’s available in the Premium Package.
As for storage areas, the glove box is roomy, but the center console bin is so tiny as to be useless. Open the trunk and you’ll find 13 cubic feet of practically configured space, which is good for this class of vehicle. A wide trunk opening makes loading and unloading bulky items much easier.
The Corolla offers Bluetooth connectivity as standard equipment for all models. To get Toyota’s Entune App Suite infotainment system, the Corolla LE with the Plus Package is the minimum requirement.
To use this technology, Corolla owners download apps to a smartphone, pair the smartphone to the system, and access such features as the Bing search engine, Pandora and iHeart radio, and Facebook, in addition to other information and services. Pairing my iPhone to Entune was a breeze.
Fortunately, Toyota includes large menu buttons and actual volume and tuning knobs for the radio, because experience using the rather dainty and capricious 6.1-inch touchscreen controls precludes me from characterizing it as easy to use. The virtual buttons are small, require more precision than is sometimes possible and are frequently unresponsive.
The navigation system was simplistic enough in terms of operation, although the small display screen limited its usefulness, too.
Toyota doesn’t offer any newfangled active safety systems in the Corolla. There is no blind-spot monitoring system, no lane-departure warning system, no rear cross-traffic alert system, no active cruise control system with forward-collision warning and no automatic braking function. A reversing camera is about as sophisticated as it gets, and that's included for the LE trim level and above.
Likewise, the automaker’s Safety Connect service is unavailable for a Corolla, no matter how much money you’re willing to spend to get automatic 9-1-1 assistance in the event of an accident. Some competitors offer this service as standard equipment, and in a few competitors it doesn’t cost anything extra.
In crash-test evaluations, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the 2015 Corolla an overall rating of 5 stars. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety had not officially rated the 2015 Corolla as this review was written, but the essentially identical 2014 Corolla received a Good rating in all assessments except for the small overlap frontal-impact test, in which the car rated Marginal.
While the Corolla might not be emotionally stimulating, it sure does make up plenty of ground when it comes to practical matters.
In addition to free scheduled maintenance for the first 2 years or 25,000 miles of ownership, the Corolla is expected to prove cheap to own and to retain a big chunk of its original value over time. And remember, my well-equipped test car came in at a relatively low price with a decent load of equipment, so it falls on the more affordable end of the spectrum in the first place.
Furthermore, both Consumer Reports and J.D. Power predict that the Corolla will prove to be reliable and dependable over time, and even if you flog it on a regular basis, that proven 1.8-liter engine delivers good gas mileage.
Clearly, when it comes to cost of ownership, both in terms of its affordable sticker price and how cheap it is to own, the 2015 Corolla shines brightly. And that’s the main reason to buy one.
Liz Kim has worked within the world of cars for 15 years, at various points reviewing and writing about, or analyzing and marketing, everything automotive. It’s no wonder that she married a fellow automotive journalist. Liz can be found examining and assessing the latest vehicles when she’s not busy keeping the peace between, and the schedule for, her two young daughters.
What's your take on the 2015 Toyota Corolla?
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