"This feels like my wife's eight year old car! Like her ten year old car!" The journalist driving with me (who would probably rather not be named) has had a few Corollas in his garage, and the new 2014 model is surprising him with its familiarity.
(Full Disclosure: Toyota wanted me to drive the new Corolla so bad they flew me out to San Diego in my home state of California. It was beautiful, and the fresh air washed over me like the blue waters of the Pacific. Toyota kept me at the top floor of a fine downtown hotel, fed me surprisingly tasty quinoa burgers, offered me a run of local beers, and didn't even complain when I covered one of their cars in dust after a particularly vigorous handbrake turn.)
We're in the sportiest Corolla available for 2014 — the S trim with a six-speed manual. The clutch is light and lacking in any feel, just like his wife's old car. In fact, he can't shake the notion that the "all-new" 2014 Corolla feels like nothing more than an updated version of its past few generations' worth of predecessors.
This shouldn't really be surprising, as the 2014 Corolla rides on a platform that was first introduced to the world back in 2006.
Toyota was kind enough to let me drive a showroom-fresh, red 2013 model year Corolla right after getting out of the blue, pre-production 2014 model you see in these pictures.
You get into the 2013 car and you can tell exactly how Toyota improved the new model. The old car feels rough, almost unfinished. It's not sturdy, it's not fast, it's not particularly precise. It's easy to brake too hard or steer too quickly, just because all of the controls aren't giving you any feedback at all. The interior looks like it was made by Playskool.
The 2014 car, by contrast, gives an immediately better impression. The piano black interior in my S trim tester looks reasonably modern. The 2014 car has its rear wheels pulled back by 100 millimeters, making the highway ride more sedate. This also gives more legroom in the back and makes the Corolla the biggest car in its class inside and out.
In terms of the chassis and suspension, there are more spot welds on the 2014 and new rear suspension bushings that make the car a bit more confident on smooth roads, though the torsion beam rear suspension still gets very choppy on broken pavement. The steering is still utterly devoid of any feel, but at least it's not loose and vague like the 2013 model. The carryover engine in the 2014 model is adequate, though it never feels powerful by any means.
But you can't shake the notion that under the skin, the two cars are "essentially the same," as one Toyota USA product planning and development member told me.
While the interior of the 2014 car looks nice, it doesn't feel particularly good. I think I could tear off the whole door trim with my hands. It all feels assembled. Drive a Toyota from the late '80s or early '90s and even today they feel like they were forged from a single block of metal and inches-thick plastic. The 2014 Corolla's doors don't thunk like a durable Toyota's should.
Admittedly, I was driving a pre-production prototype, which could theoretically account for some of this flimsiness. I could be wrong, but I would say that it was pre-production in the strictest sense. There was nothing in the car that looked or seemed particularly out-of-place for something off the regular assembly line.
The 2014 Corolla is, as I have outlined, already behind the times and it's not even in showrooms yet. Its one selling point is, as far as I can tell, brutal, ruthless reliability. Behind the wheel, though, it doesn't come across as particularly durable. It's all a little light, a little weak, a little wimpy, a little cheap.
When you see how many components have been carried over from the last generation Corolla, you don't get the impression that Toyota really invested a lot of money into the 2014's development.
Why You Should Buy The 2014 Corolla
- You're the kind of person who doesn't mind getting middle-of-the-range MPG and bottom-of-the-range performance.
- You're the kind of person who doesn't mind a rough, unsettled ride on broken pavement.
- You like a car that seems a little flimsy.
- Quantity is quality.
- You don't like to break the mould.
- Groundbreaking design isn't really your thing.
- For you, "not bad" is good enough
For all of you, there's the 2014 Corolla, safe in the knowledge that your car's engineering started off in the mid-2000s, the absolute nadir for Toyota quality, reliability, and design. For the rest of us, there are cars like the Focus, the Mazda3, and anything else that feels like it was designed in this decade.
Photo Credits: Raphael Orlove