2016 Toyota Corolla Road Trip: Audio Odyssey
For Southern Californians into used CDs, vinyl and other traditional media you can actually hold in your hands and put into a machine, Amoeba Music may as well be Mecca. Located on Sunset Boulevard in the heart of Hollywood, Amoeba is the kind of place where you can literally get lost in the music. Yes, there's an online store, but there's something special about scouring racks and bins for rare and out-of-print CDs. As a sonic snob, my prize is the SACD -- Super Audio Compact Disc -- a high-res music format that had a brief battle with DVD-Audio in the early 2000s before both whimpered at the onslaught of lower-res but more convenient digital music downloads.
Though only some 60 miles from my home in Orange County, getting to Amoeba is a slog because it involves multiple freeways, narrow side streets, and the ever-present gridlock that is L.A. traffic. The commute calls for a car that's comfortable on the highway and easy to maneuver in the city -- two traits the Toyota Corolla practically has trademarked. With keys to a 2016 Corolla Special Edition in hand, I took the opportunity for a trip to music nirvana.
Making the connection
For a road trip of which the purpose is to find good music, it was only appropriate to hit play before hitting the accelerator. Thankfully the Corolla still comes with something that is disappearing from other cars: a CD player. For this trip I brought an assortment of titles, ranging from Beck and Otis Redding to the first soundtrack from "The O.C." -- a surprisingly strong compilation.
While I appreciate the better sound quality offered by CDs, I'm hardly a Luddite, and neither is the Corolla. In addition to the CD player, this Corolla came with an Entune Premium Audio system that bundles navigation, a 6.1-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth streaming, HD Radio and USB input. For $1,200, it's a nominal charge for a robust system, and still made this compact sedan a deal at $23,520.
The system immediately and flawlessly connected with my iPhone via Bluetooth, and for good measure I also had a thumb drive filled with music in the USB port. The audio system sounded good even with lower-resolution music and tunes streamed from my phone. One particularly cool feature is the Corolla's ability to display album artwork no matter the source, digitally fetching even relatively obscure titles like Kraftwerk's "Pocket Calculator" streamed from my iPhone.
Hitting the road
A series of winding, hilly roads stands between my home and the nearest freeway, and it proved a good place to test the Toyota Corolla's responsiveness and handling. While this sedan won't be confused with a performance car -- or even among the sportier compact sedans -- the Corolla didn't blush in getting up to speed. Its 4-cylinder engine is more than adequate for everyday acceleration, and S models such as the one on which this Special Edition is based have a Sport button that changes throttle response when engaged. I was also pleasantly surprised how well the Corolla "held gears" on downhills. The quotes are there because this Corolla actually doesn't have traditional gears. It uses a fuel-efficient CVT -- continuously variable transmission -- that does an admirable job impersonating a traditional automatic. For those who want even more control, paddle shifters are available to mimic seven forward gears.
If the hills were the dessert portion of my drive, the much longer freeway commute was the equivalent of eating my vegetables. Yet the Corolla was a willing partner no matter how slow or fast traffic was going on the trek up to L.A. The Toyota proved impressively comfortable -- and not just for a compact sedan -- as it adeptly soaked up the bumps, potholes and other imperfections of the region's notoriously poor roads. Visibility is also good, and combined with the Corolla's smaller size made it a snap to maneuver in traffic. It proved highly efficient, too. By the time I reached Amoeba, the Corolla was averaging 29 mpg and would ultimately top 30 mpg including the trip back. This is indeed a commuter's friend. If I had one request, it would be for adjustable lumbar support in the driver's seat.
The search and a sound return
Amoeba Music is positively overwhelming. As the proclaimed largest independent record store in the world -- with the L.A. shop being the largest of its three locations -- you can find just about anything there. And while one employee confirmed my suspicions that interest in CDs is waning some, the store has seen an uptick in record sales as vinyl experiences something of a resurgence. Who knows, maybe CDs will again be in vogue in the future.
With a bag full of finds -- including one of my beloved SACDs -- it was time to pop in a disc and return home. Though I knew the route, I again used the Corolla's navigation system, which provided excellent directions on the way up. This time I used its voice-command system, and to my surprise and delight it recognized my one-shot address entry the first time and immediately started route guidance, even alerting me to traffic delays.
After some four hours in the Corolla, I was again reminded why it's been a benchmark for buyers looking for a comfortable, roomy, easy-to-drive, economical and good-natured commuting companion. This audio lover gives it extra marks for its slick and versatile Entune system.