The 2014 Redesign Was Successful, If Unexciting. Now What Can They Do To Stay Ahead of the Honda Civic In Sales?

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What changes will make it different?

Very few. It’s expected to be a virtual rerun of the 2014 model, which was the first fully redesigned edition of this compact sedan since model-year 2009. It introduced sleeker styling, dramatically improved rear-seat comfort, and additional features. The ‘15 will retain all that, with the outside chance of minor adjustments in equipment availability, and an even slimmer possibility of some horsepower juggling.

Why should I wait for the 2015 Corolla?

Maybe to see if the ostensibly sporty S model gets more power. Expect a repeat of a lineup that starts with the entry-level L grade, the more popular LE, its high-fuel-economy derivative, the LE Eco, and ends with the S. None is likely to change enough to wait for, but the L and LE are the least likely candidates. Toyota may recognize the apparent illogic of the “performance-oriented” S having less horsepower than the LE Eco, though, and do something about it. So wait if you’re an S candidate and believe an extra 8 horses will make a difference.

Should I buy a 2014 Corolla instead?

Certainly, if you’re impressed by the all-new 2014 version – or are simply ready to renew your allegiance. Indeed, this car’s earned a remarkably loyal following by delivering economical, reliable transportation. Lately it’s tried to add driving excitement to the mix. It hasn’t taken; rivals like the Ford Focus, Mazda 3, and Volkswagen Golf are far more popular with enthusiasts. A few more ponies for the S model won’t change that. But you will be charged more for essentially the same car.

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Will the styling be different?

Appearance alterations would be a radical departure from tradition. That’s because the 2014 redesign brought all-new sheet metal that sets this car’s styling template for years to come. Dismissed were the stodgy upright lines that defined this compact for most of two decades. The new, swept-back shape, if not fully original — especially in its use of a big-mouth grille — is at least contemporary. More important, the ‘15 will benefit from the substantial improvement in rear-passenger accommodations that was part of the redesign. It went from subpar to among best in class, especially in rear legroom, thanks to a 3.9-inch increase in wheelbase. Wheelbase is the distance between front and rear axles, and this is one of the longest of any compact car, at 106.3 inches. The gains came at the cost of a styling-dictated reduction in headroom front and rear. The ‘15 won’t correct that minor shortfall. But the automaker could redress an odd omission by equipping the rear seat with a center armrest. Don’t look for alterations to a dashboard design that polarizes opinion. Critics regard the bluntly upright form as old-fashioned, others as refreshingly simple. It is user-friendly and for better or worse, its lack of contour eliminates any sporty, driver-oriented cockpit feel while inviting the front passenger to fiddle with the centrally mounted climate, audio, and navigation controls. The S will again be visually distinguished by its black-out grille heated power outside mirrors with turn signal indicators and, along with the LE Eco, a small decklid spoiler. LE and S models will again be available with optional 16-inch alloy wheels, with the S again eligible for 17-inch alloys as well.

Any mechanical changes?

Deviation from the conservative mechanical formula that’s been this car’s foundation is highly improbably. It’ll stick with a proven 1.8-liter four-cylinder as its sole engine, and most versions will continue with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) in place of a conventional automatic transmission. L, LE, and S models are likely to return with 132 horsepower. The LE Eco should be back with a more advanced version of this engine that furnishes slightly better fuel economy while providing 140 horsepower. There’s no discernible difference in acceleration between the LE Eco and the others. Still, if the automaker hears from enough S-intenders who feel shortchanged, it could equip the ‘15 with the LE Eco-spec engine. The tiny percentage of L and S buyers who again desire a manual transmission will likely be able to get a six-speed stick. Aimed at cost-conscious fleet buyers (rental companies, mostly), the L grade will again offer the alternative of a four-speed automatic transmission. Expect the CVT to remain optional on the S and standard on the LE and LE Eco models. Among this vehicle’s high-volume rivals, the Honda Civic, Nissan Sentra, and Subaru Impreza also use a CVT, which is designed to perform as an automatic transmission but with without set gear ratios. The aim is improved fuel economy by more precisely harnessing engine output. The result in this application is sluggish movement away from a stop but perfectly adequate acceleration thereafter. Also present is the CVT tendency to allow the engine to drone annoyingly as speed picks up. Toyota could extend to all models the Eco version’s “Eco mode” button that maximizes fuel economy by remapping throttle and shift programs. Only the S, however, is likely to again feature a CVT-manual mode that allows the driver to replicate seven distinct gear ratios by toggling the floor shift lever or flipping steering-wheel paddles. The S also will return with slightly stiffer suspension tuning, but no version is likely to rise from the lower ranks of the compact class when it comes to athletic road manners. Most loyal owners will be content with this latest Corolla’s predictable behavior, though some may also pine for the marshmallow-soft ride quality of earlier-generation editions.

Will fuel economy improve?

Not likely, but even if they don’t, EPA ratings should remain among the best in the compact class for cars without hybrid, electric, or diesel power. Expect L and S models with the six-speed manual transmission to rate 28/37/31 mpg city/highway/combined. With the four-speed automatic, the ‘15 L should again have an EPA rating of 27/36/31 mpg. Equipped with the CVT, L, LE, and S models should again rate 29/38/32 mpg. The highway rating likely will again be 37 mpg on S Plus and S Premium models with the CVT, a decrease the manufacturer attributes to their heaver, larger 17-inch alloy wheels. The LE Eco likely will again carry two fuel-economy ratings, depending on wheels and tires. In standard configuration, with low-rolling-resistance 15-inch tires on steel wheels, it should again rate 30/42/35 mpg city/highway/combined. The Eco Plus and Premium editions have 16-inch alloys wheels and should rate a still-impressive 30/40/34 mpg.

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Will it have new features?

The carmaker says it’ll study whether shoppers have an appetite for certain features increasingly common on rival compacts, such as blind-spot monitoring to alert of unseen vehicles in adjacent lanes. Barring that, it seems confident each model in this lineup is configured at the appropriate intersection of features and price. Expect every ’15 to again come standard with Bluetooth wireless connectivity, a USB port, air conditioning, 60/40 split/folding rear seatbacks, power locks with automatic-locking, and power windows with driver’s-side one-touch up/down. To the L model, the LE should again add the CVT, plus a rearview backup monitor that displays on a dashboard screen, automatic climate control, cruise control, keyless remote locks, and the brand’s Entune infotainment system with a 6.1-inch dashboard screen. Entune links with smartphone-accessed Web applications to enable Internet radio and various information and entertainment services. Grouping popular options will again create the LE Plus and LE Premium sub-models. The LE Plus would include 16-inch alloy wheels and fog lamps, the LE Premium adding to that heated front seats and Toyota’s Softex upholstery, a quite-convincing but less expensive synthetic substitute for leather. Barring a powertrain realignment, the LE Eco will again be the only model with the high-fuel-economy engine and specific CVT tuning, plus aerodynamic body tweaks. Expect the LE Eco Plus to return with 16-inch aero alloy wheels, fog lights, and an exterior chrome strip along its windowsills. To that, the LE Eco Premium would again add Softex and heated front seats. The S will again build on the LE models with some unique exterior and interior trim, plus sport-bolstered front bucket seats. The S will probably also reprise Plus and Premium trims, with the S Plus the version available with manual transmission. Expect the manual-transmission S Plus to again come with the 17-inch alloys, a power moonroof, pushbutton ignition, and Entune Premium Audio with the company’s well-designed voice-activated navigation system. Without competitive pressure to the contrary, rear disc brakes will likely remain limited to models with the 17-inch alloy wheels. That would include the S Plus manual-transmission and CVT models, along with the S Premium, which will again come with the CVT plus Softex and heated front seats. Don’t look for the L to offer any options. Key extra-cost items for the other models should again include a power moonroof and the Driver’s Convenience Package, which would consist primarily of the Entune Premium Audio with navigation and pushbutton ignition.

How will 2015 prices be different?

Don’t expect much departure from model-year 2014 pricing. That suggests a base-price range of roughly $17,800-$22,350, which would be around the compact-class median. Some rivals will again feature slightly less expense entry-level models, but the costliest 2015 Corolla would remain well under the $30,000 level of such rivals as top-of-the-line Focus and VW Golf and Jetta models. (Estimated base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s or distributor’s mandatory destination fee, in this case, some $810.) The L model is expected to account for about 10 percent of sales and we estimate a base price of $17,800 with manual transmission and $18,560 with the four-speed automatic. The best selling model should again be the LE version at an estimated base price of $19,360, including the CVT. Figure the LE Plus at around $19,760, the LE Premium at around $21,560. Figure the LE Eco at an estimated $19,760 to start, with the LE Eco Plus at $20,460 and the LE Eco Premium at $21,160. Estimated base price for the ‘15 S is $20,200, including the CVT. Look for the S Plus with the CVT to be priced from around $20,760 and the S Premium from about $21,460. At an estimated $22,360, the S Plus with manual transmission and its extensive list of standard equipment would likely repeat as the most expensive model. Among popular options, look for the power moonroof to cost around $850 and the Driver’s Convenience Package to add some $1,510.

When will it come out?

Look for the 2015 in showrooms by late-summer 2014.

Best competitors:

Chevrolet Cruze, Dodge Dart, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Kia forte, Mazda 3, Nissan Sentra, Subaru Impreza, Volkswagen Golf and Jetta

What’s a cool feature?

This is the first car in the class with LED (light-emitting diode) low-beam headlamps and daytime running lights. Expect them to continue as standard equipment on every ‘15 Corolla, giving this low-priced car the extra illumination and energy-saving advantages usually associated with premium-class autos.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]