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Joy Ride: 2014 Toyota Corolla S

Despite the “S”, the Toyota Corolla S lacks any real sportiness, however it makes up for this with a bevy of features, quality, and reliability.

Quick. Close your eyes and think of a car. OK, what did you picture? I’ll bet most of you pictured a Corolla. And there’s good reason for that; Toyota sells 300,000 Corollas each year in the U.S. alone. This, I reckon, makes it the ‘King of Cars’.

But like many a dynasty that worked and struggled hard to get to the top, the Toyota Corolla is resting on its laurels a bit these days. It may still be the last word in reliability and quality, but the Toyota Corolla S is in no way quick or sporty. OK, that’s not fair. It’s quickly losing ground on the competition.

The ‘S’ is for … Sporty?

The top-end Corolla is marked with an S. And while the S is supposed to stand for “sport;” you wouldn’t know that from driving it.

Despite being at the “sporty” one the S comes with the same 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that comes on every other U.S.-bound Corolla. In the S, this motor is good for 132 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque, which – funnily enough – is actually eight less than the same engine makes in the Corolla Eco. Mated to a continuously variable transmission, this engine will propel the Corolla S from 0 to 60 mph in a stately 10 seconds.

Despite the S model having sportier “shift” points on its CVT, this process doesn’t feel particularly brisk , and in fact is barely quicker than any other Corolla.

Unfortunately, the rest of the driving experience doesn’t really make up for the slowness. The steering is solid but completely numb, giving the driver next to no clues about what the wheels are doing. The brake feel is better. But despite having optional four-way disc brakes – that’s right, it’s 2014 but drum brakes are still standard on less expensive Corolla models – the S delivers barely average stopping distances.

Toyota sells 300,000 Corollas each year in the U.S. alone.

The reality is that none of this actually matters. Buying a Corolla to drive fast is like hiring an accountant to be your bachelor party entertainment: chances are good you’re going to be disappointed.

What the Corolla is supposed to be about is delivering worry-free, comfortable commuting, And, on this count, the Corolla still delivers.

What it lacks in sportiness, the 2014 Corolla still makes up for in dynamic comfort. The ride is good, and, with clear lines of sight and good maneuverability, the Corolla S is an excellent city runabout.

The S is actually for Solid

Once I got past my disappointment at the lack of sport, I could appreciate what the Corolla has to offer. Sitting down in the Corolla you will immediately notice a few things; first its interior is surprisingly large for its petite exterior dimensions. And second? For an economy-minded car, there sure are a lot of features.

2014 Toyota Corolla S interior passengers

My loaded press demonstrator clocked in at $23,570. For that money, it featured: a 6.1-inch touchscreen powered by Toyota’s Entune infotainment suite, a rearview camera, leather wrapped steering wheel, climate control, heated front seats, power everything, and keyless entry. In short, just about everything I had on the last Toyota I drove – a $48,000 4Runner – was also included on the Corolla … for $15,000 less.

Short of cooled seats or active safety features, like adaptive cruise control or blind spot monitoring, the little Corolla has just about everything a customer might expect in a full-on luxury car.

What it lacks in sportiness, the 2014 Corolla still makes up for in dynamic comfort.

That being said, many of the interior materials do look and feel a bit cheap. The faux leather dash for example, features some extremely fake plastic “stitching”. Still, as compared to other cheap cars, the Corolla feels remarkably well put together. Nothing rattles, shakes, or even deflects when pushed on. To top it off, there is nary a gap to be seen between panels. Build quality is one area that Toyota still rules supreme in for the segment.

My only practical qualm for the Corolla S was the fuel economy. The S is rated a respectable if not remarkable 32 mpg. Despite this rating, I managed just 24 mpg. That is partly due to my efforts to find speed in the Corolla’s somewhat sluggish powertrain – but only partly. On several normal highway journeys I never saw the mileage climb above 30 mpg. To get the Corolla S close to its rated mileage is likely going to take a feather touch on the gas … or lots of downhill tailwinds.

Conclusion

The Corolla may not offer the lively driving experience of its competitors, but it delivers something that is actually more important in the long run: quality and reliability. Toyota built its reputation on those standards, and those attributes can still be found on display in the Corolla.

Though it might have reliability in spades, I’m not sure – at $23,570 – the Corolla S offers more value than a 2015 VW Golf or Mazda3. If I were buying a Corolla, I would eschew some of the features and “sportiness” and get a more basic model.

It may not be thrilling, but there are few cars that deliver the same sort of peace of mind as a Toyota Corolla, and that is why Toyota sells 34 of them an hour.

Highs

  • Well equipped with features
  • Comfortable ride
  • High initial quality

Lows

  • Numb steering
  • Underpowered
  • Worse than expected fuel economy