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Redesigned Corolla preps for compact segment battle

As of 2012, the Toyota Corolla had gone longer without an update than any other car in the compact segment. Even so, it outsold every competitor but the Honda Civic.
This week in Seattle, Toyota showed West Coast journalists the 11th-generation, 2014 Corolla (from $17,610, including destination). Updates are both sweeping and surprisingly limited.
Buyers told Toyota they wanted a roomier, more stylish Corolla, and that’s what they’re getting. Aside from a new, limited-production fuel-management system and a new continuously variable transmission, little changes on the tech front.
Corolla’s dramatic sheet metal redesign includes massive grill and oversized lower air-intakes. Short overhangs produce a taut, dynamic stance. Sloping C pillars flow into an elevated rear deck.
2014 Toyota Corolla - dashboardOverall length and wheelbase grow by nearly four inches.The cabin boasts a whopping 5.1 new inches of rear-seat legroom. Front-seat occupants face a redesigned dash whose clean, strong horizontal lines and linear surfaces contribute to a spacious, open feel.
Our pre-production test vehicles seemed well assembled, showing a level of fit and finish expected of more expensive vehicles. A variety of sound-deadening measures significantly reduce cabin noise.
On the road, the Corolla’s lengthened wheelbase helps produce a mature, big-car feel. Our short and regimented drive route (we proceeded, caravan-style, from downtown Seattle to Snoqualmie via the East side of Lake Sammamish’s) precluded any chance of evaluating handling. No matter; performance is well down on the list of features Corolla drivers care about. 
My drive partner and I tested two trims, the efficiency-oriented LE Eco ($19,510) and the sportier (though not truly sporting), top-of-the-line S ($19,810) Despite its 15-inch, low-rolling-resistance tires, the LE Eco’s steering felt more direct, with better on-center feel, than the S, with its sport-tuned suspension and 17-inch wheels. 
All Corolla trims are powered by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine. In all trims but the LE Eco, the engine makes 132 horsepower and, paired with a new continuously variable transmission earns EPA ratings of 28 mpg city/39 mpg highway. LE Eco showcases a new Toyota valve-timing technology called Valvematic that boosts power to 140 hp and efficiency to 30/42. Valvematic is available only on the midlevel LE trim, with a $400 premium.
Toyota’s phone-based enTune infotainment system adds a pair of apps this year and is now standard on all trims except the base L, as is a rearview monitor. LED headlights are standard across the line.
The compact segment has never been more competitive, but the 11th-gen Corolla is ready for the battle. As always, when the competition heats up the customer wins.
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Don Adair
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer.