Skip to main content

2018 Toyota Corolla LE First Drive - Full of Soul



I had a rental car the other day for a little trip. The car was a 2018 Toyota Corolla LE. My experience with this car is one that I had to share. You see, people say this car is an appliance, it is soulless, it just gets the job done, etc. I never thought I'd say this, but I hugely disagree. It is not fair to the Corolla and does not give the car enough credit. This car is not an appliance, it is far from it. It is absolutely full of soul..

UNfortunately, that soul is a demented, evil, mean, avenging spirit. Appliances are happy to hum along doing their jobs. The soul in this car hates cars, driving, and everything that has to do with either. I think it must have been killed by a car thousands of years ago and has been plotting its revenge on the automobile since then. I know, there were no cars thousands of years ago. But maybe someone from the future traveled back in time and ran them over. Their soul must have lingered on. It sounds a little far fetched.. But I'll ask you this: how else would you explain the existence of the current Toyota Corolla? Any ideas? See, that's the only possible explanation.



I'll start with the engine. The good news is: it has one! There is an engine in this car that moves it about and produces some horsepowers. It is a 1.8 litre naturally aspirated 4 cyl that makes 132 hp. Unfortunately, those horses must be able to sense the dark spirit that lingers in this car, because they seem to refuse to leave the engine unless prodded with a cattle iron. I think the problem is exacerbated by the standard automatic transmission, which is a CVT. The engine seems to have an aggressive throttle tip in tuning to give the impression of quickness and make it feel peppy around town. It seems to work from a stop, but that's about it..

The transmission is, unfortunately, always caught off guard otherwise, so if you put your foot down while on the move, there is always a delay, then the car responds. But even that isn't so great.. when it realizes what you want to do, the revs jump and the car leaps very uncouthly. Whatever you do at this point, do not keep your foot down because the revs continue to climb, the engine grumbles and groans, and so much noise and vibration make it through to the interior, that you just want it to stop. Worse yet, you'll be left wondering where all those 132 horses are. Based on the noise and harshness, it will sound and feel like they are pulling the car in every which way, except forward because you'll hardly be moving any faster.



I don't know how Toyota can make such an unrefined engine. Maybe because this one doesn't make it into any Lexus products since the V6's are pretty smooth and powerful, but they are shared with Lexus. This one, though, is hateful, loud, unrefined, and not very powerful. Worse yet, it is not even particularly efficient. I drove approximately 404 kms using 31.0 litres of gas (about 8.2 gallons). That works out to about 7.67 litres/100 kms (around 31.0 mpg) going an average of 120 km/h (75 mph). I took a 2008 Impala with the 3.5 litre OHV V6 making 224 hp - almost double the displacement of the Corolla and with 70% more hp - on a similar trip. It also happens to be bolted to a relatively ancient 4 speed automatic and is sitting in a much bigger car (bad for aero/highway mileage). Despite that, it took approximately 40 litres to drive 518 kms on the last trip I made in it. That also works out to 7.7 litres/100 kms (30.8 mpg). The trip in the Corolla is actually almost 80% the trip in the Impala, because it was the exact same direction, just had to go further in the Impala.

A big part of the problem, I think, is that the Corolla is so gutless at highway speeds that every time you go to pass or slow down for traffic and try to speed back up, it has to rev high enough to find any power which is somewhere in the 3,000-4,000 rpm range and up. The problem is made worse by some hesitant tuning, because the revs seem to climb up quickly, then hunt back and forth as the CVT finds a ratio to stay at that it determines is ideal for the throttle position. The Impala, on the other hand, has a very torquey engine, especially by comparison in the low rpm range, so you can get some useful power out of it without revving it up. And when it's going on a flat stretch, it is barely rotating above idle, again because of that low end power. Compared to the Corolla, it doesn't even sound half bad when it revs. I was even using cruise control for both, so my slightly leady foot is not so much of a factor. Tell someone that with the same driver and nearly the same trip, both on cruise control, a 2008 Impala and a 2018 Corolla get almost identical mileage going 120 km/h. They'll laugh at you. I probably would have before this.



Maybe that's enough about the drivetrain. What about the handling? Like the engine, there is some of that too here, in one form or another anyway. It will go around corners, but don't ask it to do much more. There is absolutely no feel or enthusiasm about anything it does. That said, I wasn't expecting much, and frankly, I don't think it needs to do much for what it is. I wasn't pushing it, so I don't know what it's like if pushed, but with average driver's level of attack, it turns and stops well enough. Not every car needs to sporty and sharp, so there isn't much to complain about here, if not exactly my cup of tea (it's not my cup of tea at all).

Believe it or not, I found some good about the car. The seats were comfortable, and for someone with a bad back, that goes a long way after a couple of hours of driving. The standard LED headlights are really good, and the high beams automatically switch to low beam if it senses oncoming traffic. It seems to work really well 99% of the time. There is a ton of space in the back for a small car and the trunk is a really good size for the segment. It's comfortable, quiet when the engine isn't trying too hard, and - for people who care about that stuff - comes with a lot of standard safety features like lane departure, backup camera, and radar-guided cruise control. I was surprised to find those features in a bottom-rung rental. And all seemed to work really well. Interior looks cheap and is cheap, but it is a small cheap car. I didn't like the lack of buttons for the radio/media. I hope the future isn't all like this, at least until the dreaded autonomous car takes over, since I find it very distracting to try to change the radio or volume without physical buttons.



But at the end of the day, the problem I was having with it is this: forget fun cars, forget power and handling. Honda has a very similar reputation for reliability. What exactly does this car have that a Civic doesn't? How does Toyota manage to sell so many of it? Since 2003, Toyota has sold more than 300 THOUSAND Corollas a year in the US alone, with the exception of 2009-2012 which were still well into 200,000. Some years were close to 400,000. I was left scratching my head after driving it. I understand basic transportation. In fact, I quite like the idea of a simple car that doesn't try to be anything more than that. But this doesn't come off as simple. It comes off as unrefined and unwilling to cooperate, like it is really unhappy you are making it be a car. My only conclusion, and I mean that literally and not as a joke, is that people who buy this car are buying the name and reputation, that's it. They aren't cross shoping. I don't think they even test drive other cars. They walk into a Toyota dealer, and buy a Corolla, simple as that. But in my opinion, if you're set on a small, Japanese sedan, do yourself a favour and drive a Civic or a Mazda3. You'll be thankful you did.


Popular posts from this blog

2020 Mid-engine Corvette C8 - What You Need to Know

Rumours of a mid-engine Corvette have been around basically since the C2 Corvette, the first Stingray. I've heard some people argue that the Corvette is already mid engine because the engine sits almost entirely behind the front axle, making it mounted midship. But everyone knows that the classic definition of a midengined car is that of an engine mounted between the seats and the rear axle, not the front axle. That's what everyone pictures if you say "mid-engine". Worse still (for the Corvette), a true midengined layout has a lot more traction - all else being equal - than a front-midship mounted engine like the current Corvette, no matter how far back it is mounted. Chevy knows this, and there has been no shortage of Corvette mid-engine concepts for decades. This time, however, it's different.

For one, manufacturers these days tend to keep very special/high performance models under wraps for a very long time during development, only revealing them when they a…

550 hp V8 Cadillac CT6 V Coming in 2019

Cadillac's largest car - the not-quite-a-flagship CT6 - is becoming a little more flagship-y by getting the full V treatment like you can get on the CTS and ATS (for just one more year before they're axed in anticipation of replacements, so grab them while you can). Cadillac calls the CT6 top-of-the-range but won't call it a flagship, clearly wanting to leave that distinction to a larger and/or more grandiose vehicle in the future. It was previously announced in March earlier this year to be getting a high dose of performance enhancements, the highlight of which is a new twin-turbo V8, and was going to join the line-up as Cadillac's skim-V models called V-sport. Think of it like M-performance packages from BMW vs full fledged M models, the only difference being V-sport models typically get unique (and much more powerful) engines. But just a couple of weeks ago, Cadillac announced that it will make it a full-fledged V line model, making the car inch a bit higher in pre…

2007 Saleen Mustang S281 SC Super Shaker Track Review

"Who's your green student today?" asked a friend and instructor at the BMW Club Atlantic Advanced Driver Training (HPDE) weekend in June this year. I said: "The Saleen." The response was: "Oh, boy." Mustangs, generally, have a reputation for being more power than chassis. Mustang drivers have quite the reputation for.. how to put this nicely? Taking advantage of said power/chassis imbalance. To make matters worse, this particular Mustang was a supercharged Saleen, with a honkin' Shaker scoop sticking out of its hood. Did I mention it was also a convertible? And the owner was someone who's never been on track before but clearly has the speed bug.

Having had a Mustang for years and driven a few on track, they don't scare me - generally speaking - but the combination of being convertible and supercharged with a new and excited owner worried me a little. Nevertheless, I shrugged it off and got excited about chatting with the owner to find out…

Michelin Pilot Super Sports vs Firestone Firehawk Indy 500 - Street Review

I've been a huge fan of Michelin PSS tires and exclusively bought them for the Mustang over the last four years. So how did I end up here? This year, I was hugely interested in trying an "R-comp" tire. I had my eyes set on Bridgestone Potenza RE-71R's for two simple reasons: price and reputation. They seem like they're easily the most affordable (from a big brand) R-comp tire and combine that with a reputation for having tons of grip, it was an easy top contender. I had my concerns, though. For one, I'm told and have read that they are an autox tire, not really designed for high speed, pressure, and temps associated with open track. For another, the Mustang is a heavy car (as far as track cars are concerned) being roughly 3,800 lb. (including driver), which will amplify the unwanted open track loads. Combine that with the fact that I drive a good amount on the street during the summer, and I was very worried that they wouldn't last more than a handful of…

Michelin PSS vs Firestone Indy 500 - Track Review

A couple of weeks ago, I posted my first impressions of Michelin's PSS vs Firestone Firehawk Indy 500 tires. I've run PSS's for several years on the Boss, but I'm trying the Indy 500's for the first time. In short, I was worried about the narrower tires (I was running 285/35/18 PSS but could only find the Indy 500 in 275/35/18) and tread squirm, but I was happy with them up to that point just driving on the street. I had the chance to drive on them for three track days now. So what were they like? After my first session, they made an impression that basically persisted for the rest of track sessions on them. Phenomenal, unmatched value. Now, if value is something that stands out above all else, it typically means the compromise between qualities you want and those you don't is less than ideal, but the value is attractive. This is no different. I'll start with the bad, which really boil down to two: ultimate grip and grip longevity.

Grip is noticeably lowe…

2014 BMW 335i xDrive M Sport Review

Post-refresh 2015 F30 3-series pictured. 
Which is better, an F30 3-series or an E46? The F30 has certainly taken its fair share of heat. But if you thought I was going to say the E46, you'd be dead wrong. The F30 3-series is better. Far better. It is quicker, faster, safer, more practical, more efficient, more refined, quieter.. the list goes on. A lot of reviews and people I talk to consider the F30 to be an abomination. Frankly, I don't see it. You'd have to be mad to think the E46 is better. Completely out to lunch. I don't know who in their right mind would prefer the E46..  Trouble is, since when were people buying sports cars in their right minds? Here, lies the real problem.

"Raw rather than refined in its noises, pounding ride, heavy clutch, 50 grand and cloth seats?"
".. and not at all shy about its performance compromises. It always acts like the automotive jock it is, every mile of every day."
"Raw and quite loud.. And sometimes ru…