The 2015 Toyota Corolla
S Plus is a sporty version of the Corolla that puts it a few steps above the standard economical Corolla to make it more attractive to mainly younger buyers.
In fact, the 2014 compact Corolla got a major makeover. It received racier styling, a longer wheelbase, improved suspension and a much-needed roomier rear seat.
The Corolla, which will have only minor changes for 2016, now provides decent room for four tall adults, although the stiff center of the rear seat is best left to the fold-down armrest, which contains two cupholders.
The interior has a sporty, rather upscale look, with nifty looking seat stitching. However, occupants sit lower than in some cars, and some occupants may want to sit higher for a better look out of windows. At least the driver has a manual height-control seat.
There's a decent amount of cabin storage areas in the quiet interior. For instance, all doors have storage pockets.
The large trunk has a low, wide opening, and the thick split seatbacks fold forward to provide more cargo room. But the trunk lid has no interior pull-down handle or indented area to help close it. Thus, count on your hands to probably get dirty when they close the lid.
The 2015 front-drive Corolla is much the same as last year's model, with carryover 1.8-liter four-cylinder engines that develop 132 or 140 horsepower. There's little difference between performance of the two, and they provide decent acceleration in urban areas and highways.
Estimated fuel economy of the 132-horsepower Corolla S Plus is 28 miles per gallon in the city and 37 on highways with a manual transmission. Figures with an automatic are 29 and 37. Only regular-grade gasoline is needed.
The engines work with a six-speed manual or a continuously variable automatic (CVT), which my Corolla S Plus model test car had. The CVT shifts seamlessly on its own or can easily be shifted manually via a console shifter or paddles near the steering wheel.
The S Plus with the CVT lists at $19,895 and at $21,495 with the manual, according to Toyota . Generally, automatic transmissions once cost extra.
My test Corolla S Plus had a modified suspension with low-profile 45-series tires on 17-inch alloy wheels, an all-disc anti-lock brake setup (instead of front discs and rear drums), a driver's seat with good lateral support, sport instrumentation, integrated fog lights and color-keyed, heated outside power mirrors with integrated turn-signal indicators.
There's also a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a rear spoiler. However, bright sunlight nearly "washed out" gauge readings.
A console button can be pushed to activate a "sport drive mode." That mode seemed to liven acceleration a little, but generally didn't seem to affect performance much. The owner's manual indicated it's mainly useful for mountain driving.
The steering was quick and precise with decent road feel, and the supple suspension provided a comfortable, if rather firm, ride. Still, sharp bumps could be felt. Handling was sharp, thanks partly to the wider tires and firmer suspension. The all-disc brakes stopped the car quickly, with good pedal feel.
Owners should keep the car's low front end in mind, although I never scraped it, and it's there for better aerodynamics.
The Corolla S Plus is pretty well-equipped. Standard items include automatic climate control, cruise control, backup camera, Entune Audio with a 6.1-inch touchscreen, remote keyless entry and power door locks and windows.
Safety features include Smart Stop Technology, eight air bags, a brake-assist feature and traction-control system.
Corollas have a reputation for lasting a very long time with proper maintenance. That makes the sporty S Plus model even more attractive.