WHO'S IN FOURTH PLACE?
Now finally, this is where it all gets interesting. There are countless pretenders to the compact economical family car throne on the new car market today with all of them claiming to be either the sportiest, the sexiest, the most reliable, the most economical or even in some cases they make allusions to being fun to drive. What’s next? A hybrid full size pick-up truck? Hold that thought.
Now, anyone who has ever owned the right compact car knows that if you buy the right model with the right specification you can enjoy a budget, zippy, fun to drive vehicle that you just might always remember fondly. One day, you may be forced to drive a minivan or Heaven help you—a hybrid minivan. Apologies, we will stop picking on hybrids. Maybe some jokes about hydrogen power? Okay, we’ll stop.
As follows are the four biggest compact sedan powerhouses on the new car market today. The 2013 Dodge Dart SXT with the 1.4 liter turbocharged Abarth motor, the recently revised 2013 Honda Civic EX, the “sexier” 2014 Toyota Corolla S and the freshly minted 2014 VW Jetta SE with the all-new 1.8 liter turbocharged 4-cylinder that is set to be used in not only this model but the Beetle, Passat and Golf. So, in other words, all of these models had better be good or the companies they represent could find themselves in a whole lot of trouble. No pressure then.
In this first article we reveal which car came in 4th Place: (2014 Toyota Corolla S) a.k.a last place
Now many of you may be wondering how the brand spanking new Corolla could be sitting dead last in the rankings when both the Dart and Civic are at least a year older making it feasible for Toyota to have stolen some good ideas from the competition. But sadly, it appears that Toyota’s design and engineering team is full of honest and upstanding individuals who never cheat but sadly it appears they also utterly and totally lack any imagination or inspiration. The 2014 Corolla is beyond dull to drive as it also stands as a grand case of laziness on the part of an industrial giant—namely Toyota who we know can build better cars than this.
Toyota changed the two things Corolla buyers said they cared about—the rather boring exterior styling (it does look nice if a bit generic) and the interior seating space and/or comfort (enter more rear legroom, a flat floor and more comfy front bucket seats). Then, it appears that Toyota’s Corolla redesign team went out for a long lunch and never came back to work. Dear readers, we do appreciate that the Corolla has a starting price at $16,995 but that’s on a model that only offers a 4-speed automatic? As an option? What’s next Toyota? Bring back “Three on the tree?”
Driving the Corolla S and the CVT Automatic
On uplevel models like the LE or the sportier S that we tested here at the press launch in San Diego, buyers are offered the option of either a 6-speed manual transmission (Toyota sadly had no test units available to drive) or a soul sucking, dull as dishwater CVT (continuously variable transmission) that sucks the vigor and life out of the already rather average 1.8 liter 132 horsepower/128 lb. feet of torque 4-cylinder that is a total carryover from last year’s Corolla S.
We recommend that if you don’t want to hear loud whining noises akin to farm animals being abused each time you attempt to pass someone on the freeway that you elect to buy your Corolla S with the stick shift. It can’t be any worse than the CVT which admittedly does have programmed shift points that are designed to fool the driver into believing they are driving a car with a decent automatic. The only vehicle that has as of yet pulled off that trick with a CVT is the current Honda Accord 4-cylinder which we recommend Toyota study as a lesson in transmission trickery.
The Rest of the Package is Okay and Affordable
Once you get past the disheartening driving experience, it is easy to see that the new Corolla does have a very nicely put together interior environment with a conservative yet oddly upright dashboard that at least keeps all of your necessary controls within easy reach. The dash and side door sills do feel high, however, giving you the feeling you are riding in a bathtub not a car. One other piece of advice when ordering a new Corolla S is to avoid the cloth sport seats with the “blue” or “amber” color highlights as they look ridiculously out of place in a car not built in 1984.
Either stick with the black cloth or order an S Premium model that stickers out to just $22,000 and comes with nice feeling Soft-tex faux leather trim as well as heated front seats, as well as automatic climate control, stylish alloy wheels, back-up camera, an AM/FM/CD 4-speaker audio system, USB-iPod integration, rear disc brakes (wow!) and the option of having a power sunroof ($850). In addition you can also pony up $2,360 for the Driver Convenience Package which bundles the sunroof with Toyota’s excellent Entune smart phone compatibility system, Bluetooth with audio streaming capability, an upgrade to a more powerful 6-speaker audio system, push button start, keyless entry, Sirius/XM and in-dash navigation. That’s not a bad price for that much content. That is, if you don’t mind driving a car that makes you loathe driving. There are better deals and better drives to be had elsewhere, sadly.
Toyota, the Camry proved you can do better. So please, do better.