News Column

Top-selling U.S. Compact Gets a Radical Makeover

June 13, 2013

Tom Krisher

2014 Toyota Corolla (photo: Toyota Motor Sales USA)
2014 Toyota Corolla (photo: Toyota Motor Sales USA)

Toyota's Corolla is getting a radical new look.

A sportier new version aims to shed the low-cost image and attract younger buyers.

The 2014 model goes on sale in the fall, a longer and lower, athletic-looking sedan that's much closer to a sports car than the econobox it replaces. It also gets a new transmission, suspension and interior that Toyota says will make the car quieter and more luxurious, with better handling than the current version. It's the 11th generation of a car Toyota has been selling worldwide since 1966.

The car's bold design is unusual for Toyota, which in the past made few changes to its cars with each update. The current Corolla, with a reputation for sterling dependability, is America's top- selling compact. But dealers have had to cut the price and offer big discounts to compete against sleek new versions of the Honda Civic, Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra and Chevrolet Cruze.

"They clearly here are saying 'we've got to give the Corolla more personality and more life,' given the way the competition is," says Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern University. "I certainly understand why they are pushing it here."

Toyota sold 132,514 Corollas this year through May, beating the No. 2 Civic by 3,500. But the Corolla's average selling price of $18,464 is the lowest of the five top-selling compacts. It sells for almost $1,600 less than a Civic, according to the auto pricing site. And Toyota is second only to Ford's Focus in discounts per car at $2,072.

The Corolla's looks really haven't changed much in the past decade, even with an update five years ago. Meanwhile, competitors spent money on leather interiors, touch-screen systems, new transmissions and powerful yet efficient engines for their compacts.

Those rivals now pose a challenge in a segment long ignored by Detroit and dominated by Honda and Toyota. In the past, all it took was a decent, reliable car to gain buyers. But industry analysts say reliability is now standard. Companies have to set themselves apart with style, fuel economy or performance.

Toyota didn't disclose the new Corolla's price, or its fuel economy numbers, although it did say an Eco version should get over 40 mpg on the highway. The current version starts around $18,000 with an automatic transmission. Toyota executive Bill Fay said the goal is to keep the new version close to that price.

Two engines will be available for buyers, a 1.8-liter, 132 horsepower four-cylinder that carries over from the current model, and the same engine with new valve technology that adds eight horsepower to reach 140. The newer engine comes only on the Eco version.

Originally published by Tom Krisher Associated Press .

(c) 2013 Commercial Appeal, The. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.

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Source: Copyright Commercial Appeal, The 2013

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