The 1.8-liter four-cylinder DOHC engine that comes standard on the Corolla generates 132 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. It's EPA-rated at 27/34 mpg city/highway with the manual transmission and 26/34 mpg with the automatic. That closely matches the mileage we got. The engine uses direct fuel injection, and Dual Variable Valve Timing with Intelligence (VVT-i) to optimize valve timing for the best blend of power, economy and emissions. It uses a timing chain rather than a belt, which usually saves on service costs.
Horsepower is about average for the class. Acceleration performance is adequate but not overly peppy with the 4-speed automatic transmission. The new Ford Focus comes with a 6-speed automatic and we've found it to be smoother and better able to keep the engine in the heart of the power band than the 4-speed automatic in the Toyota can.
The Corolla can't come close to the Chevy Cruze for tracking true around fast bends, and doesn't match the Mazda3 for crisp response. Our Corolla S had a floaty feel, with handling that was less precise than one might expect from Corolla S heritage. And when the wind gusted, the car wanted to dance, even with its low 0.29 Cd.
The Corolla has electric power steering, which matches effort to speed. In low-speed driving, where you expect the wheel to return to straight ahead on its own as it unwinds out of the turn, you will be doing more of the work.
The ride was not harsh or uncomfortable, but our Corolla didn't really like sharp bumps. On a patchy freeway around Oakland, California, the ride was choppy at times.
The cabin is very quiet, except for tire noise on harsh pavement. It is a solid structure that exhibits no squeaks or complaints, not even over a nasty railroad crossing. This might be attributed to its stiff body shell, which also offers good crash resistance.