The all-new 2014 Toyota Corolla is officially on the road, and we've had our fair share of time in the driver's seat. After spending some time driving a sporty Corolla S, we recently had the opportunity to spend a few days testing out a more frugal Corolla LE, the model just above the base-level Corolla L. Here's what we discovered.

Base Model Basics

Several of our staffers admitted they were surprised at just how basic the Corolla LE looks and feels. The biggest problem might be that we drove the Corolla S first. While only $700 separates the two cars before you add options, that entire amount is made up in appearance items -- and it shows. Everyone who drove both cars commented on how the Corolla S looked far more sporty and upscale than the LE. Items such as the S model's dark alloy wheels and aggressive front bumper especially stood out.

A few drivers felt the Corolla's overly basic look carried over to its interior. Compared to the cabin of our 2013 Dodge Dart SXT long-term test car, the Corolla certainly didn't include as many amenities, or as many high-quality materials. However, we felt that the Corolla had an advantage over our recently departed 2012 Subaru Impreza long-term car. In other words, the sedan's interior quality isn't class-leading, but it's certainly acceptable.

On the Road

Behind the wheel, the Corolla's driving dynamics surprised us in a good way. While it's clearly not the driver's car that its Mazda3 rival is, several of our staffers felt the sedan's steering was nicely weighted, and the engine was smooth and quiet, while the suspension did a good job soaking up even large bumps. We also appreciated the Corolla's acceleration. No, it wasn't lightning quick, but it was more than adequate considering we were testing the green-focused Eco powertrain.

Eco models, by the way, are the most powerful members of the Corolla family -- a fact that confused some of our staff members. They boast 140 horsepower, while other Corolla models have just 132. The difference isn't noticeable, but the fuel economy is: The Eco returns up to 30 miles per gallon in the city and 42 mpg on the highway, compared to 29 mpg city/37 mpg hwy for most other Corolla models.

But if you're in a 2014 Corolla with friends or family, it's the backseat passengers -- not the driver -- who will be the happiest. Everyone who spent time in the car commented on its huge back seat, a feature that's unusual in the compact sedan class. Best of all, it's good in all dimensions: headroom, legroom and hip room.

Easy to Use

For some drivers, the Corolla LE's lack of cutting-edge features and amenities is a good thing. Our test car didn't have upscale items such as navigation or futuristic safety features such as a lane departure warning system or blind spot monitoring. But that made the car easy to learn. And each of our drivers commented on the simplicity of the sedan's cabin layout and its Entune audio system. The dashboard design especially garnered high praise, as the no-nonsense approach to displaying the controls means that everything is clearly marked and exactly where you'd expect it.

Overall Impressions

Each of us came away from our experience with the 2014 Toyota Corolla LE feeling the same way: It's a great car for drivers with basic needs. If you want something with a little more flair, Toyota has that too in the Corolla S. And if you want upscale equipment, there's the Corolla XLE. We'd probably spring for one of the car's other trims, but if you're looking to get from point A to point B without any hassle, there's no harm in choosing a Corolla LE.

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Doug DeMuro has a wide range of automotive industry experience, from work at a Ferrari dealership to a manager for Porsche North America. A lifelong car enthusiast, Doug's eclectic vehicle purchases include a Porsche 911 Turbo, an E63 AMG wagon, an old Range Rover and a Mercedes Benz G-wagen.

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