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Motoring: Canadian-made Corolla still aims to be No. 1
Quebec City: It’s the largest volume selling car of all time, but can the Toyota Corolla still cut it after 47 years?
Sold in 154 countries and produced in 16 locations around the world including Canada, Corolla accounts for 25 per cent of total sales for the biggest automaker on the globe.
At the Canadian press launch of the 2014 Corolla held in Quebec City, the importance of the 11th generation compact sedan to Toyota’s viability was stressed repeatedly.
Along with the Honda Civic, Corolla practically invented the compact car segment, building its reputation on quality, practicality and reliability. In fact, some 80 per cent of Corollas built in the Toyota Motor Manufacturing (TMMC) plant in Cambridge, Ont., are still on the road.
TMMC has been producing Corollas since the first one, a Mica Blue sedan, rolled off the assembly line on November 30, 1988. To date, more than 1.3 million Corollas have been sold in Canada and it is the most massed produced car in history with more than 40 million and counting.
Those core attributes remain unchanged in the 2014 Corolla that went on sale in Canada on Sept. 3.
But what has changed is Corolla’s attitude.
During a reveal of the new car earlier this year in Ottawa, Toyota Canada officials joked that they would offer everything except beige paint.
And it’s true the predominant colour reflected what made the Corolla strong in the minds of Canadian owners. It was a daily driver that could be used without worry and without price shock at the pump.
But it was bland, bland, bland and slowly, Canadians shifted to more stylish offerings such as Elantra and Mazda3. Increasing consumers were seeking a compact sedan that offered a dash of panache along with economy and reliability.
The first hint of design mojo was seen in January at the Detroit Auto Shown with that Corolla Furia Concept. Looking very smart on the stand, I admit I dismissed it as a nice design exercise but too daring for the core Corolla buyer. I was wrong.
All the styling cues from the Furia can be found on the 2014 Corolla from the deep and large trapezoid grille to the standard LED highlights set far back on the fenders to give a swept back line to the car.
Folks, this is one car you have to see in the flesh, especially beside an older model.
There will be four models: CE, LE, S and the new Eco with starting prices of $15,995, $19,215, $19,500 and $20,250 respectively.
Buyers can chose from two versions of its 1.8-litre DOHC inline four-cylinder with 132 hp and 128 lb/ft of torque on the CE, LE and Sport and 140 hp and 126 lb/ft of torque on the Eco, which Toyota calls its most fuel efficient and powerful Corolla ever.
Also new on the LE, S and Eco is a new Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) that Toyota calls the CVTi-S (I for intelligent, S for shift). The CVT is the first pulley-style unit in North America.
The base CE has a four-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission.
The Eco is a new trim model that uses the engine tuned for fuel economy and underbody panels plus low rolling resistance tires for greater overall efficiency.
The new Corolla’s suspension uses a Macpherson strut design for the front with a new, more rigid control arm design.
A torsion beam arrangement is used for the rear. Both suspension layouts have been designed to take advantage of the additional body rigidity to provide improved handling responses and steering control.
While the spring rates on Corolla have been optimized for ride comfort, the S-model features unique coil, damper, and bushing tuning to help offer a sportier driving characteristic.
When journalists came back from driving the new Corolla, all they could talk about was the CVT.
“It’s a CVT that doesn’t act like one,” said my co-driver meaning the whine and leisurely acceleration of early CVTs was not present.
We spent all of our time in the S model with the more sporting suspension, with my co-driver, an accomplished racecar driver and go-kart instructor, whistling through some back roads north of Quebec City.
In manual shift mode, the CVT has seven speeds actuated by paddle shifters. With the engine on full song, and the paddle shifters being played like a ragtime piano, crisp shifts up and down were felt through the steering wheel and the seat.
This is the first CVT I’ve come across that’s fun to use and, unbelievably, in a car costing under twenty grand.
But while most people will never take the Corolla on the Nurburgring, they will use it for just about everything else a family needs.
While the 2014 Corolla is slightly longer, wider and lower which accounts for its small appearance, most of the volume is set aside for five adults.
With the front passenger seat all the way back, I rode in the rear during the afternoon and can report there was more than enough legroom to the point I actual dozed off for a few minutes such, was the smoothness of the ride and that on potholed Quebec roads.
I have to mention the front seats, that while larger, have a new thinner back that is supportive for those in front while gaining precious knee room millimeters for those in the back.
Trunk space is larger than the 2013 model at 369 litres (13.0 cu ft) primarily due to the higher deck lid. That in turn makes ordering a version with the backup camera something to seriously consider.
And of course I cannot stress how important the Corolla is to the Canadian and Ontario economies.
How it is built is a direct reflection of what this country can do and I challenge anyone to find a misaligned body panel or shut line on this car. Believe me, I looked at each and every one at the press launch.
The Corolla is more than the start of Toyota’s avowed goal to become the best selling compact car in Canada but it could be a game changer for the brand around the world.
Toyota Corolla 2014
Body Style: four-door, five-passenger compact sedan.
Drive Method: front-engine, front-wheel drive.
Engine: 1.8-litre litre four-cylinder (132 hp and 128 lb/ft and 140 hp and 126 lb/ft) with six-speed manual, four-speed automatic and CVT (seven speed) transmission
Cargo Capacity: 369 litres (13.0 cu ft)
Tow Rating: Not recommended
Fuel Economy: (Regular) manual, 7.1/5.2/6.3L/100 km city/highway/combined; automatic, 7.4/5.4/6.5L/100 km; CVT, 6.8/4.9/5.9/L/100 km; CVT Eco, 6.5/4.6/57L/100 km
Price: (Starting prices) CE, $15,995; LE, $19,215; S, $19,500; Eco, $20,250