2014 Toyota Corolla: Up Close

Toyota unveiled the redesigned 2014 Corolla with much fanfare Thursday night at an event in Santa Monica, Calif. While the 2014 Corolla may not be as grandiose as its introduction, it's still a vast improvement to this best-selling compact car.

With a more chiseled exterior, the 2014 Corolla is ready to be more than a frumpy commuter, and it now can compete with Honda Civic, Kia Forte and Ford Focus, all recently redesigned. The Toyota Camry's design cues are noticeable on the Corolla, especially in the rear; the two cars' taillights are almost identical.

The Corolla's exaggerated grille breathes some youthfulness and personality into the face of what was once one of the blandest-looking compacts. The wheels on the sportier S model particularly impressed; they're reminiscent of some of the more forward-thinking designs seen in the Kia lineup.

The Corolla is still modest inside, but doesn't come off nearly as simple and hard-plastic laden as the old one did. It's newfound refinement and quality of materials enhances the experience inside.

Its interior features details such as contrast stitching, a leather-wrapped dash and a touch-screen; all are similar to those featured in the redesigned 2013 Toyota RAV4. The faux leather is a welcome replacement to the dated velour upholstery in the previous generation.

When I tested the 2012 Corolla, things got really tight when passengers came along for the ride. The new Corolla is definitely roomier inside, and I experienced it firsthand at the debut. I sat in the backseat and my knees didn't touch the seatback, even when the front seat was slid all the way back. This wasn't the case in the previous-generation Corolla.

The improved roominess can largely be attributed to an extended wheelbase; the new Corolla's measures in at 106.3 inches compared to the previous-generation's 102-inch wheelbase and 36.3 inches of rear legroom. That's even longer than the Volkswagen Jetta's 104.4-inch wheelbase, which has a huge backseat for its class (38.1 inches of rear legroom). Toyota hasn't released the 2014 Corolla's specs yet.

Despite the improved legroom, it's still more realistic to count on only hauling four passengers in this five-seater. The overall width remains close to that of the previous generation's 69.4 inches with just a 0.63-inch increase, making it a tight squeeze for anyone sitting in the middle seat.

The 2014's trunk looks roomier, though Toyota hasn't released these numbers yet either. Luggage, single strollers and sports equipment should be accommodated with ease.

I'm looking forward to finding out if the 2014 Corolla lives up to its looks during a test drive. It goes on sale this fall.

2014 Toyota Corolla: First Look 
Toyota Corolla Furia Concept at the 2013 Detroit Auto Show 
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