2016 Toyota Corolla S PlusPosted on April 6th, 2016
Compact sedan celebrates 50 years
By Nina Russin
This year the Toyota Corolla, one of America’s best-loved compact sedans, turns fifty. Corolla’s widespread popularity wasn’t always a given. When early models landed stateside in the late 1960s Detroit iron ruled the road. It took the oil embargos of the 1970s to get Americans thinking differently about cars, specifically the idea of fuel efficiency.
Since then, the Corolla has gone through many iterations, ranging from small station wagons to sporty coupes, including the sporty AE86 that inspired the current Scion FR-S. Today the model focuses on a core audience of budget and safety-conscious buyers wanting a reliable, well-built sedan with a bit of style.
The most recent version introduced for the 2014 model year did away with the car’s conservative exterior in favor of a more youthful design. While I originally had mixed feelings about the aggressive grille, it’s grown on me over time, giving the sedan more road presence. The cloth upholstery is attractive and more practical than leather for denizens of warm weather climates such as the desert southwest.
The newest model also adds rear legroom, making it a true four-passenger car. A new Eco model averages 42 mpg on the highway according to the manufacturer.
The test car is the sporty S grade: in this writer’s opinion, the best of the bunch. What separates the Corolla S from the rest of the pack is components, specifically standard rear disc brakes versus drums on the other grades. Disc brakes are self-drying and easier to service. While the majority of braking on any front-wheel drive car takes place in front, disc brakes do have more linear performance than drums: something that could make a difference during a panic stop on wet roads.
Base price is $19,995 excluding the $835 destination charge. A convenience option package ($1,510) adds keyless entry and start, Entune audio with navigation, a larger touchscreen, USB port with iPod connectivity, voice recognition, Bluetooth interface, satellite and HD radio, Siri Eyes Free. A power moonroof costs $850, bringing the final MSRP to $23,190.
Test drive in Southern Arizona
Over the past week I drove the Corolla around Phoenix, Arizona’s east valley, including the towns of Chandler, Scottsdale and Gilbert as well as through a section of the Gila River Indian community south of town.
The Corolla S is the only model available with a six-speed manual transmission. I would recommend it over the continuously variable automatic transmission on the test car: giving drivers better control over engine power. The continuously variable automatic is good for fuel economy but performance is uninspired. Although engineers attempted to program in shift points to make the CVT on the S feel like a traditional step transmission, it still tends to hunt under load and doesn’t provide the same acceleration off the line as the manual gearbox.
The engine on the other hand is quite good, with direct injection for quick throttle response and quiet operation. The 132-horsepower block has enough torque to make merging onto the highway easy, with good power on the high end for passing slower vehicles at speed.
The suspension consists of MacPherson struts up front with a torsion beam rear axle. The live rear axle works well enough simply because most of the car’s weight is up front.
The electric power steering system provides good assist at low speeds. A 35.6-foot turning circle makes it easy to maneuver through crowded urban areas and perform the occasional U-turn. Feedback at higher speeds is rather numb, but not so much that the driver feels disconnected from the wheels.
Visibility around the car’s perimeter is quite good. A standard rearview camera makes it easier to monitor cross traffic in crowded parking lots. I was impressed with the over-the-shoulder visibility, helping the driver to monitor cars in adjacent lanes on the highway.
Standard daytime running lamps make the Corolla more visible to other drivers during low light conditions.
Engineers did a good job of eliminating wind and engine noise intrusion to the interior. There is, however, quite a bit of tire noise at higher speeds. Having not driven the other grades of Corolla to compare, I can’t tell if that’s a general problem or specific to the wheel and tire package on this model.
Adding a significant amount of rear legroom makes the new Corolla a true four-passenger car: something that adds real value to parents with small kids of commuters who like to carpool. Keyless entry and start that comes as part of the convenience package makes it easier and safer to enter the car after dark.
I found the driver’s seat adjustments easy to use. There isn’t a separate lumbar adjustment but lower back support was good for a test drive of two hours. A dead pedal reduces leg fatigue on longer trips.
Both the center stack display and gauge cluster are easy to see in bright sunlight and after dark. An information display in the gauge cluster adds fuel economy, driving range, odometer and speedometer readings. It also warns the driver when the car needs to go in for scheduled maintenance.
I found the audio controls intuitive to figure out and easy to operate. Entune- Toyota’s infotainment system- continues to add apps to its menu so owners can interface with their smart phones.
The trunk has plenty of room for luggage, groceries and moderate-size camping equipment. Cyclists will be better served with Toyota’s RAV4 compact crossover.
The Toyota Corolla comes with eight airbags, antilock brakes, traction control, stability control, whiplash lessening front seats, daytime running lamps and tire pressure monitoring. The Corolla earned a five star overall crash test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Like: An attractive compact sedan with good second-row legroom and a spacious trunk. Toyota has a reputation for rock solid reliability and high levels of standard safety equipment. Exterior styling on the new car is much improved, making the Corolla stand out in a sea of competitors.
Dislike: Options such as Bluetooth are only available as part of expensive, all-inclusive packages. Tire noise at high speeds.
Model: Corolla S Plus
Base price: $19,995
As tested: $23,190
Horsepower: 132 Hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 128 lbs.-ft. @ 4400 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 29/37 mpg city/highway