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Dressed To Impress: The 2015 Corolla S, Reviewed

Amou "Joe" Seto |
February 19, 2015 | 2:59 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

The 2015 Corolla S Premium, pictured in Blue Crush Metallic. (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)
The 2015 Corolla S Premium, pictured in Blue Crush Metallic. (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)

When I first got my driver's license, I was less than thrilled when I found out I would be driving around our old, 1995 Toyota Corolla wagon. In fact, I was completely devastated. Visually, the car was about as exciting as a slab of leftover meatloaf, and driving it was no more fun than looking at it. The engine had very little power, the steering was heavy and cumbersome, and the car didn’t even have anti-lock brakes. The interior was bland, with hard plastics all around and an uncomfortable seat. Nonetheless, it served my family well until we sold it in late 2013. 

This new Corolla is a far cry from my old, arthritic wagon. Unlike the dull and bland Corolla of yesterday, this one has come dressed to impress, as the first thing you’ll notice about this Corolla is its updated appearance. Toyota went all out in the design of the Corolla S, giving it a very bold, aggressive look. To distinguish itself aesthetically from other Corollas, the S model gets a black grille, a rear spoiler, 17-inch alloy wheels, fog lights and “S” badging. Our test car came with a Blue Crush Metallic paint job, a color exclusive to the Corolla S. Underneath, Corolla S exclusive springs, dampers, bushings and rear disc brakes are fitted to keep up with the sporty aesthetic. Could the Corolla S fighting for a serious position in the sport compact market? 

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Inside, we find an interior vaguely reminiscent of a Lexus, with modern styling touches throughout. The somewhat fingerprint-resistant piano black trim pieces give a touch of elegance to the center console and surrounding areas. The S model gains very comfortable, SofTex trimmed sport seats which have large bolsters on them, with S Premium-spec models having heated driver and passenger seats.

The size of the Corolla's trunk is demonstrated using a Yamaha PSR-220 (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)
The size of the Corolla's trunk is demonstrated using a Yamaha PSR-220 (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)

In addition, the S model gains a gauge cluster exclusive to the S trim with a very useful TFT Multi-information display in the center. The thick, leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel looks as if it was plucked straight out of a Lexus CT200h, and completes the beautiful interior. The large rear seat is spacious enough for adults upward of six feet tall to have ample legroom and headroom, and if needed can fold down to increase the already large rear trunk space. 

The car also comes with a wealth of amenities. The S Premium gains a moonroof, a smart key, push button start, and a 6-inch touchscreen for apps and navigation. For safety reasons, the car disables input while the car is moving, and the navigation system works as it should.

For those of you who hate cables of any kind, the Corolla S comes equipped with bluetooth technology, allowing you to stream music, make calls, and use Toyota’s Entune with Appsuite. Using Toyota’s Entune system and App Suite requires you to download the app onto your smartphone and pairing it with the car via Bluetooth. This enables you to use apps like Bing, Movietickets.com and Pandora through your car, but the service uses your smartphone’s data plan. If you’re like me, and don’t have an unlimited data plan paired to your smartphone, you should think twice before you start using Entune. 

The Advanced Voice Control System on the 2015 Corolla S Premium (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)
The Advanced Voice Control System on the 2015 Corolla S Premium (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)

The USB port that allows you to plug in your music to see on the navigation screen seemed relatively slow. The first time I connected an iPod, the system managed to get stuck on a screen that said “Gathering information from the device” for a good five or so minutes before I unplugged it. When I got the system to finally work, I discovered it works very well until you try to skip through songs very fast through the steering-mounted buttons. The car takes a while to load the file, leaving a long pause between songs as the system loaded song names and album art. The Corolla S’ six-speaker stereo, while having crystal clear highs and clear mids, are contrasted by a default lack of bass. Thankfully, the treble, mids and bass can all be adjusted using a slider in the car’s audio settings. 

If all of this technology speak is confusing to you, there's only one button you need to get rid of all this uncertainty. Mounted on the steering wheel is a button that activates the new Advanced Voice Control system, letting you access the weather forecast, control the Navigation system, call people and find restaurants. The voice control was able to understand everything I threw at it, until I tried to use it with the window open, and it then decided to call my ex-boss instead of my best friend. This resulted in me frantically shouting, “CANCEL” over and over as confused onlookers in other cars stared on. 

The Corolla's 1.8 liter DOHC 16-valve 4 cylinder engine (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)
The Corolla's 1.8 liter DOHC 16-valve 4 cylinder engine (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)

The Corolla S is powered by a 1.8-liter DOHC inline four with Dual VVT-i which produces 132 horsepower at 6,000 RPM and 128 lb-ft of torque at 4,400, which is the exact same engine in the L and LE trims of the Corolla. The power is fed to the wheels through either a six speed manual or a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). Unlike some CVTs, it will upshift and downshift in M mode automatically if the engine speed gets too high or too low. You can change gears using the steering mounted paddle shifters or moving the gear shifter up or down, with gear numbers being displayed on the TFT Multi-Information screen. 

The Corolla S exclusive sport gauge cluster. (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)
The Corolla S exclusive sport gauge cluster. (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)

In normal city driving, the Corolla does a phenomenal job. The light steering makes changing lanes and turning corners a breeze. Large windows all around make for exceptional visibility, and the engine is quiet at low revs. The CVT does a remarkable job of choosing the right RPMs, but acceleration from low speeds can cause some jerkiness. The gas and brake pedals both are firm and consistent in their travel. Out of all the positive features, though, the most notable one is the ride. Thanks to the 17-inch wheels, low profile tires, and special suspension upgrades, the Corolla has a very smooth, comfortable ride. Rough, unpaved roads are easily dealt with by the soft suspension, and when paired with the comfortable seats, the car makes for a smooth ride. 

Yet there is a problem, and it’s with those low-profile tires. 

Driving at low speeds, the tires are fine. But as you start to accelerate, the tires begin to emit a low rumble. Since the car is very quiet, when you are alone in the car with the radio off, the sound of the tires droning along in the background is all you begin to hear. Driving on the 110, the tire noise went from a low rumble to a dull roar. As the car went past 60, the added sound of the wind whistling by made for a very noisy drive. On parts of the freeway where the road wasn’t as smooth, the tires made so much noise I couldn’t hear my mother trying to talk to me from the passenger seat.

The stylish interior on the 2015 Corolla S Premium (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)
The stylish interior on the 2015 Corolla S Premium (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)

What makes this situation unique is that the Corolla is very quiet when you’re not moving or you’re at low speed, almost an eerie sort of quiet, sharply contrasted by the loudness of it on the freeway. The silver lining to all this is that even on the uneven sections of the freeway, the Corolla keeps the ride soft and comfortable. At 80 mph, the CVT managed to keep the engine at a hair about 2,000 RPM; when in Manual mode and in 7th gear, the car does 2,600 RPM at 80 mph, keeping engine noise at a minimum. The cruise control can be activated with a push of a button and a flick of a switch, making for an easy drive. Driving both through the city and on the freeway, the Corolla managed an impressive 33 MPG. 

The rearview camera makes backing up and parking a breeze. The car’s small turning circle of 35.6 feet means you should be able to avoid doing a three-point turn in most situations. When you eventually do have to perform one, you’ll soon discover that you have to do a large amount of flailing at the wheel, as the car requires 3.19 turns to move the steering wheel lock to lock. The car is also very easy to park due to its size, and I experienced no problems getting in and out of parking spaces. 

The Corolla is an easy car to drive in the city, yes. But what happens when you want to carve up the road? Unfortunately for those who want to, the Corolla performed dreadfully in our performance test. When driving fast on a winding road with the traction and stability control off, I was met with large amounts of understeer as the all-season tires squealed for grip, followed by large amounts of body roll. The S model’s sport seats didn’t prove to be much help when faced with a combination of both body roll and cornering G-forces, as I found myself at the very edge of the seat, the bolsters only just keeping me from sliding out. It’s evident that in spite of the special springs, dampers and bushings, they’re too far over on the comfort side of the spectrum for this kind of driving.

With sport mode activated, the engine revs more freely, the transmission holds the revs higher for longer, and the steering feel is changed. Despite the change in the transmission’s behavior, even in manual mode the CVT will upshift automatically before the redline at 6,000 rpm. The engine is slow and ungainly in the lower ends of the rev range; bring the revs up higher, and the engine begins to show that it has some grunt. The traction control and stability control can be turned off by pressing down the button for three seconds while the car is at a complete stop. Even with all the extra added features to increase the car sportiness, the Corolla is a poor performance car. 

The Corolla S does L.A. (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)
The Corolla S does L.A. (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)

This isn’t a wolf in wolf’s clothing; it’s a sheep in wolf’s clothing. Yet in this case, it happens to be a good thing. While it lacks in the performance sector and has fairly loud tire noise, the Corolla as a whole is a solid performer. It’s a very good-looking, spacious, comfortable and easy-to-drive car with a wealth of amenities and good fuel economy. If that’s all you want and need in a car, then your chariot has arrived. If you are looking for a solid performance car for the same price however, you’d be better off looking someplace else. 

Overall Score: A- 

At-a-glance Specifications: 

The Corolla's shifter for the CVT. (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)
The Corolla's shifter for the CVT. (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)

Price as tested: $22,905 MSRP 

Vehicle Class: Compact*

Engine: 1.8 liter, DOHC 16-valve inline 4 with Dual VVT-i 

Transmission: CVT with 7 speed manual mode

Horsepower: 132 @ 6,000 rpm 

Torque: 128 lb-ft @ 4,400 

Tire size: P215/45R17 all-season steel belted radial 

EPA Cargo volume: 13.0 cubic feet 

Recommended fuel: Regular unleaded 

Our combined MPG: 33 

Range: 306 miles 

Fuel Capacity: 13.2 gal. 

EPA estimated MPG (City/Highway/combined): 29/37/32 

*This car is the benchmark vehicle for this class. 

Contact Staff Reporter Amou (Joe) Seto here. Follow him on Twitter here



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