Could The 2014 Toyota Corolla S Be The First Desirable Corolla In A Generation?

Front 3/4 view of the 2014 Toyota Corolla S
The 2014 Toyota Corolla S.
As the Phoenix bureau made clear in its review of the Toyota Corolla LE ECO about six weeks ago, Corollas have not historically been cars one aspires to.  You'd have to go back to the mid-80s Corolla GT-S and FX-16 to find the last time someone eagerly saved up their money with a Corolla as the end goal.  Since then, it's all been about reliability, fuel economy and price.  And Toyota has done just fine with that on the business end while making some dreadfully boring appliances (see my review of the 2013 Corolla).

That may have changed.  The Corolla certainly has.  While the Phoenix bureau is correct that the all-new Corolla is actually an artful blend of old and new, a salient fact was missing from that earlier review (as Executive Editor, I'll take responsibility...I should have caught it).  The new Corolla has a 3-inch longer wheelbase than the old one.  That has a lot to do with its better looks, and it greatly improves what was a none-too-wonderful ride.

But beauty is as beauty does...and if you follow one simple rule in your Toyota shopping, you'll find the '14 Corolla does exceptionally well.  That rule?  Skip the L, the LE and the LE Eco.  The one worth having is the Corolla S.

Rear 3/4 view of 2014 Toyota Corolla S
2014 Toyota Corolla S.

Yes, it is $2,200 more than the base Corolla L.  But it's the best $2,200 you'll ever spend.  And you likely weren't buying the Corolla L anyway.  That's the fleet car special.  The S is a mere $700 more than the LE...and only $300 more than the LE Eco, to which it gives up only one mile per gallon city (29 instead of 30) and three mpg highway (37 rather than 40).

You get the same 132-horsepower 1.8-liter DOHC 16-valve four with variable valve timing that comes in the L and LE (the ECO gets a version with Valvematic technology that actually makes eight more horsepower), but you get one thing the others can't have.  A "Sport" button.  And it makes a difference.  Press it and the Continuously Variable Transmission gets a lot more agressive about where it varies. They could mark the button "Fun" and the Federal Trade Commission wouldn't lay a glove on them.

The $20,400 base price also brings 17-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, color-keyed heated power outside mirrors and a rear deck spoiler.

Interior view of 2014 Toyota Corolla S
2014 Toyota Corolla S interior.

Inside, automatic climate control with pollen filter, an Entune audio system with Toyota's Entune app suite, a 6.1-inch color touchscreen with backup camera, Bluetooth, USB and auxilary connections, SofTex-trimmed heated front seats (power-adjustable 8-way for the driver, manually adjusted 4-way for the front passenger), cruise control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, paddle shifters, voice recognition, power doors, locks and windows and keyless entry.

Go back, read that list again and consider:  $20,400.  For a car that looks that good, has a fun button and still gets 29 mpg city and 37 highway.

The press fleet folks at Toyota loaded ours a bit...$850 for a moonroof and $1,510 for the Driver Convenience Package (SmartKey, upgraded audio system with HDRadio, navigation and HDRadio-based traffic and weather. With $810 for destination and handling, the bottom line was a still-reasonable $23,570. But if you passed on the options, you'd be at $21,300.  Either way, it's a staggering bargain.

In this size class, we're still extremely fond of the Mazda 3 i Grand Touring, but the new Corolla S is a massive step forward for Corolla.