IT’S been a long time since I posted anything on this blog, automotive or otherwise. So, after that hiatus, I figured that I’m long overdue for another car review. Courtesy of Voss Toyota in Beavercreek, I’m driving a 2012 Corolla LE for free while the Prius is getting worked on. I’m going to try a new format for car reviews, which will involve (1) first impressions including leg room and general feel; (2) handling and performance; (3) electronics and accessories; and (4) my final verdict.
I am driving the LE model, which is the mid-range model – above the L or CE, but below the S or XRS.
Actually, I’m quite impressed. Successive generations of Corollas (we are now in the tenth generation, as the Corolla has been continuously produced since the late 1960’s) have gotten larger and larger – first as a subcompact and now approaching midsize car territory. I’m a big guy (6’3”, 260 lbs) and I had no problem sitting in the driver’s seat, and I also had plenty of head room to spare. On the other hand, the back seat is rather disappointing, and if you’re more than 5’8 you’re going to have trouble getting back there comfortably.
But when you pop the trunk, you quickly see why – you could easily fit four golf bags back there with no problem. And you’d still have enough room for the cooler full of beer, the hot dogs, and other food for a guy’s day on the golf course.
The verdict: A decent four-door car that might be good for a single person, a couple perhaps, but definitely not a family car (at least not when the kids start growing). But the insurance on it is dirt cheap. And like all small Toyota’s this car will probably outlast the new three-month-old puppy you just brought home from the city pound.
Handling and Performance
Maybe my opinion is a bit skewed since I’ve driven a Prius for so long. I’ve already said from a handling standpoint that I would rather drive a bus before taking a Prius out on the track, and that still holds true today. The Corolla’s suspension and handling is quite good, and when mated with the Goodyear Eagle tires that mine has, you feel in complete control when taking a corner. This is only the case when you press up the tires to the maximum sidewall pressure of 51 PSI versus the door placard’s 32 (the car feels quite roly-poly at the placard spec).
However, unless you’re very familiar with how the car handles, you’re going to be winging it – the electric steering seems quite disconnected with the wheels, and almost no feeling whatsoever is transmitted back to you.
Although the 2012 continues Toyota’s odd tradition of front disc brakes coupled with rear drums, it doesn’t feel like you’ve got drums back there – this car stops on a dime and the brakes are consistent no matter how much pressure you put on them.
Performance for a basic four-cylinder is quite good. The basic 1.8 liter engine returns about 140 horsepower at 6,000 RPM with comparable torque in the 4,200 range. Considering the car’s curb weight of around 2,700 lbs, that isn’t too bad. Although the car is mated to a four-speed auto box that’s probably as old as I am, I was able to get from a dead stop to 60 MPH in about eight seconds, and cleared 90 MPH just fine – the engine clearly had more to offer. And the fuel economy is pretty good – no matter what you do, it’s pretty difficult to get below 30 MPG in mixed city and highway driving.
The EPA reckons the car is good for 27 in town and 34 on the highway, and in mixed driving I averaged 35, and I wasn’t exactly driving conservatively. I burned out, I skidded, I drove fast, and I gave the suspension a good workout. I reckon the car could get high 30’s on a purely highway trip, driving the speed limit. Not bad for a four-speed automatic transmission that was built in the Stone Age.
The biggest letdown in the Corolla is the new drive-by-wire throttle control that is becoming increasingly ubiquitous in modern cars. Rather than actually being connected to a throttle body, the accelerator pedal simply sends a signal to the car’s computer which then tells the car to burn some rubber. Coupled with a rather slow-to-react four-speed auto box and it could be a full second after you floor the gas pedal before the car finally decides to accelerate.
So, plan your freeway merges and passes.
Lastly, a bit about Toyota’s traction control – patented TRAC and VSC – I hate it. What’s more, Federal law mandated that all 2012 model year cars had to have at least some form of traction control such as anti-lock brakes. And Toyota’s VSC is one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever encountered on the road when the computer applies ‘differential braking’ to only particular wheels in order to keep the car going straight.
Well, in my case, keeping the car going straight sent me straight… into a snowbank. I disable traction control at all times on all cars I drive now.
The plus side is it can be easily disabled. On the left side of the dashboard near the steering wheel, there’s a small button that can be pressed – press once to temporarily disable TRAC, hold for five seconds to disable both TRAC and VSC for a longer period of time (until the car is started again).
Electronics and Accessories
In general, the Corolla’s electronics are a letdown. The number one thing that jumps out at me when I turn the radio on is how truly awful the speakers are. There isn’t much on the low end, and the speakers generally feel cheap. Even with the bass cranked up as far as it will go, it isn’t going to bring down the roof anytime soon. That is the first thing I would upgrade if I found myself driving a Corolla for any significant amount of time – I’d use the generous trunk space to mount a decent subwoofer and upgrade every speaker in that vehicle.
The second thing is the relatively poor job Toyota’s done in integrating the iPod with the onboard radio. Plug your iPod into the USB port and you suddenly lose the ability to control it via the touch screen – you have to control your iPod exclusively through the car’s radio – and selecting a song requires several button presses, options selected, and then a whole ton of furious knob-twisting as you cycle through several hundred songs to get to the one you’re looking for. In addition to this, it takes several seconds to load the next song when you hit the “next” button on the steering wheel – which is not an issue when you control directly via the iPod’s touch screen.
I know that Toyota’s probably done this to help drivers comply with the increasing number of states that require hands-free devices – but the integration needs some serious work before it replicates the iOS’s functionality.
The Final Verdict
If I didn’t have a 2007 Prius that will probably last me another ten years, I would not mind buying a Corolla. It’s not at the top of my list of favorite cars being offered, but if the price was right I’d get one – after factoring in the additional $1,000 it would take to get a truly hopping sound system.
But I would rather wait until the 2014 Corolla is released – when the transmission gets a much-needed upgrade from its current four-speed to either a six-speed manual or a CVT. Or 2015, once Toyota gets all the kinks worked out from releasing a new car.