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2015 Toyota Corolla: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Autotrader October 2014

If you're used to Corolla models of years past, the 2015 Toyota Corolla might come as a big surprise. Completely overhauled last year with perhaps the most thorough redesign in Corolla history, the latest model offers a wide variety of updates, from bolder styling and a bigger back seat to a fuel-saving continuously variable automatic transmission and a high-tech interior with a wide range of new equipment and features.

In case you're worried that the new Corolla has lost touch with its roots, we can confirm that's not the case. The controls are still laid out sensibly, and the ride is still smooth and compliant. In other words, Corolla loyalists aren't likely to jump ship, but there's a lot more attitude in this redesigned model, no doubt, and Toyota hopes that will enhance the Corolla's crossover appeal.

What's New for 2015?

Aside from minor trim changes and a new fold-down rear armrest for midlevel and upscale models, the Corolla is largely unchanged for 2015.

What We Like

Excellent fuel economy; improved feature content; upgraded interior with a bigger back seat; sharper design; reasonable pricing

What We Don't

Outdated base 4-speed automatic; inferior rear drum brakes (except in S Plus package)

How Much?

$17,600-$23,500

Fuel Economy

All Corolla models, except for the new Eco model, come with Toyota's familiar 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine. Rated at 132 horsepower and 128 lb-ft of torque, it's essentially the same motor that Corolla drivers have depended on for the past decade. Fuel economy, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, is 28 miles per gallon in the city and 37 mpg on the highway with the 6-speed manual transmission, 27 mpg city/36 mpg hwy with the 4-speed automatic transmission and 29 mpg city/38 mpg hwy with the continuously variable transmission. Note that the S trim level, when equipped with its optional, sportier continuously variable transmission with paddle shifters, drops to 37 mpg hwy.

The Eco gets a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder too, but it's a new version with modifications that yield 140 hp and 126 lb-ft of torque. While more power usually means fewer mpg, the Eco bucks this trend with its impressive 30 mpg city/42 mpg hwy rating. If you opt for the larger 16-inch wheels, though, that highway number falls back to 40 mpg, so the standard 15-in wheels are better in terms of fuel savings.

Standard Features & Options

The 2015 Corolla is offered in four trim levels: L, LE, LE Eco and S.

The entry-level L ($17,600) starts with 15-in steel wheels with plastic covers, LED running lights, power accessories, air conditioning, Bluetooth, a height-adjustable driver's seat, and a 4-speaker audio system with iPod/USB connectivity and an auxiliary audio input.

The LE ($19,300) adds 16-in steel wheels with plastic covers, keyless entry, cruise control, a 6.1-in touchscreen interface, a rearview camera, automatic climate control and a 6-speaker audio system with Bluetooth audio. The LE Plus package adds 16-in alloy wheels and fog lights, while the LE Premium package tacks on those items plus SofTex faux-leather upholstery.

The LE Eco ($19,500) features a special 140-hp engine with improved fuel economy, aerodynamic tweaks (including a subtle rear spoiler) and eco-biased tires, but otherwise it mostly shares the LE's equipment roster. The LE Eco Plus package adds 16-in alloy wheels, fog lights, chrome exterior trim and an Eco driving mode, while the LE Eco Premium package has those features plus SofTex upholstery.

The S ($20,500) adds a sport-tuned suspension, a sportier version of the continuously variable transmission with paddle shifters, a different gauge cluster with a thin-film-transistor trip computer screen, piano-black dashboard trim, sport front seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. The S Plus package adds 17-in alloy wheels and rear disc brakes; the S Premium package includes those items and SofTex upholstery.

Notable options include a sunroof and a Driver Convenience package that includes keyless entry and ignition, smartphone-app integration, satellite radio and a navigation system.

Trunk space measures an average 13 cu ft., and the rear seatbacks fold down for enhanced capacity.

Safety

The new Corolla comes with anti-lock brakes, stability control and eight airbags (front, driver's knee, passenger seat-cushion, front-side and full-length side-curtain). Disappointingly, the Corolla continues to be equipped with front disc and rear drum brakes, rather than discs all around. Discs are a more modern, and generally more effective, design that's employed by many Corolla rivals. You can get a Corolla with rear discs, but only if you opt for the pricey, sporty S model with the Plus or Premium package. The Corolla also lags behind some more modern rivals when it comes to safety options, as it doesn't offer any modern gadgets such as a blind spot monitoring system or a lane-departure warning system.

In government crash-testing, the Corolla earned a perfect 5-star overall rating after receiving 5-star front- and side-impact scores and a 4-star rollover rating. In testing conducted by the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Corolla earned a Top Safety Pick score.

Behind the Wheel

During our evaluation of the Corolla's interior, we were struck by how much more upscale this model seems in comparison to its predecessor. The supple dashboard materials are much improved, and stitched accents on some panels add to the premium ambience. This is hardly business as usual for Toyota's best-seller, as "upscale" and "premium" certainly aren't words that we've ever associated with Corollas in the past.

The Corolla's standard front seats provide adequate support, but the S model's sport seats stand out due to their enhanced lateral bolstering. In back, adult passengers will find unprecedented space by Corolla standards. Thanks to three extra inches of length, the rear seat provides almost midsize-grade accommodations.

The Corolla's technology offerings are also impressive, including a standard 6.1-in touchscreen with optional smartphone-app integration from the LE trim level and up. We also appreciate that every Corolla comes with expected tech features, such as iPod/USB connectivity and Bluetooth, though if you want Bluetooth audio, the base model won't do -- you'll need at least the LE.

On the road, the 2015 Toyota Corolla lets a fair amount of road noise into the cabin at speed, but its ride is pleasantly smooth on most surfaces. Handling is sharper than in past models, and we like how the compact 3-spoke steering wheel feels in our hands. The new continuously variable transmission is better executed than most, and it does a fairly convincing impression of a regular automatic with its simulated shift points. Although acceleration is basically unchanged from the previous Corolla, the continuously variable transmission does make the car feel quicker. For this reason, as well as the fuel economy gap, we'd stay away from the archaic 4-speed automatic that's offered in the L trim.

Other Cars to Consider

Ford Focus -- The Focus feels larger and more substantial than the Corolla, and it's more fun to drive, but it's also more expensive.

Hyundai Elantra -- The stylish Elantra continues to provide excellent value, and its performance and fuel economy are close to the Corolla's.

Mazda3 -- A more premium option, the redesigned Mazda3 is an intriguing alternative with its adept handling and improved technology.

Volkswagen Jetta -- Check out the new turbocharged Jetta 1.8T if you're looking for a sedan in this segment with a bit more punch.

AutoTrader's Advice

We like the S model's engaging paddle shifters and snug seats, and we'd want the S-only optional disc brakes too, so the S is arguably the Corolla to have -- though it's at the upper end of the price spectrum.

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2015 Toyota Corolla: New Car Review - Autotrader