2014 Toyota Corolla 2.0 Limited Review

Toyota gets its most important car right – but not where you think
By Imthishan Giado

2014 Toyota Corolla

Read my first drive of the new Corolla here

The new Corolla comes with a lot of baggage. No, I don’t mean a boot full of Samsonite’s finest; I’m talking about emotional and historical baggage, stuffed to the gunwales with stereotypes built up over 47 years of production.

Quick, what comes to mind when you think of a Corolla? Do the words ‘boring’, ‘reliable’ and ‘resale value’ appear instantly? Then you’ve just highlighted the magnitude of the task Toyota is facing with this eleventh generation car and trying to sell it to a market that is rapidly adjusting to the existence of cheaper Korean alternatives.

All to play for, then. For a player that makes up nearly 35% of the compact segment, thus far the Corolla has been a featureless, colourless player that has traded thus far on its reputation for incredible reliability, cheap spare parts and the ability to live long lives on many continents. That’s all well and good if you’re a Nigerian waiting to buy one in eight years, but here and now…is this a car that you would buy with your own money?

For this test I received the top-of-the-line AED74,000 2.0-litre Limited with all the bells and whistles, which wasn’t noticeably different from the mid-spec car I drove at the launch event. The Corolla is still largely nondescript but handsome enough for the kind of conservative buyer that’s always flocked to this nameplate. Definitely feels a step up from the dowdy previous model. As was that car, this Corolla is built in Taiwan and the exterior quality feels right up to the mark with laser-straight cut lines and impeccable paint work. So efficient is the Toyota Way you would never know that this car rolled out of a non-Japanese factory.

Where the Limited differs from the rest of the range is in the interior. The blade that slices through the dash is finished in faux-carbon fibre though to be honest, it is not especially convincing or even that distinguishable from lesser brethren. Once again, quality is excellent throughout with a complete absence of squeaks and rattles and external road noise is impressively well damped; this is a very, very well-built car.

2014 Toyota Corolla

Pity that Toyota’s been so stingy with the equipment. Though this is the fully loaded car boasting automatic climate control, a tilt/slide sunroof, Optitron instruments and (finally) cruise control, it’s hard to call this a premium experience with blank switches found in abundance. And I hate to bang an old drum but where’s my Bluetooth telephony? Or an autodimming mirror? A colour screen? Apps for my iPhone?

2014 Toyota Corolla

Output from the six-speaker stereo is reasonably decent with shimmery highs and bumpy bass, if lacking in midrange. Bluetooth telephony is available as a dealer-fitted option, but you can forget about electric seats or leather at any price…though oddly you do get electric folding mirrors.

2014 Toyota Corolla

On the road though, it’s hard to fault the Corolla’s road manners. On the earlier test drive, it felt like the Corolla finally had actual handling and spending more time with the car only reinforces that impression. Of all the cars in the segment this is the one that feels the most composed in aggressive cornering with a well balanced chassis that largely resists understeer. Grip from the standard Bridgestone 17-inch tyres is surprisingly high – a capable driver may even surprise owners of much faster metal, if he knows what he’s doing…

I like the electric power steering on this car – it’s probably the best in the segment with an aggressive turn-in that makes nipping through the city streets and finding that last elusive parking place.  The sharpness subsides on the highway, although the car is quite susceptible to crosswinds and feels floaty at speeds approaching 120kph.

Sadly, the 2.0-litre engine does not impress. Its 143bhp barely pips the 138bhp you get in a 1.8-litre Civic and to be honest it feels fairly breathless throughout the rev range. Not helping is the standard four-speed gearbox – easily confused by quick stabs of throttle it either changes down too low or is too eager to find top gear, with the result that it never really settles down around town. Not that top gear helps. Since this is a 2.0-litre engine – big for the class, remember – the Corolla is buzzing away at well over a thirsty 3000rpm on the highway, and it only gets worse the further you take it. Fuel economy is an unexceptional 8.5L/100km, the figure noted for a jaunt to Abu Dhabi. If you’re looking for better gas mileage – key to this segment – you’d be better off with the only marginally-less powerful 1.6, and you’ll save a bag of cash in the process.

2014 Toyota Corolla

Verdict
The 2.0 Limited is easily the best Corolla I’ve ever driven, but given its pricing is also largely irrelevant to this market. Few will bother to spend AED74k on one of these when for only AED3k more you could pick up a mid-spec Kia Optima with a 2.4-litre engine.

Having said that, from a dynamic standpoint this new Corolla is deeply impressive. Toyota’s engineering team should be very proud of how they’ve managed to wring actual character out of the blandest sedan in the market. At the same time, it’s missing the kind of tech gadgets and equipment that rivals are rushing to stuff into their cars, or for that matter the Corolla gets in other markets.

Sad to say it, but consumers aren’t interested in a Corolla that drives well. They want one that talks to their iPhone. Two steps forward, two steps back Toyota.

2014 Toyota Corolla 2.0 Limited
Specs
Price: AED74,000 ($20k)
Engine:
 2.0-litre four-cylinder, 143bhp @ 5600rpm, 143lb ft @ 3900rpm
Performance: 0-100kph NA, 180kph (est), 8.5L/100km (observed)
Transmission: Four-speed auto, front-wheel drive
Weight: 1350kg

Would you buy the new Corolla? Let us know below

One response to “2014 Toyota Corolla 2.0 Limited Review”

  1. Ozimandius says:

    Would I buy the new Corolla? No bloody way. Would I buy any Corolla? Yes, as long as it’s not FWD. I also just found out that this one is made in Taiwan.

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