Isle d'Orleans, Que. -- One look at the colour palette of the latest Toyota Corolla and you will notice one particular omission. You can choose from a gorgeous metallic blue or a deep red, but you cannot opt for beige as an exterior colour.
"Sacrilege!" you may say. The one colour that perfectly describes the emotional appeal and driving dynamics of generations past is missing.
Beige or mobile appliance -- the nickname is up to you -- we Canucks still loved the Corolla to bits for something Toyota calls QDR: Quality, Durability and Reliability. After all, for the past 18 years, the Corolla has been Toyota's Canadian bestseller, in addition to selling more than 40 million cars worldwide since 1966.
Toyota is bidding farewell to the milquetoast Corolla of yesteryear. QDR is still its strong suit, but there's something inexplicably different about the new model.
I can't quite put my finger on it. The standard LED headlights? The beige-less colour palette? The edgy styling? Yes, that's exactly it: The fresh sheet metal, inspired by Toyota's Iconic Dynamism design language, is no longer as inspiring as a toaster. You probably wouldn't expect the following to appear in one sentence, but the redesigned Toyota Corolla actually looks pretty darn good.
Indeed, finished in Blue Crush, the mid-range Corolla S looks surprisingly sharp. LED headlights are standard on all models, and the front end inspired by the Scion FR-S adds a much-welcomed dash of sportiness. New 17-inch alloy wheels sit at all four corners, and the rear, if more tame than the nose, is finished off with chiselled tail lights, a rear diffuser and a bright red S badge affixed to the trunk.
Inside, the Corolla has been thoroughly reworked. Gone is the design capable of putting driver and passenger to sleep, in favour of a decidedly premium (for a compact car, mind you) layout and feel. Materials have been vastly improved and are tightly screwed together, finished in a broad array of colours and patterns including matte silver, metallic black and even a hint of blue running across the dashboard and door panels. The layout, of course, is logical, the seats are comfortable and the cabin is quite roomy all around thanks to a slight uptick in wheelbase.
As for the engine, Toyota eschewed the advent of direct injection, instead opting for a revised valve timing system for its carry-over 1.8-litre four-cylinder. It is now good for 132 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque, respectable figures for the compact class despite falling behind the Ford Focus and Mazda3. This particular engine is standard across all but one Corolla. The LE Eco is the exception; horsepower is upped to 140, though torque is down by two pound-feet to 126. That particular model also benefits from some clever engineering in the name of better fuel economy, but we'll delve into the Corolla LE Eco another day.
The Corolla S sends power to the front wheels via a six-speed manual or a unique continuously variable transmission that benefits from the addition of a manual mode and paddle shifters. In this combination, the Corolla is fairly peppy, and with the slightly heavier-tuned steering, it is much more engaging to drive than a bowl of vanilla ice cream. The transmission itself is commendably smooth; though it does make the engine whine under heavy acceleration, it is considerably more refined than the CVT unit in the Subaru Impreza.
Deep down, the Toyota Corolla is still a workhorse designed to be mind-bogglingly reliable and incredibly durable. But with an injection of style and a superb interior, the Corolla S is a breath of fresh air.
The Corolla has always been Toyota's sales crown jewel, and the 11th generation will be no exception.
-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2013