Despite the proliferation of compact sedans dotting dealer lots, Toyota's venerable Corolla continues as a popular choice thanks to its durable reputation and smile-enhancing fuel economy. Corolla entered the U.S. market back in 1968 (yes, it's been 50 years) as a smaller-dimensioned subcompact powered by an un-thrilling 1.1-liter four cylinder engine. The current 2018 model is based on an eleventh-generation platform introduced in the 2014 model year with a welcome bump-up in horsepower from the '68 effort.
The compact Corolla slots above the sub-compact Yaris and below the mid-sized Camry within Toyota's lineup.
The 2018 front-wheel drive Corolla sedan is largely a carryover from the 2017 model year, save for illuminated driver and passenger sun visors now standard across the board. Upper SE and XLE trims add comfy-feeling leather-wrapped steering wheels.
Corolla probably is best imagined as a four-door sedan. Three years ago, a slow-selling five-door hatchback (Corolla Matrix) quietly retired. But when Toyota announced the discontinuation of its once-heralded, youth-obsessed Scion division two years ago, many Scion-badged products merged into the Toyota stable. Case in point; the one-time compact Scion iM morphed into a single-trim, well-equipped 2018 Corolla iM, boasting four side doors plus a hatchback.
All Corolla trims include Toyota's Safety Sense-P, banding together an impressive list of radar-enhanced safety nuances. The TSS-P bundle includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, dynamic radar cruise control and automatic high-beam headlights.
Corolla boasts numerous trims including L, LE, SE,XLE and XSE, all powered by a 1.8-liter, double overhead cam inline four-cylinder engine generating 132 horses. The fuel tank holds 13.2 gallons of regular, 87-octane unleaded fuel.
Only the SE trim comes with an available six-speed manual transmission. A Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) connects with the engine in all other trims. Benefits of infinite-gear-ratio CVT's (instead of five or six designated planetary gears) include increased fuel economy numbers and a smoother-riding experience. Zero-to-60 performance takes a hit, but compact, entry-type offerings like Corolla generally dissuade this target audience anyway. Fuel estimates for our SE trim with CVT checked in at 28 miles per gallon city and 35 mpg highway.
Corolla power strictly depends upon an internal combustion engine. Toyota offers a wide-spectrum of alternative-powered compacts within the Prius family of vehicles.
Toyota's newest U.S. assembly complex located in Blue Springs Mississippi, just outside Tupelo (birthplace of Elvis Presley), supplies a majority of Corolla sedans sold in the States. Corollas began flowing out of Blue Springs in the fall of 2011. To date, one million Corollas have rolled off this assembly line, an impressive number given its short half-dozen years of production time.
Standard content grows the higher up one travels up the trim level ladder. A scant few option packages are available including a 'premium package' with an upgraded sound system.
Also worth noting is a higher-mileage variant badged the Corolla LE Eco with 'Valvematic' engine tweaking to the 1.8-liter four-cylinder and smaller 15-inch tires, stretching fuel economy to an estimated 30 mpg city and 40 mpg highway, making it the mileage champion of non-hybrid Toyota offerings. It's designed especially for California's higher fuel/pollution standards.
The lowest-priced 2018 Corolla, an L trim with CVT transmission, checks in at $18,600. Our SE trim began at $20,495. With a $1,535 premium package, and $895 destination charge, our bottom line reached an attainable $22,925. An SE with six-speed manual transmission starts at $21,765.
The simplistic, easy-on-the eyes instrument panel includes two circular analog gauges flanking a digital, rectangular, multi-panel display. At night, cool blue backlighting accents the gauges, which include two smaller inserts along the bottom (left-side temperature, right-side fuel gauge). Cool blue backlighting extends to steering wheel tabs and many dashboard controls.
Centering the upper dash is a digital clock conveniently separated from the seven-inch in-dash, multifunction color screen directly below. The touch screen tutorials and designs remain user friendly, with most requests requiring no more than two prods to get where one desires.
Below, The HVAC system employs three thin side-by-side mechanical tabs to summon fan speed, temperature and direction, all visually assisted by a rectangular window above. A cubby nook below is home to auxiliary and USB plug-in ports along with a 12-volt outlet benefitting portable electronics. Corolla has yet to adopt Apple Car Play or Android Auto, two Smartphone connections providing a higher rate of application interaction with the in-dash color monitor.
Two drive modes are available in CVT SE trims with a push of a button just ahead of the dual beverage holders between cloth seats: Sport and Normal. Also nearby, a manual, pull-handle parking brake. The manually tilt-and-telescoping three-point steering wheel includes secondary audio controls at 9 o' clock and an IP window tab at 3 o'clock. As with a majority of Toyota and Lexus products, a rectangular 5 o'clock appendage monitors cruise control.
Rear seat backs split and fold forward in a 60/40 split in all trims sans L. A generous 41.4 inches of rear leg room create an environment where three riders may co-exist in relative comfort during short durations. Our SE's supportive, manually-sliding front buckets include a two-tone appearance with blue inserts (matching the exterior color) and white stitching.
Overall exterior styling remains humble, albeit with a bit more penuche employed since its eleventh-generation redesign in 2014. Narrow front 'A' pillars contrast with a rear 'C' pillar gaining girth and
thickness as it travels down towards the short deck lid. In front, a traditional top-side grille gives way to an oversized, lower air dam design. Toyota's round cursive 'T' logo funnels to a point front and center above the horizontal dam. Our 'sporty' SE trim included a spiffy black mesh center patterned air dam. Flanking this artistry are facing headlight housing designs mimicking a profile of an eagle eye and beak. Even relatively modest-priced vehicles such as Corolla now incorporate bejeweled headlight creations, taking full use of smallish LED lighting to cobble together illuminating artwork.
Also specific to SE, a rear trunk spoiler and chrome-tipped exhaust. A power tilt-and-slide moon roof with sliding interior sunshade comes standard in SE and XSE.
Side character lines begin at the front fender and travel through body-colored strap-like door handles to the point end of wrap-around tail light housing. The SE and XSE trims feature the largest-sized tires available on Corolla (17-inchers) with eye-appealing machine alloy wheels with black painted accents.
Four decent-sized side windows and large rear glass provide drivers with good, comforting sight lines in multiple directions. An ample 13.0 cubic-foot trunk is also home to a temporary spare tire tucked below the flat floor board. Not all rivals include this once standard safety item.2018 Toyota Corolla
Price as tested: $22,925
Engine: 1.8-liter four cylinder
Wheelbase: 106.3 inches
Overall width: 69.9 inches
Overall height: 57.3 inches
Overall length: 183.1 inches
Curb weight: 2,865 pounds
Powertrain warranty: Five years/60,000 miles
Fuel economy: 28 mpg city, 35 mpg highway
Assembly: Blue Springs, Mississippi