Behind the Wheel – Toyota Corolla S

Toyota Corolla S

The Toyota Corolla is the car the Japanese automaker built its empire upon over the years. And the 2011 Corolla S is a sportier version for folks looking to pack a little more zip into the perpetually sensible set of wheels.


Since the Corolla name debuted in 1966, Toyota claims they’ve sold one every 40 seconds. That’s more than 30 million Corolla’s on history’s roads, making it the most popular car line in history – mathematically speaking.


The Corolla was surpassed in sales in recent years by the popularity of another Toyota make – the Camry, which has been the best selling car in the U.S. for almost a decade. But it remains a fixture that Toyota built the rest of its changing line around. And that evolution of the automaker’s other cars presents a question.


Starting at around $15,900, the Corolla four door sedan comes standard with 16 inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, front and rear underbody spoilers and AM/FM/CD.


For this road test, we tried out the Corolla S – the $18,600, sportier variation with a five speed manual transmission (with an automatic also available), 1.8 liter four cylinder engine (serving up 132 hp), independent MacPherson strut front suspension with stabilizer bar with torsion beam rear suspension and rear stabilizer bar and power-assisted front disc brakes; nine-inch rear drum brakes with ABS and brake assist. The Corolla S throws in an electric power steering, power moon roof and power doors.


The result is a car that’s quick and nimble enough to maneuver through city traffic, with adequate speed for freeway driving. It doesn’t get your heart racing, but that’s not its job. Its assignment is to get you where you need to be while sipping fuel. Mission accomplished.


The interior feels a little flimsy in places, especially with this reviewer’s 6’3” frame asking a lot from the upholstered seats. Also, leg room is at a premium as my knees had an intimate relationship with both the driver’s side door and the center console.


Affordable, functional and reliable, the Corolla is not a perfect car. It’s a serviceable set of wheels you know will be ready to do its job when the road calls. But so is the less expensive Yaris and the more expensive Camry. The question becomes what buyers will now settle in between those two makes to buy a Corolla (S or otherwise) if the car feels like a lost child in the Toyota line – an unnecessary step between the entry point Yaris and that ever-present Camry.


The Corolla (in its various configurations) is the next step up from Toyota’s entry level hatch and sedan. At first blush, I might buy the Yaris in place of its slightly larger, more appointed sister. For a buyer looking for serviceable, confident transportation that’s inexpensive to maintain, the Yaris fits the bill as well as the Corolla for less money. There isn’t a big enough leap up from one to the other unless buyers essentially need the extra room.


The question lingers there. Though it’s sold so well in the past, who is the modern Corolla for these days?


The recent roll-out of the 2012 Yaris answered finally provided the answer. Toyota will actively target their entry level car to a young demographic – the new drivers entering a tough economy and job market. They want these kids today (with their iPods and hula hoops and Tweetering) to pick up a Yaris because it’s spritely, environmentally acceptable and socially accessible.


The Corolla is for the next age group up who now feel a little too old for a car targeted at recent graduates. It serves folks working their first proper, career-launching job. The Corolla might hold that first baby seat nine months after pulling away from a church with “just married” written on its rear seat window in Silly Foam.


It’s a car for men and women who are getting a little more serious about life without having piles of money to show for it yet.