Sometimes you need to upset your applecart. Change can be good as well as highly enlightening.
This article started out in the vein similar to my highly sarcastic piece on a 2014 Ford Focus I rented some weeks ago. While temptation toward snarky and caustic remarks presented itself, the bigger picture is that any change will inherently alter your perspective. Let’s just say of my recent rentals, this is Number 2 of 3 and it has tempered my opinions. My venom is being saved for the very deserving Number 3.
I am not a fan of Toyota products and never have been. None of their physical traits has ever appealed to me. We each respond differently to the same input, so your results may vary.
Having said that, I am also not completely unfamiliar with Toyota. As a child, my aunt and uncle had a circa 1975 Corona coupe. While a novel car that had remarkably quick steering for the time, it rusted at a prodigious rate compared to the early ’70s Fords elsewhere in the family. It was a Toyota of its time, a decent car that was good for little else than being recycled into a culvert pipe when finally traded off.
The Corona went away in 1981 for a Fox bodied Mustang which hung around for a decade with nary a sign of corrosion. Since then, I have driven a first generation Prius and a 2010 Camry. Neither provided me with any sort of mental, physical, or visceral excitement.
Two weeks ago, another Toyota entered my life when I rented a compact car for Mrs. Jason to take to St. Louis. Renting a car is a lot like opening a Christmas present from an eccentric aunt–you don’t always know what you will get. This time it was a 2013 Corolla.
Mrs. Jason made the observation that she has been driving legally for well over half her life, but has never driven a Toyota. She, like me, does not believe that Toyota manufactures automotive nirvana, since nirvana does not require recalls. However, she was curious to drive it to see what all the hype is about. As I stated in the Focus article, we are realizing the need to adjust our automotive fleet and renting has been a great way to take test drives for a cost less than or comparable to what fuel alone would cost for my pickup or her van.
Before I delve into details of our subjective analysis of this gray Corolla, I need to set the stage. We lived in the self-proclaimed “America’s Hometown” of Hannibal, Missouri, for five years. Due to the draw of novelist Mark Twain having both grown up and basing several novels there, Hannibal is a popular tourist attraction.
This was the Hannibal experience for a couple of tourists. It happened in August 2009, before the Toyota sudden acceleration ruckus began in 2010. The events of this specific instance are odd; parked where the tow truck is, this car had to jump a 6″ curb and gain enough speed to break through the safety fence just behind where the three people are standing. This car was quickly scrapped without investigation into the cause.
The sudden acceleration investigations were harmful to Toyota with fines levied and various lawsuits pending. Even if one did not stay abreast of these events, newspaper articles and television reports about old ladies driving over a cliff do stick in ones mind and will associate themselves with a brand. Nearly five years later, the non-automotive minded Mrs. Jason still remembers this event and wanted me to verify whether the car in question was a Corolla. It was not; it was a Camry.
Again, it is unfortunate how some things stick in one’s mind. A second item she asked about was whether or not this particular Toyota was one of the 6.4 million cars Toyota has recently recalled. Thankfully, it was not.
This size of car is quite appealing to my wife and she said there were various elements of the Corolla that reminded her of both her ’85 and ’96 Escorts – which is highly complimentary coming from her. The ’85, purchased new by her father, died via Jeep Grand Cherokee at 259,000 miles; during its life it required only two timing belts, a voltage regulator, and a set of tie-rods. My wife purchased the ’96 new and we sold it to her brother in 2004 with 70,000 miles; never requiring anything under our ownership, her brother used it beyond its abilities for another 165,000 miles before it recently died of a dead cylinder at 235,000 miles.
For its intended purpose of getting Mrs. Jason to St. Louis and back, the Corolla did so and returned just over 35 miles per gallon in the process. The fuel mileage is quite admirable.
The day after she returned from St. Louis, I piloted the Toyota for a family outing to a town forty minutes north.
The first thing that struck me about the Toyota was the abnormally high positioning of the steering column. Even with the steering wheel adjusted as far down and as close to me as possible, my arms were uncomfortably high. Had I driven the Corolla a distance comparable to what my wife had, my arms would have quickly tired.
The second item of note was the sound of the engine. While the engine in the Focus sounded as smooth and mellow as possible for a four-banger, the engine in the Corolla had a distinctly nasal quality to it. For comparison purposes, think of it as the contrast between smooth and vibrant Waylon Jennings and the nasal cacophony of Willie Nelson (auditory comparison here). It simply was not an endearing sound. In this regard, Toyota could learn a lot from Ford.
It should also be noted the Ford has a twenty-eight horsepower advantage as well as an additional two forward gears.
I found the console in the 2014 Focus to be an irritant; I heartily applaud Toyota on the design of the console in this car, as it was minuscule in comparison and helped make the interior feel more expansive than it really is. It served its function without being an insidious invasion of ones personal space. It also allowed me to reach over and rub Mrs. Jason’s leg without having to navigate around some large, physical barrier. For this, Ford could learn a lot from Toyota.
Bright colors tend to make people more upbeat; the trend of automotive interiors with such dark colors is counterproductive to facilitating a happy owner experience. I do not know if this darkness is a predominant Toyota theme, or a reflection of the LE trim level. This coal black interior did conspire to make the cabin inordinately warm on a temperate day. Mrs. Jason said she is unaccustomed to running the air conditioner when the ambient temperature is only 70 degrees Fahrenheit; she said it was like a greenhouse above that temperature. Such absorption of heat likely doesn’t help with the longevity of the interior. Are dyes other than black so prohibitively expensive?
Styling is very subjective, but let’s face it, many of our choices on our automotive purchases possess a certain degree of subjectivity. For being a compact car, I do find this generation of Corolla to be preferable to most of its competition; the redesigned 2014 models aren’t offensive in appearance, a mild evolution of this 2013 model. While I still prefer the styling of the Jetta amongst the compact car field, the Corolla does look more appealing than the four-wheeled jelly bean design utilized by some its competitors.
So has Toyota succeeded in making a convert? No. While a decent car, the Corolla did not exhibit any quality that makes it truly unique. It simply did its thing with less overall irritation than what two competitors have.
Being the least offensive does have advantages, something Toyota has certainly been masterful in exploiting. It could be argued that this generally inoffensive demeanor is the strong point for this Corolla and Toyota’s in general. However, I liken it to the student who consistently earns B’s and C’s; he is consistent, yet not a standout. How could he ever expect to graduate at the top of his class?