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Test drive: 2014 Toyota Corolla ECO nets 36 mpg average

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One of the best selling cars in America, Toyota finally redesigned their Corolla compact sedan for the 2014 model year with a focus on making it more appealing to the eye. The sales numbers don't lie, but is this car really all that? Today we find out.

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To our test here, for 2014 Toyota added a more fuel efficient model to the mix of trims called ECO. It has a special version of the standard 1.8 liter four-cylinder along with other tweaks that allow to achieve up to four additional mpg.

The Valvematic 1.8 liter four-cylinder engine has eight more horsepower than the standard one at 140.
It’s more fuel efficient due it its increased range of variable valve timing and it features variable lift for the intake valves.

It’s rated up to 42 mpg highway which is as much as 4 mpg more than the standard Corolla. The only transmission choice in the Corolla LE ECO is a constantly variable transmission or CVT.

The Valvematic engine is much more refined and pleasant to listen to than many of the competitors high mpg models which use direct fuel-injection for their efficiency. The CVT transmission is however still a downer even with its simulated shift points, which are meant to make it feel more like a normal transmission.

The EPA fuel economy for the Corolla LE ECO is 30 mpg city, 42 mpg highway, and 35 mpg combined if you get the standard wheels. With our optional alloys, this drops to 30 mpg city, 40 mpg highway and 34 mpg combined due to the larger 205 section width tires fitted to them.

From the styling standpoint, it received a makeover from the wheels up that gives it Toyota’s most recent design language which is distinct to the company’s heritage. Up front are class exclusive standard LED headlamps and an angular grille treatment.

The ECO model has unique aerodynamic touches like a body color rear spoiler, and under-body panels which smooth air flow. The ECO also gets unique wheel covers over steel wheels or the optional 16” aerodynamic alloy wheels seen here on our test car.

The interior of the LE ECO is similar to the LE. Our LE Premium trim grade gave us a host of features to dress up the cabin including SofTex simulated leather seating surfaces with color keyed accent piping. The dash also received some blue pinstripe accents as well.

The seats are comfortable enough with the driver getting power adjustments and the passenger manual. The steering wheel is manually adjustable for tilt and telescope too. Our tester came with the $850 power sunroof and $1510 Driver Convenience Package.

The latter brings push button start, top end infotainment system with navigation and Entune suite of app capabilities, and remote keyless entry just to name a few. Nice set of features, but at this trim grade some competitors include these things without an optional package

Room isn’t an issue front or rear, with plenty of space in both spots. The rear seats fold down 60/40 to allow increased cargo space. The trunk area is as generous as you can expect in this class with a sizable opening for larger items.

The interior however remains a bit stark and cheap in feel with a good deal of hard plastics, more so than many competitors. At the price of $23,000 and some change I was surprised I still had a hard plastic steering wheel in my hands.

In our testing we achieved 36 mpg combined which is a full 2 mpg more than the window sticker on our car promises. This is always good when you can better the promises but it’s not necessarily better than some competitors.

On the road, the Corolla offers up neutral handling which means not too sporty but not too flaccid. It’s right down the middle of the road when it comes to road feel and ride. Road noise isolation is better than you might expect in this class, offering a quiet highway ride.

Notable is the fact the Corolla still gives you rear drum brakes even in this fully loaded up model, a feature gaffe I think. Nearly all its competitors offer full four-wheel disc brakes even on their standard base models in this century.

Overall, the question of whether the 2014 Toyota Corolla ECO model is worth the extra money comes down to whether you compare this car to other brands or Corolla against Corolla. The additional cost is not that much more than the standard Corolla so why not. If compared against other brands, well many don’t charge extra for their efficiency numbers which are sometimes equal or better.

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