Toyota Corolla S Review

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta

I like to believe that the general population’s insensitivity to the joys of automotive design, engineering and performance is a simple matter of missed opportunity. If the average driver had suckled on Hot Wheels' sweet metallic tang from toddler-hood, if a mechanically-minded mentor had gently and gradually revealed the wondrous secrets of the automotive arts during their teenage years, if they’d been shown how to harness horsepower with skill and respect as adult drivers, they’d share my passion for cars with genuine soul. Meanwhile, Toyota sells millions of Corollas and no one complains. Why would they?

Aesthetically speaking, there’s nothing particularly kvetch-worthy about your basic Corolla. The lines are clean and understated (i.e. unrelentingly generic and utterly forgettable). There’s no wrong answer when describing a three-box design with the requisite front clip folly of swept back headlights and a flashy plastic grille. And the infusion of sculpted amorphic taillights to a snub-nosed posterior isn’t in poor taste.

The ground-effects equipped Corolla “S” is a different– and important– matter. Fully 14 out of 16 photos on ToMoCo’s official website showcase the S: an adhesive-backed insult to the Import Tunerz sporting a dainty decklid spoiler and a tragically short tailpipe extension. Aside from the dressy 16” wheels that show off the rear’s dour drum brakes, the Corolla S’ sport factor isn’t fooling anyone– except (perhaps) for easily impressed, fictional documentarians from the Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. “Nice. Very nice.”

The cabin answers to that description without irony. The Corolla S offers a pseudo-upscale interior with delightfully comfortable cloth seating for four. The leather clad three-spoke rim improves the Corolla’s awkward tiller-to-driver seating position. The S-grade gauges have class-appropriate pseudo-sportiness, although their red and white motif turns to Siamese baseballs by night. And the base stereo hits the requisite highs and lows with moderate enthusiasm.

But wait, there’s less! Rotary knobs and switches are clumsy and clunky, and the chrome trimmed-shifter looks out of place in the cabin’s sea of flat black. More importantly, at every touch point, the Corolla is cursed with Toyota’s latest form of competitive advantage: borderline beancounting. The plastics are harder than cubic zirconium, and the engineering shows a lack of attention to detail. For example, the sun visor sucker-punches the (optional) lighted rearview mirror through its downward motion. Whoops.

Still, price points, polymer pickiness and all that. the Corolla’s cabin is acceptably sporty for people who consider sportiness a series of marketing-related cues, rather than a genuine dedication to harmonious performance prowess. And if you grok that, you’ll understand the rationale behind its dynamic “prowess.”

The Corolla S is motivated by a 1.8-liter four-banger. To compensate for the mini mill’s lack of power (126hp @ 6000rpm), Toyota’s cursed the S with jumpy throttle mapping. Part throttle inputs are an exercise in accelerative overkill; call it slow and furious. Summon some highway passing power and the wide ratio four-speed slushbox gives a whole lot of nothing. Still, a scamper to sixty takes all of eight seconds; not a shameful figure considering the 26/35 EPA window sticker.

If you don’t ask for much, you get plenty in return. At reasonable speeds, the Corolla S’ cheapo twist-beam axle keeps the rear tires composed on all but the sharpest corners. The steering is tight. The S’ compliant suspension and absence of body flex and/or roll delivers a smooth and composed ride. Behold! The Corolla’s stock in trade.

With 122lb-ft of twist on tap, torque steer is a non-issue. Push hard and the hyper-throttle sends the stiff tires howling in disapproval. More understeer and nods of disapproval from pedestrians soon follow. On the positive side, whatever speed you [eventually] achieve is easily retarded with the S’ responsive and linear stoppers, drum brakes and all. Taken as a whole, the Corolla S only feels sporty at 7/10ths. Beyond that, options like ABS, side air bags, and the active handling nanny become mandatory.

Cavil if you must, but there’s no peer for the Corolla’s reputation for quality and durability. Intangibles like that are fine for most, but enthusiastic drivers prefer items like a fully independent suspension and rear disc brakes. If you want more, spend less. The Mazda3 offers more power, poise and interior quality for hundreds less. Even the rightfully-panned Ford Focus serves a fully independent suspension and more gadgets for the same coin. If you look closely, Toyota’s reputation premium threatens to destroy their value proposition.

Anyway, reliability be damned. There’s no excuse for the Corolla S’ haphazard approach to spirited driving. At least not for people who genuinely give a damn about such things, or even understand what driving pleasure is all about. In fact, I suspect the S is nothing more than the anti-Corolla Corolla: the model customers choose to say “I drive a Corolla but I like cars.” Like, not love.

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

More by Sajeev Mehta

Join the conversation
3 of 134 comments
  • DEEtox DEEtox on Jan 08, 2010

    Are you serious? Dont you think your putting cars on a pedastal a little too much? Look I used to drive a Cadillac Seville year 2000 which was the smoothest ride on earth I mean thing felt like a water bed. Then I got this and I couldnt be happier. First its not 17 mpg more like 30. Its also very reliable. I had to replace so many things in the Lac it was ridiculous. Not a single broken down part with this. Also so what if the ride isn't really smooth are you not man enough to handle it? Trucks are terribly rough yet everyone drives them I don't hear them complaining. Besides I think you just don't like Asian products or something. For the price this feels like luxury and your complaining about a silver shifter not going with the interior? You sir need to stick to driving American trash.

  • Rguard Rguard on Mar 12, 2012

    IM 26 Ive driven grand am mazdas as well as maximas and honda civics. I own a 2008 Toyota Corolla s. All around to me the last 4 years ive owned it its a great car. Better highway mpgs then most ive driven its alittle 4 banger 1.8 its not great but all around great driving vehicle. Im not interested in the interior I love cars to modify play with just something I love too do. So far ive only seen a couple of good reviews. If you dont like it dont buy it but dont complain about something you dont know it runs better than most american vehicles. You go to a junk yard what kind of cars do you see more in there. Hondas, Chevy, Ford, Just to name a few I havent found hardly any 2008 toyota corolla s in them. Toyota is number 1 car in america for a reason its cheap easy to maintain and you can always modify I love my Yota. I will never buy another car just because of the safety features the way it runs maintance is low. Handling could be better. I love cars and this car deserves alot more credit then what your giving it. As far as interior who drives a car for the interior your gonna buy a car for the way it rides and runs. It had 14k miles on it when I bought it. 91k miles later it still runs as the day I bought it thats more then I can say about my first car 02 Honda civic ex or my moms sonata chysler my dads chevy his ford truck. Toyota made a great quality car and im very happy with my corolla. Never had a problem with anything yet engine still a champ trany starter its overdue for a tuneup but other than that no problems.

    • 90sDetroitMuscle 90sDetroitMuscle on Jan 25, 2015

      The issue isn't that it's not a reliable car it's that it tries to pretend to be a sporty car when it is in fact just the base model with some ground effects and a "racy" interior. If you just want a car to get you from point A to point B then a Corolla or a Civic or even a base Mazda 3 will do the job with no fuss. If you are going to make a "sporty" version of a car then actually make is sporty don't just put a body kit on it and call it a day.

  • Akila Hello Everyone, I found your blog very informative. If you want to know more about [url=
  • Michael Gallagher I agree to a certain extent but I go back to the car SUV transition. People began to buy SUVs because they were supposedly safer because of their larger size when pitted against a regular car. As more SUVs crowded the road that safety advantage began to dwindle as it became more likely to hit an equally sized SUV. Now there is no safety advantage at all.
  • Probert The new EV9 is even bigger - a true monument of a personal transportation device. Not my thing, but credit where credit is due - impressive. The interior is bigger than my house and much nicer with 2 rows of lounge seats and 3rd for the plebes. 0-60 in 4.5 seconds, around 300miles of range, and an e-mpg of 80 (90 for the 2wd). What a world.
  • Ajla "Like showroom" is a lame description but he seems negotiable on the price and at least from what the two pictures show I've dealt with worse. But, I'm not interested in something with the Devil's configuration.
  • Tassos Jong-iL I really like the C-Class, it reminds me of some trips to Russia to visit Dear Friend VladdyPoo.