As the best-selling nameplate in automotive history, you might think the Toyota Corolla doesn't have a lot to prove. But the automotive landscape has changed dramatically since the Corolla entered production in the late 1960s, and relying solely on an unyielding reputation for dependability and quality doesn't cut it anymore against today's standout field of compact sedans.
The 11th-generation Corolla preserves its distinguished virtues while introducing a long-overdue component to the equation: style. The exterior design is the most daring yet, and the dash layout -- while polarizing -- is undeniably unique. Sprinkled throughout this newly distinctive package are a number of leading-edge electronics. Although technology has never been the Corolla's strong suit, the 2014 model ranks near the top of its class when it comes to infotainment. LE grades and up can be fitted with a small-but user-friendly 6.1-inch touch screen that includes free HD traffic and weather data, a backup camera with guidelines, navigation with one-shot destination entry that actually works (this feature lets you speak an entire address at once while the vehicle is in motion), a split-screen display, and the largest collection of mobile apps in the compact-car space. What's more, every Corolla comes standard with LED headlights. Clear-cut controls and large on-screen icons uphold the Corolla's standing as one of the easiest cars to operate.
On the other hand, the 2014 Corolla lacks expected creature comforts like automatic headlight control, a rear center armrest, and sliding sun visors. It also took home the title as the noisiest vehicle in our test group by virtue of excessive wind and road noise at speed along with a buzzy continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). Speaking of which, the new CVT does a decent job of delivering power in a smooth, linear fashion, but it can't match the Sentra or Civic when it comes to overall refinement. Base Corolla L models still make do with an antiquated 4-speed automatic transmission or optional 5-speed manual. Directing power through these gearboxes is the carryover 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine that produces 132 horsepower in L, LE, and S trims, and 140 horsepower in the LE Eco models thanks to Valvematic technology that improves both power and fuel efficiency. We had no qualms with the manner in which the compact Toyota executed aggressive lane changes and freeway merging, and the highway ride is arguably the most composed of our test subjects. The Corolla LE's EPA ratings of 29 mpg city/38 mpg highway held true in real-world driving, as well.
Passenger room and cargo space is another bright spot for the Corolla. Despite lacking adjustable lumbar support, the front seats provide ample support for a variety of body types, while the rear seat offers more legroom than any compact car on the market -- at least on paper. In the real world, the Nissan Sentra's rear seats feel considerably roomier and feature a soft-touch armrest to boot. Out back, the Toyota's 13 cubic feet of cargo space places it in the middle of the category. A low liftover height aids loading of hefty items, though the absence of in-trunk release levers for the rear seats adds difficulty in storing longer items like snowboards and furniture.
Here's how the 2014 Corolla stacked up against the competition:
Toyota Corolla vs. Ford Focus
Aside from a more fun-to-drive nature and higher quality interior materials, the Ford Focus was outclassed the Toyota Corolla in virtually every major category. A more upstanding history of dependability, roomier rear seating, superior infotainment, and better value at both ends of the pricing spectrum make the Corolla the more sensible choice.
Toyota Corolla vs. Honda Civic
With more engaging driving dynamics, stronger residual values, an equally compelling reliability story, and a number of variants to choose from, the Honda Civic is undoubtedly the category benchmark. Even so, the Corolla bounds back with a roomier back seat, less-distracting infotainment, more comfortable front seats, and a smoother highway ride.
Toyota Corolla vs. Kia Forte
Qualities such as ride compliance, steering responsiveness, and interior ergonomics are carefully honed over numerous generations. As such, the comparatively new Kia Forte can't match the seasoned Corolla in these departments. That said, the Forte can be had with a more premium feature set, offering equipment like heated rear seats, adjustable steering modes, automatic headlight control, and a ventilated, 10-way-adjustable ventilated driver's seat with memory.
Toyota Corolla vs. Mazda Mazda3
Not surprisingly, our editors unanimously regarded the Mazda3 as the most fun-to-drive vehicle in our evaluation. What may surprise you is that it also offers the finest and least-distracting infotainment system on the mainstream market. On the other hand, the revamped Corolla carries forward the name recognition and reputation for reliability that have taken decades to build.
Toyota Corolla vs. Nissan Sentra
Offering perhaps the best feature-per-dollar ratio in our comparison test, the Nissan Sentra is the value leader when it comes to up-front pricing between these rivals. The Sentra also shines with a quieter ride on the highway, a larger trunk and a more spacious back seat. Conversely, the Corolla takes top honors in the areas of ride quality, infotainment, nighttime vision and resale value.
How much should you pay for a new Toyota Corolla? How does its 5-Year Cost to Own stack up? If you're interested in exploring Toyota's compact sedan further, head to our Toyota Corolla Editors' Page.
If you're still weighing your options, check out the other five cars included in our 2014 Compact Sedan Comparison Test.