Toyota Corolla Eco tops its non-hybrid rivals
According to Toyota, the 2014 Corolla Eco has a fuel-economy rating of 6.5 litres per 100 kilometres in the city and 4.6 litres per 100 kilometres on the highway. Says the company: “The 2014 Toyota Corolla Eco is Canada’s most fuel-efficient gas-powered compact.”
This is kind of a fib. A Honda Civic Hybrid beats it hands-down, both in town and out; so does the Ford Focus Hybrid, not to mention the Toyota Prius. Yes, the Corolla Eco is a non-hybrid car, but all of these vehicles require fossil fuels to function, yes? Now, if Toyota said something like “the Corolla Eco is an extremely fuel-efficient sedan” or “tops its non-hybrid rivals” that would work, but it isn’t the most fuel-efficient four-door sedan sold in Canada. You could argue that we’re splitting hairs here, but so is Toyota, when you think about it.
Still, this is an extremely thrifty car to operate. Hybrid or non-hybrid, these are very good numbers. And it’s not at the expense of performance. The Corolla Eco actually has more horsepower than its non-eco stablemates—140 hp versus 132—if a titch less torque.
How is this accomplished? According to Toyota, the engine has a new computer-controlled variable-valve-timing feature that essentially adjusts itself continuously for maximum airflow. Valve lift and duration are controlled more rigorously, and the result is an optimal fuel-air mix at all times. As well, the Eco engine is mated to a new-generation CVT that monitors engine performance more closely. Manufacturers claim that CVTs are lighter, having fewer moving parts, and that the result is superior fuel economy. Often the price paid for this is sloppy performance, but the Corolla Eco has one of the better CVT drive trains I’ve experienced recently.
Low-rolling-resistance tires are also part of the fuel-economy package. In a nutshell, these feature a less aggressive tread pattern and a rubber compound that generates less friction than conventional tires. Over the long haul, this can result in up to 15 percent better fuel economy, and low-rolling-resistance tires have been utilized on hybrid cars and elsewhere for years. On the other hand, maintaining correct air pressure is crucial, and this breed of tire is lousy in snow/ice. My tester had full-zoot winter tires on all four corners, and this definitely affects fuel economy.
Power for the Corolla Eco is supplied by a 1.8-litre four-cylinder. By way of comparison, the Honda Civic also has a 1.8-litre engine and, in this configuration, horsepower and torque outputs are virtually identical. With fuel-consumption figures of 7.1 and 5.0 litres per 100 kilometres, the Civic is a little thirstier, but if I had to choose between these two engines, I couldn’t—under-2-litre four-cylinders simply don’t come any better.
Behind the wheel, the Corolla Eco feels like a larger car—something Honda has managed to instill in its Civic for years. It also handles better than its predecessors and features a firmer ride and a nicer sense of balance than before. Better than the Civic? Too close to call. Road noise, meanwhile, is more subdued than it used to be (winter tires notwithstanding) and a smidgen better than that of the Civic. Ditto with trunk room: the Civic boasts 353 litres, while the Corolla Eco has 368. I felt a little less confined in the Corolla than the Civic—better headroom—but again, if I had to choose, I couldn’t.
No problem making up my mind about the exterior, however. Despite having a body make-over, this generation of the Corolla is still a staid-looking automobile. It has zero panache and definitely won’t raise pulses. The Civic, on the other hand, may be the best-looking compact sedan out there, with the Hyundai Elantra coming in a very close second.
How about pricing? A regular Corolla CE starts at just under $16,000, while my optionless Eco tester, with a base price of over $22,000, came in at almost $24,000, after extras, taxes, levies, freight, PDI, and so on. For what it’s worth, the fuel consumption of a CE is way higher than that of the Eco: 7.4 litres per 100 kilometres city and 5.4 highway for the four-speed automatic version, so depending on how far you drive, it could take a few years to make this disparity up. A base 2013 Civic, on the other hand, starts at $15,440 before extras—somewhere in the mid-$17,000 range after the dust settles—while a Hyundai Elantra starts at $15,950.