The Bi-Annual Tour of New England to see the family…this time in an appliance, with upgrades

2014 Toyota Corolla_2 The Northeast corner of this country is comprised of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. Collectively, the six states are known as New England. It’s also a corner of the country that I call home, even though I haven’t lived there in 12 years. That’s where my family is, it’s where my wife’s family is, and it’s where many of my closest friends still reside. I try to get back there at least twice per year, and when I do it turns into cannonball-esque blast across the majority of New England’s states as I try to squeeze in as many visits as I can over what’s always not enough time. Sometimes the trip unfolds from behind the wheel of a luxury car. A sport utility vehicle or two have made the journey, and there’s always the hope of a sports car waiting for me at the airport. For my most recent trip home though, I was given the keys to an appliance. 2014 Toyota Corolla_1 The deep black of the parking lot allowed the deeper blue of the 2014 Toyota Corolla S to stand apart. A press of the key fob allowed me entry into the cabin and trunk. My luggage stowed, my body slid into the driver’s seat and I sighed. A day before I was in California where I was also driving something blue. Rather than an entire fleet of cylinders at my disposal, I was relegated to just four. Under the hood of the Corolla sits a 1.8-liter engine. It’s good for 132 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. It can be paired with a six-speed manual gearbox, but my particular blue steed was instead equipped with a CVTi-S. That jumble of letters basically means the car has a continuously variable transmission. I had a lot of miles ahead of me, so a press of the START button woke the Corolla from its slumber… hopefully it wouldn’t put me to sleep. 2014 Toyota Corolla_14 My Tour d’New England includes stops in New Hampshire, Boston, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. Yes, I’m aware Boston isn’t a state, but it warrants its own callout amongst them. After all, it’s where I shove Legal Seafood nourishment down my throat, people watch the business crowd shuffle by as I down a beer at Hillstone, and eventually wind up meeting some friends for an evening of catching up (read: drinking). On trips like these, each destination meshes with the one before and after it. The Corolla blends into the background too, but in a good way. I’m averaging over 31 miles per gallon despite my best efforts to exercise my right foot, the seats are surprisingly cozy (especially compared to the torture thrones of my wife’s Prius), and the amenities are top notch for a car in this class and price range. 2014 Toyota Corolla_19 This is a Corolla S, which is a top-spec version of the car and comes with tons of standard features. There’s Piano Black trim (once a staple of exotic grand tourers and luxury barges), a multi-function display in the center of the gauge cluster, and a Bluetooth connection that setup with lightning speed. A 6.1-inch touchscreen sits in the center of the dash and boasts an always-easy-to-see display that also serves up the rearview camera when you place the shift lever into R. The audio system comes through cleanly, and that’s really all I can ask for or want when I’m dealing with a $20,000 car. You can get into the Corolla for as little as $17,000, but the added creature comforts of the S model are quite welcome. Especially the pretty sharp 17-inch alloy wheels of the S Plus version. The S Plus also adds rear disc brakes instead of drums. You’d be fine with the lower-spec stoppers, but the discs are a nice upgrade. 2014 Toyota Corolla_18 When I spend time with a car, there’s a list of things I examine. Once I review that list, I add up everything I’m looking at and it helps refine my overall impression of the car. Over the course of the few days I spent touring New England, the 2014 Corolla had lots of positives in its favor. I think the styling is a nice move forward over the prior car, and the level of quality and features offered up on the inside is a huge draw in this segment. Additionally, someone with a softer touch on the throttle would most certainly see fuel economy in the mid to high 30 mile per gallon range. You crazy-ass hyper milers would crest 40, no problem. There was a glaring negative though, and for me it’s one of the most important items I look for in a car. In the area of driving dynamics, the Corolla was a bit of a let down. I can’t totally fault the engine for being gutless. This is a Point A-Point B machine that sells itself with strong non-hybrid fuel economy and great gadgets. It’s not an enthusiast choice. Still, that doesn’t mean the car can’t get an injection of soul somewhere along the way. After all, Akio Toyoda is preaching that his company will get back some of its sporting edge as it marches into the future. I believe him when he says that, because I’m seeing that come to life in many other models. Just not in this one. 2014 Toyota Corolla_16 The 2014 Toyota Corolla S was a fine shuttle to get me around most of New England. I was comfortable for the duration of the trip, the audio system kept me entertained, and the fuel economy helped me save at the pump. Still, were I tasked with picking other vehicles in this class to make the same journey, I wouldn’t put the Corolla first on my list. That honor would fall with either the Ford Fiesta or the Mazda 3, as both can deliver many of the same gizmos inside while also providing me with a smile should I encounter a New England background that’s both empty and twisting. 2014 Toyota Corolla_6-small Bonus picture… my brother-in-law’s Volkswagen Rabbit that he’s dubbed the Hardleyquin. It’s fine to drive, when it’s not falling apart. [Disclaimer: Toyota loaned me the Corolla and threw in a tank of gas. I had more fun driving the broken Rabbit.] Images copyright 2014 Hooniverse/Jeff Glucker

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