The Toyota Corolla has regularly been the world’s best-selling sedan — it was again in 2015 when it sold more than 1.3 million units worldwide. For a car that is celebrating its 50th anniversary, that’s an impressive achievement.
While the Corolla has never been a “driver’s” car, it long ago proved its talents for no-fuss reliability and strong everyday performance that ensures you don’t have to worry about getting from here to there. That’s also why the Corolla continues to demonstrate strong resale value year after year.
I’ve tested multiple versions of the latest-gen Corolla and it’s easy to find five reasons why this car remains a popular choice of those seeking an affordable, small sedan.
Reason #1: Lots of Options for Lots of Drivers
One reason why the Corolla sells so well is because there are so many options and styles. The base Corolla L model comes standard with a four-speed automatic (yes, four speeds, is this 1995?) and a six-speed manual. The saving grace is the price that starts just over $17,000. There are nine additional Corolla models and they range from the slightly sporty Corolla S ($19,365) to the efficiency- and luxury-focused LE Eco Premium ($22,895) to the driving-enthusiast-focused (Toyota’s words, not mine) Corolla S Plus 6MT ($21,665).
The best way to find the right Corolla for you is a test drive. A few years ago I tested the LE Eco and Corolla S models and they exhibited visual and driving differences. Seeing and testing up to 10 models side by side will help you make a smart decision. The good news is that the difference from the low- to the well-equipped high-end models is only about $5,000.
Inside the Corolla, you’ll find a cabin that is surprisingly quiet (for the price) and Bluetooth is standard in every model. Step up to more expensive trims and you gain Toyota’s Entune system that gives you access to onboard apps like Pandora, Yelp and more. Passenger space is generous, too. More than one of my rear seat passengers commented that the Corolla had great legroom. Trunk space is average for the class at 13 cubic feet.
Reason #2: Up to 42 MPG
Unless you choose the LE Eco model, your Corolla comes standard with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 132 horsepower. Depending on your preference and trim, you can choose a four speed automatic (skip it), a six-speed manual or a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) that simulates standard shift points while it improves overall fuel economy.
A Corolla with the 1.8-liter engine and the CVT should average 29 mpg around town and 38 mpg on the highway for a combined 32 mpg. That’s decent but not best in class. A Honda Civic with a similar powertrain should average 35 mpg in combined driving while a Mazda 3 with 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and automatic transmission should average 34 mpg.
My test model featured the CVT and I landed right where the EPA expected at 32.6 mpg.
If improved fuel economy and slightly more power sounds good to you, look closely at the Corolla LE Eco model. The same 1.8-liter engine is tuned to make 140 horsepower. Fuel economy improves to an impressive 42 mpg on the highway and 30 mpg in the city for a combined 34-mpg rating. Now you’re in the same neighborhood as the Honda Civic and Mazda 3.
Reason #3: 2016 Toyota Corolla Special Edition Model
The Corolla was introduced in 1966 and Toyota is celebrating 50 successful years with a Special Edition model. That’s the model I tested and in terms of the Corolla family, it’s the best-looking of the bunch. My tester was positively cheery in its Absolute Red paint job. Gloss-black 17-inch wheels are exclusive to the model. Red stitching on the seats, armrests, shifter and steering wheel looked sharp and helped break up the all-black motif of the rest of the Corolla’s interior.
This model also includes a number of “Special Edition” badges on the seats, the floormats, and the rear of the car that distinguish it from the common Corolla. Only 8,000 of these models will be produced, so if this sounds like your dream Corolla, visit your Toyota dealer soon.
Reason #4: 5-Star Overall Safety Rating
The 2016 Corolla earned a five-star overall safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Corolla earned “Good” scores in all assessments with the exception of the small overlap front crash test where it earned only a “Marginal” score. Toyota engineers are certainly already at work trying to raise that score to help the Corolla once again earn a spot as an IIHS Top Safety Pick.
A rearview camera is standard on all models besides the basic Corolla L trim. I strongly encourage you to upgrade to the LE model to secure the use of the backup camera, which has proven to be one of the most valuable vehicle innovations in years. All Corolla models have 8 airbags and Toyota’s Star Safety System that includes vehicle stability control, anti-lock brake and electronic brake-force distribution systems.
Reason #5: Still Recommended by Consumer Reports
Though the years pass by and Corolla models come and go, one element remains the same: excellent reliability. Corollas simply go and go with relatively few problems. That, my friends, is a big reason why people continue to buy the Corolla.
Take a look at Consumer Reports reliability data and you’ll see that you can review 10 years of Corolla history and you’ll consistently find the car earned an “Excellent” or “Very Good” rating. Given its proven reliability history, excellent safety ratings, comfortable cabin and nice mix of technology, Consumer Reports yet again added the latest Corolla to its list of Recommended vehicles for 2016.
2016 Toyota Corolla is Reliable, Small and Affordable
There are many good small cars on today’s market. Look closely and you’ll discover more than 20 vehicles that fit the bill if small, affordable and functional tops your shopping list. The Honda Civic, Mazda 3 and Volkswagen Golf are three obvious favorites in this category. While the Corolla is not as engaging to drive as those three vehicles — particularly the Mazda 3 and VW Golf — it’s still a respectable, solid choice and a vehicle that should serve the needs of you and your family and friends well. Excellent reliability ratings means you’ll rarely visit the mechanic and the starting price of $17,300 means you can get into a Corolla for a low monthly payment. It’s certainly worth a serious look.