When Toyota unleashed the current generation Corolla back in 2013, it had lofty shoes to fill. While its predecessor was about as bland as a pair of 80’s era tennis shoes, it was also a key cog in Toyota’s formidable sales machine, and helped the brand lure in budget focused buyers. With that formidable sales reputation, and the inevitable pressure that it brings, does the current generation Corolla have what it takes to keep up this momentum? Or has it lost a step or two?
Looking at the exterior styling of my 2016 Corolla S Plus tester, it is obvious that Toyota went to great lengths to make the Corolla more appealing to younger buyers. The front end for example features a much more confident face, and embraces many of the sharp cues that made their initial debut on the Furia concept several years ago. “S” grade models like my tester amp it up a bit, and feature tweaked grille work as well as standard fog lights to compliment the attractive LED headlights. The side profile also looks crisp, but the small 15-inch base wheels look out of place. My advice is to choose either the 16-inch wheels. or my tester’s optional 17-inch alloy wheels to help resolve this issue. The rear fascia is a bit more subdued in its appearance, but the revamped taillights as well as its attractive “S” badge do help add some excitement to the festivities and are a big improvement from the old car. The new suit of clothes really pops when paired with darker colors including the “Blue Crush” hue that adorned this particular example.
While the slick suit of clothes does an excellent job of drawing people in, the equally revamped cabin is the Corolla’s trump card. High quality soft touch plastics can be found throughout, and the Corolla’s longer wheelbase also helps it deliver plenty of legroom to occupants which proved to be a welcome asset on long trips, especially on a trek to MGM Detroit with my girlfriend. The sportier seats in my tester were reasonably supportive with commendable lower side bolstering, though the lack of lower back support did impede comfort slightly. Gauges were clear and precise with my “S” grade model featuring a sportier themed cluster that includes a bold speedometer and tachometer.
Lastly Toyota’s Entune premium audio system proved to be a very impressive piece of technology during my time with the Corolla. While the touchscreen is smaller than those found on many of its rivals, inputs were precise and accurate with the six speaker stereo producing excellent sound quality especially with high notes and mid range tones. My only gripe is how close together some of the satellite buttons were to each other, which caused me to hit the wrong action on a few occasions before getting the hang of it.
With these two very potent ingredients in its recipe card, it was a pity that the Corolla’s performance hardware proved to be its biggest shortcoming. Power comes from a 1.8 liter four cylinder engine that is good for a meager 138 horsepower and a rather paltry 128 lb-ft of torque. My tester’s six speed manual transmission did help add a bit of fun to the driving experience, but the lack of torque as well as its high take in point made engaging first gear a chore. Once the Corolla was up and running however, rowing through the remainder of the gears was a lot of fun, with the transmission doing a good job of delivering accurate feedback through each gear. Buyers can also choose from either a six speed automatic, or a CVT with Toyota claiming that the engine’s full performance potential can be achieved with the aforementioned CVT.
The Corolla also has a playful character when pushed into corners, though the numb steering and moderate body roll betray its budget roots. Despite this, the suspension did an excellent job soaking up bumps and overall ride comfort was quite good. The exhaust note also has a spirited voice in city driving, but its droning tendencies do get rather annoying when out on the freeway.
While it will certainly not set any lap records out on the track, the Corolla will excel in a completely different category, fuel economy. Toyota claims that the car is capable of achieving up to 37 mpg on the highway, with the Corolla capable of even 31 mpg in combined driving. These figures are commendable, with the Corolla edging ahead of the 2017 Hyundai Elantra (6MT) by 1 mpg. However, it is outclassed by other rivals such as the Ford Focus, Mazda 3 and the Dodge Dart Aero which all have highway fuel economy ratings that surpass 40 mpg.
When it comes down to it, has the 2016 Toyota Corolla successfully reinvented itself? Largely yes, the new exterior styling has injected renewed levels of youth and vigor to the model, while its comfortable interior makes up for the checks that its mediocre engine simply can’t cash. Pricing starts at $17,300 for the base L model with S grade Corollas starting at a slightly higher $19,365. This pricing ladder puts it within range of key rivals, and makes the Corolla a compelling cross shop for budget minded young buyers especially with the Ford Focus and the Hyundai Elantra. Hopefully the addition of more power, and a more buttoned down suspension will make the Corolla a truly complete package, and allow it to reign supreme once again.
Model: 2016 Toyota Corolla S (6MT)
Engine: 1.8 liter four cylinder
EPA Fuel Economy: 28/37 (31 mpg combined)
Options: None (!)
Price as Tested: $22,430 with $835.00 destination charge