They say simplicity is one of the routes to happiness.
So many of us aren’t happy with the hand life deals us, and while it’s imperative that we work to improve our situation and that of those around us, it’s always good to practice gratitude for the small things. One such small thing was loaned to me for a week by Toyota, a 50th Anniversary Corolla no less, and after spending weeks with the Alfa Romeo Giulia QV and Mustang GT350, a bare bones car is a tough pill to swallow. But swallow it I did, and there are the five ways the spunky car made my life better.
I’ll admit, $25,000 is no small price to pay for a small passenger car with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine sending 132 horsepower to the front wheels through a linear throttle feel-killing CVT, but Toyota manages to fit quite a few features to make the Corolla feel a bit more special than a 182-inch rolling couch for five. Included as standard is lane departure warning with steering assist, radar cruise control which utilized the front sensor to detect pedestrians and impending collisions, automatic headlights, a sun roof, and illuminated door sills, helping the Corolla feel as though it’s more than just an appliance, even if it drives like one.
Appliance or not, there’s no denying that Toyota usually knows what it’s doing when it builds a car. While it’s still a small sedan, the interior feels roomy and though it’s not luxurious, it certainly doesn’t feel like you’re making any compromises. Or at least many compromises. Still, the Black Cherry Purple shade painted onto the body was enough to lull friends into the Corolla for a trip up San Francisco’s many hills, which, thanks to the small engine, labored the whole way up doling out painful reminders that this is still ranks as an econobox. Instead of make fun of it, we cheered at the top of the hill, yet again lauding the tiny Toyota for reminding us to not take the luxury of an easily hill climb in almost any other car for granted.
Most surprising was the level of driver aids that came standard. The aggressive looking exterior is a bit misleading because radar cruise control with lane departure warning and lane keep assist, automatic high beams, and a pre-collision system that keeps an eye out for daring pedestrians all come included in the price. No GPS was included, but the 7-inch touchscreen display was moderately intuitive and enabled access to audio, a Bluetooth linked phone, and even the latest weather could be displayed on screen. This is helpful because even with a Sport button near the center console, there’s very little (if any) fun to get out of driving the Corolla.
In terms of reliability, Toyota has consistently led the pack, and that’s a design philosophy that’s easily spotted all around the Corolla. If it had to submit itself to the life of a Lyft driver’s taxi, the quality components would have no problem enduring years of slammed doors and drunken rowdy bar escapees. While potholes do rattle the suspension and downhill rides with all five seats loaded strain the puny disc brakes resting on all four wheels (lower trims still get drum brakes at the rear) there’s an overall feel of integrity that permeates through the metal used on latches where other automakers would go plastic. It's capabilities may not be as high as better sedans, but there's no question the Corolla will last.
One interesting characteristic I learned about the Corolla occurred when crossing a long body of water on a windy bridge at speed. Lane keep assist or not, the Corolla proved harder to keep in its lane than a drunken fly avoiding the swatter. Fighting with the steering wheel was a must, but it solidified the Toyota’s character as a car that brings you closer to the elements and enables a greater appreciation for life (if you're looking at the bright side), which is a direct contradiction to Toyota’s intention. On the spectrum of entry-level bargain cars, the Toyota is the safe bet, reliable, decent looking, and displays competence in most areas. However it has no shining qualities aside from the fact that it’s great at being a people carrier.
Aspiring ride share drivers take note. On the other hand, being the sales phenomenon that it is, the Corolla is probably the best one-size-fits-all glove for the city dweller on a budget but, let's just put it this way, $25,000 can buy you a used Lexus in good condition. That's the Toyota you really want.