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Road Test: 2018 Toyota Corolla SE

| Green, Test drive | 28.10.2018

Not The Corolla Of The Past ^

For years, friends who weren’t looking to get a kick out of driving, but just wanted something to go from point A to B economically and reliably, Toyota’s Corolla was one of my top recommendations. Today, after spending a week in the 2018 Toyota Corolla, I still recommend it.

Apparently lots of folks recommend it. After more than 50 years, it is just not the best-selling compact in America, but the best-selling automotive nameplate of all time.

2018 Toyota Corolla

The Corolla keeps rolling along–better than ever on the road

Toyota sells approximately 1.5 million Corollas globally each year, and sold more than 900 of the things every day last year in the U.S alone—including weekends and holidays. The first Corolla went into production in November 1966 and made its United States debut in 1968. Since then it has tallied 43 million units sold worldwide.

Last year Toyota changed the model lineup, which carries over to the 2018 model. The Corolla S was discarded in favor of SE and SXE models. An XLE was also new, while the base L and mid-grade LE were unchanged. The LE Eco is the top fuel miser with an EPA rating of 40-mpg highway/30 city/34 combined, earning a membership in Clean Fleet Report’s 40 mpg club. Other models with a continuous-variable transmission are rated at 36 mpg highway/28 city/32 combined, while the Corolla SE with the rare optional six-speed manual transmission offers 35 mpg highway/27 city/32 combined.

Ensuring the Corolla will continue to rack up the sales numbers, Toyota priced the little 2018 sedanlette starting at $19,520 for the base L, including destination charges, and a host of standard features, many of which weren’t even available just a few years ago, like the rearview camera. Our Blue SE test driver had a sticker price of $24,072 that included features such as cruise control, automatic climate control and a host of optional TRD (Toyota Racing Development) performance upgrades.

Two Different Looks ^

The 2018 Toyota Corolla offers two different exterior designs, reflecting the model lineup. The L, LE, XLE and LE Eco offer a front and rear treatment that’s distinct from the sportier SE and XSE models. Yet both offer similarities. There are standard LED headlights, with a two-element version on the SE-type Corollas. The SE-based models also get vertically styled front vents and LED fog lights, plus all-red taillights, while LE-type models use subtle cues, such as two-color taillights, to look a little more upscale.

2018 Toyota Corolla

This year the Corolla’s got some new looks

Overall, the compact has an upscale appearance with a silhouette that projects a somewhat substantial presence. The front grill flanked by LED headlights and running lights brings it up to par with other Toyota sedans. A long wheelbase places the wheels close to the corners of the car, which not only gives it good interior space but, dare I say, makes it look almost sporty. The result is a car that avoids the generic look of so many past Corollas.

To help achieve its 40-mpg rating, the Corolla LE Eco comes with low-rolling resistant tires and cheats the wind with unseen aerodynamic underbody covers and a rear spoiler, which lowers its coefficient of drag (Cd) down to an impressive 0.28 compared to 0.29 and 0.30 in other Corolla models.

Inside—Yes, It’s a Corolla ^

Inside, the cabin’s appointments give it a look that, when compared to a 10-year-old version of the Corolla, one would consider to be almost luxurious. The interior has a two-tier dashboard, and the dash surface itself is a soft-touch material with molded-in stitching that comes across as fresh—at least for a Corolla.

A low cowl and belt line makes for a commanding forward and side view of the road. Finding a comfortable driving position is easy with a standard six-way adjustable driver’s seat and tilt/telescopic steering wheel. Gauges are unobstructed and easy enough to read, while controls are orderly, obvious and ergonomically placed. And thank you, Toyota interior designers, for keeping the radio tuning and volume knob controls.

2018 Toyota Corolla

Like a Corolla, but nicer

The touch screen, regardless of size, has large virtual buttons, clear graphics and quick response times to touch inputs. Toyota’s available Entune integrates smartphone-connected services such as Facebook, Bing, Yelp and Pandora, but for some reason Apple CarPlay or Android Auto are still not available.

Front seats are on the soft side and could use some more thigh bolstering, but they are pleasant for long distance travel. The driver and front passenger have generous head, leg and shoulder room for a small car, while rear seat passengers will find more rear legroom than most small sedans—41.4-inches—plus, room under the front seats to place their feet, and a nearly flat rear floor that increases the feeling of space.

At 13 cubic feet, the Corolla’s trunk is spacious for its size, and the opening is wide, making it easy to load and unload.

Significantly, every Corolla model comes standard with Toyota’s Safety Sense-P package. Driver aids include automated emergency braking with pedestrian detection, forward collision warning, lane departure intervention and adaptive cruise control—features that are pretty sophisticated on a car in a segment that’s usually considered entry-level.

The Engine Bay ^

Perhaps disappointing to some shoppers, the Corolla’s engine remains the same as the outgoing model. It’s a 1.8-liter dual overhead cam four-cylinder with Toyota’s variable valve timing with intelligence. It’s good for 132 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque, just enough to keep things moving when needed. Surprisingly, the fuel sipping LE Eco model is more powerful with a specially tuned 1.8-liter four that puts out 140 horsepower.

On all but the SE model with optional six-speed manual transmission, Corolla’s power output is managed with a continuously-variable transmission (CVT) that mimics the characteristics of hydraulic automatics by creating a sense of positive shift engagement. On upper trim levels this is done with paddle shifters.

On the Road ^

Unlike Toyota Corollas of the past, the 2018 edition is no longer a sleep-inducing, penalty box econo car. Instead it easily darted about in town, merged safely onto fast moving freeways and proved a gracious long-haul companion.

2018 Toyota Corolla

Still the same under the hood

Our SE test car had more than adequate power and enough verve for stress-free driving. The feisty four cylinder loafed along at just 3,200 rpms in freeway far-left lanes at 80 mph, delivering the benefit of low cabin noise. Past Corollas impressed with their quietness, but this one was even better. Bumps were absorbed well and straight-line stability was good.

The suspension—independent MacPherson struts up front, torsion beam in the rear—favors ride comfort over handling. Despite front and rear stabilizer bars, body roll was apparent in hard cornering, though the car was agile, “tossable” and predictable. It had decent grip in turns and was reasonably quick to respond to steering inputs. Braking was swift and undramatic.

Like many drivers, I am not a fan of CVTs, but this one did not feel like it had a slipping manual transmission clutch, and the engine revs didn’t sound like they were outpacing the speed.  It did indeed mimic a standard automatic transmission, and the paddle shifts, up or down, hesitated only briefly in their faux engagement.

When I turned the keys back to Toyota after one week, the trip odometer read 283 miles. The driving was a mixed bag of in-town, a 150-mile freeway trip and 27 miles on one of my favorite two-lane country roads. The fuel-economy read out registered 32.9 mpg, nearly three miles per gallon better than the EPA’s estimated number.

In the Marketplace ^

There are a lot of compact cars competing for buyers, some, like the Ford Focus, Mazda3, Mini Cooper and Volkswagen Golf are loads more fun to drive than the Corolla. Then there’s Chevrolet’s Cruze, Hyundai’s Elantra, Kia’s Forte and, of course, the Honda Civic; each of which offer compelling reasons to buy.

2018 Toyota Corolla

Still not the flashy choice, but holding up well over the years for savvy buyers

In the end, the 2018 Toyota Corolla does the most important things well. It is not a flashy choice, but savvy shoppers will give this latest Corolla high marks for its price/value equation, safety features, reliability and the historically high resale value. I recommend you check it out.

Related Stories You Might Enjoy—Compact Competition

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Road Test: 2018 Mini Cooper PHEV

Road Test: 2018 Volkswagen Golf R

Road Test: 2018 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel

Road Test: 2018 Hyundai Elantra

Road Test: 2017 Kia Forte

Road Test: 2016 Honda Civic


Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.


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