Quick Take: 2013 Corolla S (Review)

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The Corolla is Toyota’s second-from-the-bottom car offering. The Yaris slots in below it, and you can get into a Corolla for a mere CDN $15,450.

I have to get this off my chest. WHAT is it with Corolla drivers? It seems that not a single one of them enjoys traveling near the speed limit (it’s always much slower) and none of them seem to be fond of affording other drivers many courtesies, such as signaling, etc. Is it just me? I’m not big on stereotyping, but this is what I’ve found. OK, I feel better.

So, let’s say you get into the entry level Corolla in the dealership, and you decide, let’s load this bad boy up and make it that sexy Corolla S over there in the corner. Well, your salesman Paddy O’Furniture will be bringing you an invoice to the tune of CDN $26,155, which is a whole different story all of a sudden. For the record, you can get a Camry for that price.

 

Exterior/Under The Hood

Although the Corolla has evolved with each generation, Toyota has certainly kept it recognizable. I was quite surprised at how large it felt when I was standing up close. Lines are smooth, and flow right from the front end, over the hood and roofline, and through the trunk lid.

The S model has some body skirting around the whole car and fog lights and a fancy-shmancy chrome exhaust tip. I found that the 16″ rims, while handsome, looked a bit small – even on a small car.

The headlight clusters are long and swept back, giving it a hint of aggression (HEY, I said hint!) and there’s a trunk lid spoiler, which won’t do anything to make it faster.

Toyota stuck a 1.8-Liter 4-cylinder into the engine bay. There’s nothing exciting about it, nor the numbers – 132 horsepower at 6000 RPM, and 128 lb.ft at 4400 RPM. Now those numbers aren’t horrible either, considering the mill is only schlepping 2810 pounds of Corolla around.

Fuel economy is rated very well at 7.8 L/100 km (30 mpg) in the city, 5.7 Liters/100 km (41 mpg) on the highway and 6.8 L/100 (35 mpg) km for the combined cycle. You get a reasonable 50 Liter tank. During my week with it, the car told me I averaged 9.4 L/100 km (25 mpg) but I actually calculated it to be 10.1 L/100 km (23 mpg). That’s not great, however it was almost purely city driving, during a week with three days of major snowfalls, and bumper-to-bumper commuting, slogging through the white stuff. I’m guessing I’d be closer to the 9.5 L/100 km mark during a normal week.

 

Interior/Tech/Convenience

Once you get inside, you’ll find a vehicle that is surprisingly roomy – up front. Headroom is good, not great. Materials throughout the Corolla offer nice surface textures, but come across as cheap and entry level. You won’t find any soft-touch plastics here, save for the padded door panel. The basics are all powered – door locks, windows and mirrors. That goes for the tilt-slide sunroof as well. The heated and manually-adjustable seats, upholstered with real leather surfaces, are quite comfortable. They leave a lot to be desired in terms of bolstering and support though.

In front of you sits a manually-adjustable steering wheel with phone, media and hands-free controls on it. Behind it sits an instrument bin with two large standard gauges. On the left is s small info screen giving you information on your fuel economy, outside temperature, and other goodies – on the right, a similar screen offers odometer and trip meter information.

The center stack starts with an old-school clock at the top. Toyota just loves that clock. Below that sits a very well executed touch-screen system, incorporating navigation, audio and phone functions. The user interface is simple and useable and has a nice layout. The audio system sounds decent – nothing great. Sources are AM, FM, satellite, auxiliary, USB, CD and Bluetooth streaming. Phone integration is good and functional.

Underneath that sits an automatic climate control system, a nice surprise since the Camry I drove a while ago didn’t have one. The USB and aux plugs are on the stack as well.

Entry is conveniently keyless, and the ignition is push-start.

The center console houses a very traditional feeling gated gear selector and a parking brake lever.

Certain things feel cheap – the way the doors and the trunk close are pretty noisy and there isn’t a nice soft, insulated thunk. Also, the release handles for the fuel door and trunk release are some nasty-looking and very cheap-feeling tractor implements out of bent metal.

With all that said, the fit and finish is great and Toyota puts together a well-built car.

Rear Seats/Storage

There are three seats, three seatbelts and three headrests in the back. The seats are comfortable enough, but leg room is very snug. Thankfully there’s ample foot room under the front seats, and the seatbacks are soft, so if your legs are stuck into them, you won’t be bruised. Headroom is OK, but not great. It’s also a narrow vehicle in terms of rear seating – although we got our three kids back there, it’s one of the few rides I’ve had that left our three small kids feeling tight back there. 2 adults would be the maximum. You do have 2 sets of LATCH connectors for kids’ seats.

“Convenience” for rear passengers comes from a pop-out dual-cupholder at the back of the console. Nothing else going on. Bring your iPads, kids.

There’s a covered bin at the bottom of the center stack with a 12V plug, two cupholders in the console, and a lidded armrest, hiding a deep, square bin. Door bins are OK, with integrated bottle holders – front and rear. There are two glove boxes – an upper and a lower one.

The trunk is large for this class at 12.3 cubic feet (348 Liters) and easy to access. There are two remote latches to release the rear seats, but they don’t fold them – you have to do that manually.

 

The Drive

Though it’s a wimpy car, the power is sufficient for everyday driving. There’s never an issue with getting into traffic, or keeping up with it. It’s when you really step on it that you’re reminded you don’t have a lot of power under the hood.

The transmission is sluggish, and when you step on it to pass someone, it takes a couple of seconds to get where you need it to be. I’m glad Toyota didn’t insult the driver with manual shifting options, as they would just be laughable.

Handling is OK – although you’ll find some body roll and softness around corners, it’s not bad, and the car’s ability to hang on to a corner is quite good. Grip is there when you need it. This car never pretends to be sporty (other than the goofy S model name) and the ride is nice, actually soaking up bigger hits with aplomb.

Although the handling is reasonable, I hated the steering feel. It’s just numb and dead on center, and at lower speeds, it almost felt like it took a second to react to your input. You get used to it, but it never makes you feel completely in control. It was the least confidence-inspiring aspect in terms of driving the Corolla.

I did not like the brakes – they’re pretty spongy and I often found myself on them more than I wanted to be. They’re not bad brakes, I just didn’t like the feel.

Visibility is excellent out of the car in every direction. Noise is very well suppressed for a car in this class – road and wind noise are always reasonably low, and the engine noise shows up above 3500 RPM or so – that’s when things under the hood get a bit noisy and buzzy.

A heavier car would likely get better traction on snow and ice – even with winter tires, it got floaty over snowy and icy surfaces. That’s not a knock against the Corolla – it’s typical for light cars.

 

Nitpicks

I was irritated by the lack of gears in the transmission. I can’t remember the last time I drove a 4-speed automatic (other than Toyota’s Yaris…)  The competition has long surpassed 4-speeds, and you’re typically finding 5- and 6-speeds in this class of car.

I hated the traction control on ice. It completely shuts the engine down, and it feels as though you’ve lost control of everything while it’s reigning things back in. It’s very intrusive when it goes on, and luckily it’s defeatable.

It drives me nuts when manufacturers don’t add a pull handle inside the trunk to close it. You’re either getting your hands dirty, your trunk dirty, or your hand caught in the trunk. None of those options appeal to me as much as a 50-cent plastic handle does.

 

The Verdict

I love that the Corolla starts at a very reasonable price. I also love that the S model exists, adding some very nice features like automatic climate control, heated seats, sunroof, etc.

I really enjoyed the upgraded touchscreen system. I wasn’t too fond of the driving experience, and wished for a more involved feel behind the steering wheel. And to be honest, I was a bit taken aback when I saw the final price of this loaded up S model.

I give the Corolla a 6.5 out of 10. If Toyota threw in a more modern transmission, and dropped the price, I would be giving it a 7 out of 10.

Of course, you can likely count on the car providing exemplary reliability, but there are certainly some great options out there in terms of small cars that offer more driving fun, more utility (in a hatchback) and a lower price. Remember the Camry I mentioned earlier? You can get into one for $3000 less.

Disclosure:  Vehicle was provided by Toyota Canada.

If you enjoyed this review, feel free to check out more of them under my vehicle reviews tab at the top of my blog.

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