2011 Toyota Corolla Sport Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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After 45 years of continuous production and over 37 million cars sold, it's hard to argue with the Toyota Corolla's formula for success. After all, the Corolla stands out as the world's best-selling nameplate ever. But while the Corolla stands out, it doesn't stand alone - it occupies a segment that has always been well represented, and these days is positively crowded with worthy competitors, some of them game-changers in their own right. As they say in the movie industry, you're only as good as your latest film - so does Corolla still have what it takes?

The current, 10th-generation Corolla was introduced in 2006, but didn't make it to North American shores until the 2009 model year. For 2011, Toyota has given it a mid-cycle refresh, with a revised front grille and headlamps, new bumpers, new taillights and trunk lid design (including a classy-looking chrome strip running across its width) plus some minor interior detail changes. The overall appearance isn't radically different from the 2010 model, but it is a little more up-to-date looking and gives the Corolla more of a family resemblance to the bigger Camry.

Underneath the newly-revised skin the 2011 Corolla is unchanged from the 2010 model, and so the driving experience remains familiar - impressively quiet and smooth riding for a compact car, but not particularly dynamic. With the exception of the XRS version all Corollas get the same 1.8L DOHC 4-cylinder engine with variable valve timing, which pumps out 132 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 128 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm (the XRS gets a 158-horsepower 2.4L 4-cylinder engine). This is hooked up to 5-speed manual transmission in the base CE, the S and the XRS, and to a 4-speed automatic in the LE (the 4-speed automatic is an option in the CE and S, while the XRS has an available 5-speed automatic).

My test car, a Sport edition painted beautiful Nautical Blue, had the 4-speed automatic. I found it worked well enough, but it certainly feels like it's biased fairly heavily toward economy and comfort rather than performance - it upshifts very early under normal circumstances, allowing the engine to mutter along barely audibly and sipping fuel at a relatively miserly pace (rated city/highway economy is 7.8 / 5.7 L/100km with the automatic). Plant your foot and it takes a moment for the drivetrain to react, shifting down a gear or two and getting the engine revs into a range where there's some believable power available. Once this occurs the Corolla moves along reasonably quickly, and the engine seems happy enough in the higher rev ranges, if perhaps a little raspy.

Throw the Corolla hard into a corner and it behaves predictably and safely, with stability control alarms chirping and a combination of inherent understeer and electronic minders scrubbing off speed to keep everything in line. Reassuring, if not exactly exciting. The Sport trim and the LE trim bump up the handling capabilities a notch with 16-inch tires on alloy wheels instead of the base car's 15-inch steel wheels with wheel covers, but only the XRS gets sport suspension modifications including a front strut tower brace. All Corollas continue to use rack-and-pinion steering with electric assist, and while this setup is extremely easy-driving (no "arm-strong steering" required, that's for certain!) I still find it somewhat over-assisted for my taste - it can feel vague in the corners and a little floaty on the highway.

Inside, the 2011 Corolla remains pretty much the same as the 2010 model, and there's nothing wrong with that. While soft-touch materials are notable for their absence, the interior design is simple, practical and reasonably well accomplished. Packaging has always been a Corolla strength, and the current generation still offers generous interior room and trunk space for a compact car. A couple of minor changes for 2011 include removal of the purse hook from the centre console and the use of new seat upholstery, but the latter change was lost on me since my test car was optioned out with the leather seating package (with heated seats in the front) and moonroof. The leather was nicely done, with blue-lined perforations complementing the car's blue paintwork.

An interior change that wasn't lost on me is the addition of chrome instrument surrounds for the Sport model, which give the already nice-looking instruments a real touch of class. Unfortunately the upgraded audio system in the Sport trim spoils things a little. It's a good enough system, with six speakers, USB input, satellite radio and Bluetooth capability, but it uses a blue-green coloured vacuum fluorescent display which clashes with the rest of the dashboard's amber lighting.

In a nutshell, the 2011 Corolla continues to offer everything Corolla buyers have lined up to get their hands on for over four decades: Smart packaging in a compact car, reasonable fuel economy, an easy-driving demeanour, a strong reliability record, a full array of safety equipment and - at least in base trim - good affordability (the Corolla CE starts at $15,450 plus $1,390 in destination charges). The rub is that if you want some goodies to make the car more livable, the price quickly ramps up: the LE is priced at $20,665 and the Sport starts at $20,815, with my test car's automatic transmission and leather and moonroof package adding $3,735 for a total of $24,550 plus destination charges. This may be part of Toyota's overall plan, differentiating the Corolla from the Yaris and moving it subtly up-market, as smaller cars once again become the norm. But when you consider that Volkswagen's new Jetta starts at $15,875 and the well-equipped Hyundai Elantra is based priced at $15,849, it gives some idea of how competitive the segment has become. These are only two of the many cars challenging the Corolla, and in addition to similar pricing and comparable (or better) standard feature lists, they both offer optional 6-speed transmissions compared to the Corolla's 4-speed.

The Corolla is still pretty good. But is it good enough to remain the best seller?
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sedan, Toyota, 2011, Corolla, $10,000 - $19,999, $20,000 - $29,999, Compact,

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