The Toyota Corolla made its reputation long ago as the car for people who want to own something as uncomplicated and trouble-free as possible. A Corolla has never really been about speed or glamour. It was—and is—solid, dependable, agreeable transportation. If it's not designed to excite enthusiasts or critics, the Corolla definitely brings plenty of appeal to the masses. It remains the most popular compact car in America, offering easy driveability and traditional Toyota reliability.

Pricing and Equipment

There are seven trim levels for the Corolla, spanning from the base L with an MSRP of $19,365 to the XSE, which starts at $23,545. Variations include the very popular LE, which includes keyless entry and a backup camera for $19,800, and the SE, which includes more assertive-looking trim, 17-inch alloy wheels, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel in its $21,310 asking price. (All prices include destination.)

The Corolla takes a tried-and-true approach to vehicle engineering: no turbocharger, no dual-clutch transmission, no multilink rear suspension. Some advanced technology does show up in the form of the emissions-reducing and fuel-saving continuously variable transmission (CVT) that replaces the traditional automatic in most Corollas. A six-speed manual is available on the SE for a bit of variety.

Power for the Corolla comes from one of two subtly different 1.8-liter four-cylinder engines. The LE Eco's Valvematic motor is tuned for fuel economy and returns EPA estimates of 30 mpg city and 40 mpg highway. Regular CVT Corollas score 28 city/36 highway estimates; the six-speed drops each of those results by 1 mpg.

  • Cars wearing the Corolla badge have now been in production for a full half-century, and Toyota is not about to let that milestone pass without notice. The 50th Anniversary Special Edition takes an SE and adds different wheels and upgraded interior trim and appropriate badging. Toyota will offer 8,000 of these cars, painted in pearl white, silver, or an attractive dark cherry red.
  • Toyota has been attentive to marketplace demands for better safety technology. All Corollas feature an advanced Safety Sense system that includes forward collision warning with emergency braking, lane departure alert, and adaptive radar cruise control. Passive safety considerations include a healthy barrage of airbags and whiplash-mitigating seats.
  • The list of available options is quite short. A Premium package with sunroof, navigation and alloy wheels is available on the LE, Eco, and CVT-equipped SE. XLE and XSE buyers can opt for an upgraded infotainment system.

Performance Pros

Toyota Corolla

Toyota's priority with the Corolla is straightforward usability and everyday ease of operation, and this utilitarian mindset is evident in every facet of the car's dynamic profile. This car lives for daily use and feels most at home stacking up plenty of miles in the course of constant shuttling from place to place.

  • Tuning for the CVT is very good, minimizing the laggy stretching-rubber-band feel that has long-plagued most transmissions of this type.
  • Handling is very forgiving and well-centered; there is neither harsh twitchiness nor numb clumsiness to the Corolla's responses.
  • Ride quality rivals that of larger, heavier midsize cars.

Performance Cons

  • The flip side of the Corolla's everyday-use tuning philosophy is its indifference to enthusiastic driving. Acceleration is average at best, and the car's overall feel is uninvolving.
  • The CVT's lowest ratio equates to something between first and second gear in most traditional transmissions, so standing starts—especially if the car is loaded or pointing uphill—can feel ponderous.

Interior Pros

Toyota Corolla

Toyota all but patented the idea of well-arranged, well-assembled interiors and controls several decades ago, and the Corolla's designers made no mistakes in this critical area. If the Corolla is at its best in everyday driving, the cabin plays a major part in helping to make that driving easy and pleasant.

  • The instrument panel and center console are quite attractive. A little accent work goes a long way in separating the Corolla from some of its more dour competitors.
  • The front seats are surprisingly good, capably managing a large range of body sizes and providing better support and comfort than expected in this class.
  • The rear seat is genuinely livable for taller-than-average passengers thanks to plenty of legroom.

Interior Cons

  • Rear-seat width is less generous. Average-size adults sitting three-across will probably not be happy for long.
  • Most cabin materials show a preference for durability and cost management over tactile gratification.

The Most Pleasant Surprise

Almost by definition there is nothing surprising about the Corolla. It's one of the most rational and middle-of-the-road products on the market. At the same time, there's something gratifying about driving a vehicle that doesn't try too hard to be anything more than well-balanced transportation. The Corolla is not dressed in cybertech imagery, nor does it grasp at some faux-upscale ambition. It's simply a good, solid car. Everyone understands that, and the market is better for it.

The Least Pleasant Surprise

The SE's sporty pretensions amount to a few cosmetic details and the availability of a manual transmission. Given that vintage sporty Corollas like the SR5 and GT-S of the 1980s have become cult favorites and Toyota's motorsports program continues to muscle its way to success, a truly fun-to-drive modern Corolla is past due.

The Bottom Line

If you can carry an identity through 50 years and 45 million examples, you must be doing something right. The Corolla essentially defines mainstream transportation with its sensible, well-rounded identity even as it has kept current with marketplace desires and demands. It's safe to buy, safe to own, and safe to drive—in that it provides exactly what people want in a car.