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No more plain Jane for Toyota’s Corolla

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2014 Toyota Corolla

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Despite carrying the title as the world’s best-selling car after wresting the honor from VW’s Beetle in the late 1990s, the Corolla has never been a particularly engaging vehicle with a distinctive charm or dazzling style lines to beckon shoppers into Toyota showrooms.

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Its worldwide appeal has been to those seeking dependable, safe, efficient transportation for the family in a package that wouldn’t wreck the budget or be an outright embarrassment sitting in the driveway. As a group, Corolla buyers traditionally would fall in line with those who wear sensible shoes and color within the lines.

“Oh. You bought a Corolla. That’s nice. Gee, is it that late already? I’ve got to run.”

But as it moves into its 11th generation with the 2014 model, Corolla receives some nice touches that bring it up in class at least to its big brother Camry, particularly in the “S” trim models that feature black accents on the front fascia and rear lip spoiler and unique 17-inch alloy wheels.

If not exactly revolutionary, the redesign at least moves the Corolla out of the ho-hum mix of four-door family sedans. There’s not really a whole lot you can do with it comes to styling in this segment without moving into the “oh, my” category when it comes to pricing, which Corolla doesn’t. MSRP for the 2014 Corolla starts at $16,800, not including destination and delivery, and tops out at $21,300.

That leaves you some wiggle room say to add something like a Driving Convenience Package that adds such features as a Smart Key System to open doors and the trunk, premium audio with Toyota’s Entune infotainment system, Bluetooth, and more for another $1,510. (You can use a standard cell phone to connect to Bluetooth, but you’ll need some sort of smartphone to take full advantage of Entune.)

Thus a well-equipped S Premium with the convenience package and power tilt/slide moonroof will run you $23,500.

The Corolla comes in four trim levels — L, LE, S and a new LE Eco — that are further broken down in Plus and Premium trims.

Two engines and three transmissions are offered. Both engines are 1.8-liter four-bangers, but Eco models have been tuned to deliver slightly better fuel economy, which also results in a tad more horsepower (140 to the 132 on L, LE, and S trim). Torque is slightly better on the L, LE, and S models, 128 pound-feet to 126 on the Eco engine.

A six-speed manual transmission is available on both L and S Corollas. Optional on the L (or base) trim is a four-speed automatic. The S also is available with a CVT featuring a Sport mode with paddle shifters to mimic a seven-speed tranny. The CVT is the only transmission offered on LE trim.

Toyota touts mileage figures of up to 30 miles-per-gallon city, 42 highway in Eco models, which is one more mile in the city and up to four more on the highway than what CVT-equipped LE and S trims have been rated.

Those numbers could be a bit optimistic, though. In a couple of weeks of mostly highway and some city driving recently, my number was more in the 34-35 mpg range, a couple miles short of what the company states is the combined rating for the S Premium model with 17-inch wheels. The company offers the usual “actual mileage may vary” admonition, and it does.

Other than that, our test Corolla S Premium performed very well on a journey of 3,000 miles-plus. The cabin offers plenty of room for both front and backseat riders, and the seats (standard cloth, leatherette optional) are comfortable enough. There’s good legroom both front and back.

The Corolla was not overtaxed in handling interstate traffic, including a trip up an East Tennessee mountain, or two-lane roads and around town. This is not a sports performer, as the “S” designation often denotes in other automotive lines, but it handles everyday challenges well. An “eco” light in the instrument panel lets the driver know when he or she is being efficient.

One glitch encountered was with the touchscreen for operating the navigation and upgraded audio system. Twice it simply locked up and would not respond. Stopping and restarting the engine rebooted the system once and when that option was not available the second time, time apparently took care of it and it eventually rebooted itself. Pushing the on-off button on the dash would not do the job.

For a look at the new Corolla and other facts and figures, check out the accompanying slide show.

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