First drive: 2014 Toyota Corolla in the UAE
What kind of people buy Toyota Corollas? Maybe the kind who walk into a showroom and the first thing they ask is “does it come with an automatic?” Maybe the kind who has a great job in the GCC and still keeps asking “how will I survive these high petrol prices?” Or maybe the kind whose first question to a Jaguar sports-car owner is “what’s the resale value?”
So it doesn’t really matter that the 2014 Toyota Corolla comes with ancient drivetrains and rides on the most basic of suspension setups. It has a positive answer to all the questions posed above. And guess what, it’s actually a pretty good car.
The all-new Corolla is only slightly longer than the outgoing one, but gaining 100 mm of wheelbase in the process. As such, it is indubitably spacious on the inside, with rear legroom maybe only a smidge less than that of a Camry. Even the boot is huge. It’s also supposed to be slightly lower than the previous model, although it still looks too tall, especially with those huge wheel-well gaps.
That new front-end is very original, and Toyota is especially proud of the chrome grille that sort of extends into the LED-sprinkled headlights, with even more LEDs around the foglamps on our mid-range 2.0 SE Plus version.
Other features on our tester included smart keyless entry and start, dual front airbags, ABS with EBD, manual a/c, 6-speaker CD/MP3/USB stereo, power windows and not much else. At least the interior has a fair amount of soft-touch surfaces on the dash-top and door sills to offset the generous chunks of hard plastics. Moving up to the top Limited version adds projector headlamps, cruise control, sunroof and an auto a/c, but you still won’t get rear vents, leather, navigation or side-airbags.
Going back to powertrain options, there’s a 121 hp 1.6-litre and a 143 hp 2.0-litre, both mated to basic 4-speed automatics and front-wheel-drive platforms that ride on independent front and torsion-beam rear suspension. To be honest, these specs are pathetic compared to, say, a Ford Focus. But the ratty engines keep prices low, and Toyota is open about the fact that it was a choice between an old 4-speed or a new CVT, as seen in other markets, and they figured the GCC ain’t ready for a CVT in a Toyota yet.
Our 2.0-litre tester was as slow as most others in its segment, but wholly adequate as a commuter car. While it takes a heavy foot to get it going initially, the 4-speed keeps the revs at a high 3000 rpm while doing 120 kph, so already being close to its peak power-band ironically helps it perform overtaking manoeuvres a fair bit quicker that we expected. It took a mild toll on fuel economy though, as we averaged an as-displayed 9.5 litres/100 km.
The ride quality is pretty good. It’s almost as smooth as a Camry over most surfaces, but wind noise can reach somewhat high levels on the highway, more audible than in the Nissan Sentra or the Ford Focus.
Handling is also surprisingly good with the 205-width rubbers on 16-inch alloys, up to a point of course. Body roll isn’t overly excessive, and grip is more than enough. We pushed it moderately, swinging it lightly as we entered curves, fully expecting to hear tyre squeals that never came. Pushing it harder results in clean understeer, and the tail never steps out of line in emergency lane-changes. Even the brakes are fine, with linear pedal feel. It’s no Focus, but it’s still fine.
If we had a complaint, it’s the steering. It’s so light and vague that even simply driving in a straight line requires little constant corrections. Oddly enough, we could still prominently feel the texture of the road through the leatherette-wrapped wheel.
Still, judging the car for what it is, there isn’t a whole lot to complain about. It lags behind its top rivals in just about every major category. But it gets the basics right, and sometimes, basic is enough. Until recently, my father’s only car used to be a basic 1997 Toyota Corolla that I found horrendous to drive back in the day. But I’d rock this new model without any whining.
For prices and specs, visit the Toyota Corolla buyer guide.