The 2012 Corolla is immediately recognizable as a Toyota, although at first you might confuse it with a Camry because size is the main distinguishing feature between the two. The Corolla is slightly longer than the Honda Civic, while the Nissan Sentra is noticeably taller and bigger. With its solid roofline, four doors, and short overhangs, it looks like a bigger car.
The Corolla got a restyled nose for 2011, and it's a clean design. Three bars in the grille, but only the center one is defined because they are body colored. Iconic Toyota emblem in the middle of the grille. Smooth front fascia that surrounds optional foglights, and a tidy functional air intake with black mesh under the bumper. It all sweeps nicely back and upward.
The bumper underlines odd headlamps, with a sweeping outline but they're bulbous, and stick out at the corners. They're bulbous in a three-dimensional sense, but sleek in their shape.
The rear end is not so clean, starting with a thick piece of chrome that stretches between the taillamps. The wing is low and thick, with winglets at its edges; it definitely adds a sporty touch and it's not overkill. The taillamps are simple horizontal slats that wrap around from the trunk to the sides of the car, and poof out from the body like the headlamps. With less chrome, less wing, less white in the taillamps, the tail would look as clean as the nose.
Exterior fit and finish are at a high level for such an inexpensive car. Body-colored door handles and mirrors, as well as the spoiler and side sills on the S, add a touch of class. The wheels look ordinary, though, even the 16-inch alloys on the Corolla S.
The 2012 Corolla has a pleasing interior. Design is simple, while materials and patterns are traditional and understated. The trim materials look inexpensive, but not cheap; clearly your basic stuff. You can't say the Corolla interior feels any finer than some other cars of the same price.
The front seats are comfortable, with nice elbow rests on both sides, and getting in and out of the seats is easy. The rear seat offers 36.3 inches of legroom, which isn't much, but it's about average for the class. The rear floor is flat except for a small incline at the back of the console between the front seats. The 60/40 split folding rear seats has its smaller side behind the driver, so you can carry long objects and still put two riders behind the passenger. A high-capacity heater with ducts for the rear (standard since 2011) keeps rear-side riders as cozy as their front-seat companions.
The instruments are simple and handsome, basic white on black; we appreciate the lack of pretension or flash. The sport steering wheel in the Corolla S is perforated leather and, like the LE, features redundant cruise and audio controls. The sport seats in the Corolla S are comfortable black cloth, though not especially sporty.
Outward visibility from the driver's seat is quite good, even over the shoulder. A low dashboard and windshield base enhances forward visibility.
The 2012 Corolla LE and Corolla S both benefit from a new standard audio system, combining an AM/FM receiver with a CD player capable of MP3/WMA playback. A USB port enables iPod connectivity, while an auxiliary input jack accommodates other music players. The system also features Bluetooth hands-free phone capability and audio streaming. Auto-sound leveling adjusts volume in response to ambient noise.
Corolla LE and Corolla S buyers can further upgrade to Navigation and Entune, which employs a 6.1-inch touch screen to operate an AM/FM CD player with MP3/WMA playback capability, 6 speakers, SiriusXM Satellite Radio (includes 90-day trial subscription), and HD Radio with iTunes Tagging; plus an auxiliary audio jack, USB port with iPod connectivity and control, vehicle information, hands-free phone capability, phone book access, advanced voice recognition, and music streaming via Bluetooth.
Storage spaces are well thought-out, down to details like a cord slot so your personal electronics connection doesn't get pinched. A remote release opens the trunk lid, which offers a wide loading space. Trunk room of 12.3 cubic feet is about average and isn't hindered by black boxes and big speakers hanging down under the back window. A temporary-use spare is under the floor.