Pros: Strong reputation for reliability; good crash test scores; available Entune mobile-app interface

Cons: Below-average fuel economy; outdated 4-speed automatic transmission; aging interior; bland driving experience

What's New: The 2013 Corolla S and LE models come standard with the previously optional 6.1-inch touchscreen, while a new trio of Premium packages adds some spice to those models.

Introduction

Change has been rampant among economy sedans for a few years now, but the 2013 Toyota Corolla stays the course. It holds no surprises, in other words, for the millions-strong Corolla faithful. As ever, the styling is no-nonsense, the controls couldn't be simpler, and the nameplate's virtually peerless reputation for reliability is intact.

But there's a flip side to that coin. The Corolla still uses a 4-speed automatic, which hurts fuel economy; most rivals have either more speeds or a gearless continuously variable transmission (CVT). The attractively priced L model offers remarkably little in the way of modern technology. And although many rivals now emphasize the fun-to-drive factor, the Corolla's indifferent chassis keeps the fun to a minimum.

So the 2013 Corolla presents an interesting dilemma. It's everything that Corolla owners have come to know and love about their cars; so getting a new one is almost like keeping the old one and resetting the odometer. But with all the appealing alternatives in this class, it's hard to argue that the Corolla is a compelling product by contemporary standards.

We think the Corolla continues to be a smart buy for brand loyalists, as its combination of resale value and perceived reliability is top-notch. But if you're willing to shop around, you might find the fresher competition more to your liking.

Comfort & Utility

The 2013 Toyota Corolla is offered in L, S or LE trim.

The L model is very basic, though it at least provides standard power windows and locks; they used to be optional. Other L features include steel wheels with plastic covers, a 4-speaker CD stereo with an auxiliary audio jack (but no USB port), a tilt-telescopic steering wheel, air-conditioning, a height-adjustable driver seat and split-folding rear seatbacks.

Optional on L and standard on the other Corollas is a 6-speaker stereo with iPod/USB and Bluetooth connectivity. The LE model adds standard cruise control (unavailable on L), a multifunction steering wheel, and a 6.1-in touchscreen interface with Bluetooth streaming audio. The S is basically the same as the LE, but with some sporty styling cues such as 16-in alloy wheels, fog lights and a body kit.

Both the LE and the S offer three different Premium packages for 2013. The basic Premium package consists of upgraded wheels (17-in alloys on S and 16-in alloys on LE), fog lights (LE only; already standard on S) and a sunroof. The Premium Interior package adds automatic headlights, automatic climate control, a power driver's seat (LE only) and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. The Premium Complete package tacks on a navigation system and Entune mobile-app integration (see the "Technology" section below).

In our interior evaluation, we found that the Corolla has two distinct front seat designs. The standard design, featured in the L and LE models, is about as flat and forgettable as you'd expect in a no-frills economy car. We've found them to be lacking in lower back support on longer trips. The S model, meanwhile, has sport seats with enhanced lateral bolstering, that also makes normal driving more comfortable.

The back seat certainly isn't the roomiest in this class, but there is adult-sized space for short trips. It helps that the rear floor is nearly flat, providing extra room for feet or even a middle passenger in a pinch.

Like the seats, the Corolla's instrumentation comes in two flavors?normal (L and LE) or sporty (S)?and either way, we like it. The lighting is crisp, while the gauges and readouts are all clear and concise. Unfortunately, the rest of the interior isn't always up to the same standard. Poke around and you'll find some cut-rate plastics that don't do justice to the Corolla's high-quality image.

The Corolla's trunk measures 12.3 cu ft, about average for a small sedan. If you need to carry more stuff, the 60/40-split rear seatback will oblige by folding flat.

Technology

The centerpiece of the 2013 Corolla's technology suite is the optional Entune system, which uses your compatible smartphone to display mobile apps on the 6.1-in touchscreen. Compatible apps include Pandora Internet radio and OpenTable dining services. Unfortunately, Entune is only offered on the pricey LE with the Premium Complete package, which also adds a DVD-based navigation system.

As for the more affordable models, you won't find much tech on the base Corolla L, but we applaud Toyota for making the touchscreen standard on the LE and S for 2013. It's far from a complete overhaul, but it certainly helps the venerable Corolla compete with young upstarts from Dodge, Ford and others.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The front-wheel drive Corolla is powered by a 1.8-liter inline-4 engine that produces 132 horsepower and 128 lb-ft of torque. The standard transmission is a 5-speed manual, but most Corollas (and all LE models) will have the other transmission option, a 4-speed automatic.

On the road, the Corolla's performance is something of a letdown. Toyota usually nails this part of the equation, but the Corolla's motor is low on power, and it makes some surprisingly primitive noises during acceleration. The 4-speed automatic is also relatively primitive, as almost every rival has at least a 5-speed automatic or a CVT by now.

As for fuel economy, the Corolla has an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rating of 26 mpg city/34 mpg hwy with the automatic, and 27/34 mpg with the manual. That might sound okay, but it's well off the current pace. Even the much larger 4-cylinder Camry, for example, is rated at 25/35 mpg, while the rival Hyundai Elantra checks in at 28/38 mpg.

Safety

All Corollas come with six airbags (front, front side, and full-length side curtain), stability control and active front headrests.

In government crash tests, the Corolla was awarded an overall score of four stars out of five, including four stars for frontal protection and five stars for side protection. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the Corolla its top rating of Good in every testing category.

Driving Impressions

The Corolla is tuned to ride softly, so even with the available alloy wheels and larger tires, it basically drives like a pint-sized Camry. We've got no problem with that, as it makes the Corolla a reasonably pleasant commuting car. However, the brakes don't impart confidence, and the steering is so numb that it might as well be a PlayStation accessory. We were also surprised by the amount of road and wind noise that filters into the cabin.

Other Cars to Consider

Dodge Dart - In addition to beating the Corolla's fuel economy, the Dart offers a superior 8.4-in touchscreen and turbocharged power.

Ford Focus - The Focus costs more than many rivals, but you'll definitely feel like you're getting what you paid for. The upscale cabin and impressive fuel economy set this Ford apart, as do the sophisticated driving dynamics.

Hyundai Elantra - The extroverted Elantra isn't for everyone, but it has fashion in its favor and its value is another strong point.

AutoTrader Recommends

The Corolla LE is what most buyers will choose, and we think they have a point. You get all the basic economy car features, plus the upgraded touchscreen stereo with iPod/Bluetooth connectivity. Not bad.

author photo

Josh Sadlier is an automotive journalist based in Los Angeles and has contributed to such publications as Edmunds.com and DriverSide.com. He holds arguably the most unexpected degree in his profession: a master's in Theological Studies.

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