If you think of the Toyota Corolla as the boring appliance you came to know in the ‘90s, you ought to spend some time with the newest car to wear that name.
That’s what I did for a week with a new 2015 Toyota Corolla S. Never would I have caught myself saying the last-generation Corolla was a “nice car,” but this swoopy, leather-filled version made me say exactly that.
The outside of my tester was an attractive shade called Blue Crush Metallic and featured 17-inch sporty alloy wheels that showcased four-wheel disc brakes. Also on offer were LED low-beam headlights — halogens take over for high beam duties — and color-keyed wing mirrors and rear lip spoiler. Meanwhile, the inside was bathed in soft-touch black material, much of it leather.
Toyota apparently learned the same lesson other automakers learned in the aftermath of the 2008 financial meltdown: Nobody wants to be penalized for driving a small car. So the leather front buckets in the 2015 Corolla S are as well-bolstered as some Lexus models I have tested, and the hide itself is far more supple than most mainstream Asian non-luxury automakers seemed capable of using just 10 years ago. The soft-touch dashboard features faux stitching made to look and feel like leather, and the steering wheel is pleasing to the touch. This isn’t a penalty box by anyone’s definition.
While I found the interior supremely comfortable for a compact car — even with my kids in their car seats in the back — I was less impressed with the car’s sound deadening. There was quite a bit of roar from the tires penetrating the cabin. I suspect that might have been remedied by less-aggressive tires with more sidewall than the 215/45R17 rubber Toyota equipped, though going with taller sidewalls might have dulled the car’s respectable, if numb, handling. The engine room seemed to be insulated well enough for in-town acceleration, though it allowed somewhat coarse protestations from the naturally aspirated 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine to penetrate the cabin under heavy throttle during highway merges. The engine note is something I probably wouldn’t have minded if the Corolla S had a manual transmission, but alas, a CVT is its sole option.
Thankfully, the stereo produced wonderful noise to counter the roar of the road. My tester was equipped with Toyota’s Entune Premium Audio and featured separate tweeters in the A-pillars that gave high frequencies extra presence, allowing woofers mounted in the doors and rear package shelf to focus on producing impressive bass for a factory system. A friend sent me a download code for Muse’s “Drones” album the same week I had the Corolla, and the Corolla’s speakers did a marvelous job reproducing that LP’s immersive mix of heavy bass and searing highs.
The only letdown in the Entune touchscreen audio experience was how my phone got confused whenever I tried to skip a track while streaming music via Bluetooth. For some reason, this would often cause my music to cut in and out, as if streaming from a slow internet connection. In fact, I was listening only to music downloaded to my phone’s SD card.
Here’s the thing that I keep coming back to with the Corolla, however: It’s got heavy competition.
- While the S might be the sportiest Corolla, I’d wager anyone looking for a sporty driving experience is more likely to shop the Ford Focus. Sure, the Corolla S handled well, but you don’t see reviewers tripping over themselves to praise its “European handling balance” like they do for the Focus.
- Those looking for fuel mileage would probably be well-served to rent each of the competitors in the segment for a long highway stint.While the 2015 Toyota Corolla S is rated at 29 MPG city/37 MPG highway/32 MPG combined, I only managed 33 MPG in my whole week of mostly highway driving. Fuelly owner-reported mileage suggests I’m only slightly above average — disappointing because I tend to beat the EPA highway estimate by several MPG in my daily driver.Chevrolet Cruze Eco owners with the 1.4-liter turbo engine over at Fuelly say they get similar mileage as I did in the Corolla S, though some eco-minded drivers who keep the Cruze out of boost have reported almost diesel-like numbers. Meanwhile, if you opt for the SFE EcoBoost Ford Focus with its 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine, you might expect around 37 MPG, if Fuelly owner reports are to be believed. So when it comes to fuel economy, a lot depends on the kind of driver you are and the kind of driving you do, and some of the competition out there might deliver more MPGs.
- Expect to pay the “Toyota Tax” for the Corolla S.Local to me, there’s no way to get into a Corolla S for a dealer “internet price” of less than $21,000. Meanwhile, the Nissan Sentra SR — itself the sporty-looking version of the Sentra — can be had for as little as $17,677 before negotiation. Those prices include navigation systems on both.Meanwhile, the aforementioned Ford Focus SFE EcoBoost could be had for $16,997 before negotiation, though admittedly it comes with a manual transmission where the others are automatics.
Finally, the Cruze Eco tends to undercut the Corolla S by a couple thousand bucks in my neck of the woods, and buyers might expect a lot more wiggle room in any Chevy dealer’s “internet price.”
For me, it all boils down to priorities. The 2015 Toyota Corolla S is handsome, masculine enough to be a “dad car,” and a pretty dang comfortable conveyance for the daily commute. But those less concerned with sporty, masculine looks might get better fuel economy and/or a quieter, more supple ride from something like a Nissan Sentra SR, Ford Focus SFE EcoBoost, or a Chevy Cruze Eco. Certainly, one could expect to score a better deal on price with any of those compared to the Corolla S. My dollars would probably go to the Ford, truth be told — but then I vastly prefer manual transmissions and place fuel economy higher in my priority mix than some shoppers do.
Having said that, for some, the Corolla S will win the comparison even if it is slightly more expensive. That’s because the Corolla S is a choice that requires no apologies and no excuses.
2015 Toyota Corolla S Premium
Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price: $22,905
Price as tested: $24,888
Optional equipment: Paint Protection Film ($395), Mudguards ($129), Illuminated Door Sill Enhancements ($309), Four Season Floor Mat Package ($325)
- Good looks
- Supple interior
- Great stereo
- Plentiful road noise
- No manual transmission option for the “sporty” S package
- Higher cost than rivals
Photos by Lyndon Johnson