Stick Shift: 2016 Toyota Corolla

The Toyota Corolla has been described as drab and boring. A spiritless, uninteresting appliance of transportation. I’ll be honest, as I punched the gas during my first drive, much of this was confirmed to be true. The 1.8L 4-cylinder wheezed to life like an old vacuum cleaner, or a magic bullet slicing through a bunch of Roma tomatoes. The cars awkward CVT transmission, with its computer simulated “shifts” bounced around the rpm range trying to make up its mind as the car climbed to 60 mph, somewhere between 9 seconds and an eternity. Yet, despite the Corollas complete inability to get ones blood pumping, there’s no denying the overwhelming number of sales this small sedan has achieved in its 11 generations of life. That’s right, this little Toyota has been on the market non-stop for nearly half a century, and in all that time it’s never been about the excitement or the flair.

So what is the driving force behind the success of the Corolla? The 2016 model perfectly illustrates this proven recipe by covering the bare necessities of automotive must-have’s, tastefully blending great value, excellent fuel economy and bare knuckled practicality. Not much has changed for 2016 except an updated Entune audio system, and the introduction of an S Special Edition variant that introduces some cosmetic updates. Yet despite that, this 11th generation Corolla is the most edgy, stylish model yet.

On the outside, the 2016 Corolla wears LED lights and integrated fog lamps with confidence. An aggressively styled black front grille and sculpted lines create the impression of a toned down Lexus GS, which couldn’t be a bigger compliment. 17-inch alloy wheels and a rear spoiler add further glitter and glitz to the overall package. It still won’t turn many heads, but the design strides Toyota has taken to distance the new Corolla from its boring past couldn’t be more evident.

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Where things really shine brightest are on the inside. Toyota has always been successful with its interior designs, never so much as lately. See any recent Lexus model as proof. Even with a car as practical and economical as the Corolla, Toyota still made every effort to produce its best work yet. The cabin space has a stylish edge that’s undeniable. Some elements are, dare I say it, sporty. Notice the shape of the steering wheel and paddle shifters tucked behind as the most obvious example.

The list of what you get for the price is long in the 2016 Corolla. A commanding 6.1″ touch screen sits front and center, featuring Toyotas’ Entune app suite that integrates smartphone-connected services like Pandora, Yelp, Facebook, real-time traffic data, sports and more. Controls are well placed, the display is bright and clear, and in general, the whole cabin seems set up for ease of use above all else.

Thanks to a 2.9″ longer wheelbase, the current Corolla offers more legroom than many other small sedans. I would’ve liked more range in the telescoping steering wheel, as the fit behind it can be tight if you’re longer-legged or bigger bellied. The fabric seats are an attractive blend of black and woven dark blue. Materials have a higher quality look and feel than you’d expect. There’s a strong horizontal and asymmetrical shape to things, helping to create a space that’s visually interesting rather than stale. A sliding sunroof never hurts to class things up a bit either.

My S Plus model had slightly firmer suspension tuning and rear disc brakes. The ride quality is pleasant, but point the nose into a corner and you’ll be greeted with lifeless steering and plenty of body roll. Also, the brake pedal was soft up top, as was the accelerator, all expected findings. After my week with the newest edition of Toyotas most tried and true family member, its mission was as clear as ever. There’s plenty of options from Toyota’s corral if its blood pumping, adrenaline producing excitement you’re after. The Corolla has always been about value, practicality and safety. This newest model delivers in full, while adding a little unexpected flair to the equation. With 32 combined mpg, a government overall crash test rating of 5-stars and a base price under 20K, there’s a lot to like here.

By: Brandon Randall

Price as tested: $23,190.00

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