Toyota Corolla S Review

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
toyota corolla s review

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.

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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.

  • Kcflyer The solution is harsh punishment, long prison terms, for car thieves. I suggest two weeks for first offense (unless they run from the cops or commit other offenses. Second offense, thirty years hard labor. That should do it.
  • Oberkanone Installing immobilizer is the answer. It's not hard. It's not expensive.
  • MrIcky Out of the possible Jeep recalls to bring up on this site, I'm surprised it's this one and not round 2 of the clutch recall.
  • Dukeisduke I saw a well-preserved Mark VII LSC on the road not too long ago, and I had to do a double-take. They still have a presence. Back when these were new, a cousin of mine owned an LSC with the BMW turbo diesel.
  • Dukeisduke I imagine that stud was added during the design process for something, and someone further along the process forgot to delete it after it became unnecessary.