The 2014 Toyota Corolla is supposedly an all new, 11th-generation version of the model first introduced in 1967. Toyota said at the car’s media introduction here that the big news is estimated highway fuel economy for the Corolla has been improved from 34 m.p.g. in the 2013 model to as much as 42 m.p.g.
But there are caveats. That is not for every model in the new Corolla line. In fact, you may be hard-pressed to find the model that gets 42 m.p.g. Even if you could find one, you might not want it. Why?
The only Corolla model that is EPA-rated at 30 city, 42 highway (35 combined) is the new LE Eco Grade. What does that mean?
For starters, expect a sticker price of at least $19,500. (That’s a base price of $18,700, plus $800-something for “destination” charges.)
You do get the “highest horsepower” engine Toyota offers in the Corolla. That sounds like good news, but the highest horsepower engine is a naturally aspirated 1.8-liter four that only puts out 140 horsepower.
“Highest horsepower” is not exactly the same thing as “most powerful.” That 140-hoesepower engine makes 126 pounds-feet of torque, compared to 128 for the old, carryover 132-horsepower 1.8 four Toyota offers in other Corolla models such as the L, LE and S. The 140-horsepower engine costs about $300 more, but unfortunately you can’t get it in anything but the LE Eco.
(No, there’s no turbocharged version; neither is there a hybrid version – yet.)
The new engine also gets “Valvematic” valve train control, which is supposed to help improve fuel economy “in internal testing by 5.3%.” For some reason, in the real world, the observed gain is somewhat less than that.
Another key consideration: The LE Eco model gets a CVT. This transmission is so numbing to drive, Toyota figured Americans probably wouldn’t buy it; so for the U.S. market (only), they added fake gear change hesitations – seven of them! – to make it seem like the transmission is shifting (when it isn’t) and apparently to make you believe you bought a car with a state-of-the-art seven-speed automatic (you didn’t).
You can get a regular automatic transmission – an antediluvian four-speed is standard in the L. An optional, new six-speed manual is offered in the L and S. But you won’t get anywhere near 42 m.p.g. in these other offerings. (Actually, even the CVT in the S model gets the same 37 m.p.g. highway as the six-speed.)
The LE Eco, rather incredibly, also is equipped with rear drum brakes – a link to the past, as they were also offered on the original 1968 Corolla. The march of technology seems inexorable, except when it comes to the Corolla, apparently.
To get the advertised 42 m.p.g., you need to do at least two other things you probably aren’t going to want to do:
First, drive around in ECO mode, which is going to make that 140-horsepower motor seem like even more of an underachiever.
Second, you must order the 15-inch wheel and tire package. This is what we call the “rental car” or “fleet” combo with plastic covers over steel wheels. This is not an upscale look, to say the least.
But the P195/65R15 91S tires are apparently the key to the whole 42 m.p.g. thing. They are “low rolling resistance” tires.
If you don’t want them, because you don’t want to look like you bought a rental car, or you don’t want your car to handle brusquely, you can opt instead for 16-inch aluminum wheels and P205/55R16 89H tires. These are a visual improvement, but your m.p.g. just got whacked down to 40.
If you want the smart-looking 17-inch aluminum wheels and P215/45R17 87W tires – these are the ones Toyota will show in its Corolla advertising right next to the asterisk telling you “42 MPG model not shown” – your mileage will sink to a rather uncompetitive 36 m.p.g.
And remember, the 17-inch wheels and tires are only available on the expensive S model – with an MSRP of nearly $20,000 – that only gets the tired 132-horsepower engine.
The S does offer four-wheel disc brakes, and a sport-tuned suspension – although it has the same “Stone Age” twist-beam rear axle setup as on other Corollas.
So when it comes to the Corolla’s fuel mileage, it is a matter of the more you pay, the less you get? Actually, no, that’s not entirely true; the base $17,500 L model gets comparatively unimpressive fuel mileage too.
Anyway, that’s why I say, even if you could find a $19,500 Corolla LE Eco, with a CVT, drum brakes, and rental car tires with plastic wheel covers, you might decide the trade-offs for getting 42 m.p.g. may not be worth the price.
August 27, 2013