With fuel prices again on the rise—and now topping $4 a gallon in some parts of the country, Toyota may have hit the mark with its emphasis on better mileage for the 2014 Corolla. While the final EPA rating isn't in yet, the Eco version of the sedan is expected to "to do better than 40 miles per gallon," Fay said, since for the first time the Corolla will be equipped with a continuously variable transmission, or CVT.
The 2014 Corolla offers two different 1.8-liter, all-aluminum four-cylinder engines, the base version rated 132 horsepower, the upgrade getting 140 hp. The Corolla's new LE Eco trim level is equipped with a 1.8-liter engine with Valvematic , a valve train technology which appears on Corolla for the first time in North America.
To help it break the 40 mpg barrier, the Eco model also will feature a number of design details meant to improve aerodynamics – including a special rear spoiler and underbody panels—as well as low rolling-resistance tires.
Significantly, no hybrid version of the 2014 Toyota Corolla was unveiled and, apparently, there is no gas-electric model in the plans for the sedan. Though Toyota executives have long suggested they would offer hybrid options for virtually all their products, General Manager Fay now says, "There is no hybrid. We've got the hybrid covered with the Prius family."
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Critics of the old Toyota Corolla—and there are many—have long gaped at the consistent loyalty of Corolla owners. Despite a clearly dated design and relatively boring driving dynamics, the sedan has consistently drawn them into showrooms. Through the end of May, sales again topped 132,000.
But Toyota has been well aware of the growing competition—and the need to take steps not only to head off alternatives like the Civic, Focus and Elantra but also to increase the appeal of the Corolla in emerging markets like China where it is not as well known.
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The added size and improved fuel economy are all but certain to help draw in new buyers even as the Corolla badge helps Toyota maintain the loyalty of traditional owners.
-Paul A. Eisenstein contributed to this post; Follow him on Twitter @DetroitBureau