Seat Time: 2014 Toyota Corolla S Plus

June 9th, 2014 at 10:36am

2014 Toyota Corolla S

Seat Time is a chance for us to share our impressions of vehicles being tested in the Autoline Garage and at media previews from around the globe.

Reviewer: Ben Sanders
Manufacturer: Toyota Motor Corporation
Make: Toyota
Model: Corolla S Plus
Type: 4-door sedan
Competitors: Chevrolet Cruze, Honda Civic, Ford Focus
Price: Base: $17,610; As Tested: $22,870
Made in: Blue Springs, Mississippi, U.S.
Drivetrain: 1.8L DOHC I-4 engine; CVTi-S transmission; 133 hp; 128 lb-ft torque
EPA Ratings: 29 city/37 highway/32 combined/29.7 observed

Final Impression:

2014 Toyota Corolla InteriorThe Toyota Corolla promises a lot from the start. No longer is this compact car a melted Camry in miniature; aggressive styling gives it a presence like no other small car out there and presages similar goodness within. Not everyone will love the sharpened “keen look” (Toyota’s vocabulary, not ours), but then that’s the point. Its face, dominated by a gaping lower grille and blacked-out bumper, is hard to miss and bears an undeniable resemblance to its bigger brothers, the Avalon and newly reworked 2015 Camry.

Inside the design does not disappoint. Those who complain that automakers these days play it too safe with monochromatic interior colors should be pleased with what the so-called “beige” brand has done to amp up the Corolla. No, you won’t find a lemon-hued vinyl dashboard, but this is a car that comes across as more premium and sporty than you might expect for its segment and price.

2014 Toyota Corolla Seats

Black artificial leather seats are made more interesting with textured, amber fabric inserts, front and rear. The infotainment system is framed in sparkly piano-black plastic that is surprisingly fingerprint resistant and would easily look at home in a Lexus. Silver and chocolate metallic trim adorns the dashboard and door panels; soft materials abound. The car’s front and rear seats are plenty comfortable and the back bench offers ample leg room even with the forward chairs pushed all the way back.

2014 Toyota Corolla Interior

In a compact, cargo room is always a concern. While not class-leading, the Corolla’s 13-cubic-foot trunk holds its own with other notchback competitors like the Honda Civic (12.5 cu. ft.), Ford Focus (13.2 cu.ft.) and Chevrolet Cruze (15 cu. ft.). And, with a 60/40 split bench there’s even more grocery-toting, furniture-hauling room to be had.

Get behind the wheel and you’ll find that this car has enough power for any Corolla buyer. Handling is far from taut, but neither is it loose and billowy. Toyota’s CVTi-S comes standard on the S Plus model we tested and it’s responsible for the not unreasonable 29.7 MPG we achieved in mostly stop-and-go driving. Unlike CVTs of old, artificial shift points have been engineered into this system in order to negate the unpleasant rubberbanding effect that some drivers can’t stand. In fact, if you so choose, you can paddleshift your way to and fro between seven discernible “gears” using the M mode. The powertrain isn’t perfect and definitely can be whiny as it charges up a steep hill, but it is perfectly capable and we never felt it lacking for oomph darting in and out of traffic. Just don’t fool yourself that pressing the Sport button will make this little tot ready for track day.

And now we come to the one area where the sleek, futuristic promise of the Toyota Corolla falls flat. Somewhere in the lesser rings of Hades (one of those tiers reserved for people who never paid their parking tickets, perhaps) you’ll find iPhone-weened millennials trying in vain to use Entune. This is, if you’re not already aware, Toyota’s salvo aimed at merging the worlds of smart phone and audio head unit into one seamless experience. As the youngsters say, “not so much.”

Toyota EntuneBluetooth pairing* was as simple and straightforward as could be expected — no problems there. But from the start Entune does that irritating thing that so many infotainment systems do these days; it hits the “play” button on your phone every time you start up the car. The system assumes that whenever you have been away and come back, whether for five minutes or 24 hours, that you want to start playing the audio content that has most recently been queued in your phone, be it music, a podcast or an audiobook. That means the first thing you do each time you hop in the driver’s seat is dig your phone out of your pocket to hit pause. Don’t try to adjust the volume for the nav system, by the way, because Entune will assume that a twist of the knob indicates a desire to unpause your music once again! In our tester, the audio level of guidance directions had been reduced to a mere whisper upon receiving the vehicle. Upping the volume so we could navigate with our eyes on the road turned out to be no easy feat.

Seeking out the navigation settings became the task of my passenger, and an unintuitive interface was exacerbated by the poor responsiveness of the touch screen. Often times the screen doesn’t react at all to finger presses on its boxy icons, and I found I usually had to stab at the screen two or three times with increasing levels of pressure to get any result. To make matters worse, simple presses were all too frequently read by the system as menu swipes requiring us to swipe back and take another run at the Settings button.

To avoid using the touchscreen we tried the physical buttons like the one labeled “Audio.” A press of this resulted in a screen that was blank but for a rotating ring indicating the car was “thinking.” This happened four times in as many days with the vehicle, and on one of those occasions the Thinking Wheel spun for the better part of five minutes before the FM radio crackled to life. As another alternative I tried the handy steering wheel-mounted voice control button. Usually I was greeted with a text box which kindly explained that voice control was still initializing. I was able to make it work twice. Wanting to try one of Toyota’s much-touted apps, I said, “Go to Pandora.” This triggered the nav system to reroute me to the nearest Panda Express. “Cancel.”

More on those apps. Entune boasts a nice selection of partner features that expand the functionality of the system. iHeartRadio, MovieTickets.com, Yelp, Facebook and the aforementioned Pandora are among the icons you’ll find as you swipe to the left. As web services, none of these apps can be used without the aid of your smartphone’s data plan. Every item I launched warned me that I couldn’t use the feature without running the app on my phone. Which app would that be?

Toyota Corolla-Entune

In GM’s MyLink system you need to run Pandora on your phone while paired with the vehicle. Trying this made no difference. Plugging in the phone via USB made no difference.

After an exhaustive search for documentation within the system settings and in the instruction manual, I finally found the answer in a video Toyota produced for the media, apparently only available for viewing on their press website. To use the apps, I needed to install a separate Entune app on my phone. I had to register the app with my e-mail address and choose a password as well as link it to our test vehicle by using a barcode scanner to read the VIN inside the driver’s door. But I still couldn’t use Pandora — not without syncing it to the Entune app and entering another username-and-password combination. After a mandatory 10-minute update to the vehicle’s software, made possible by my now linked phone, Pandora’s internet radio did eventually work over Bluetooth. But, it still didn’t transfer the preferences and custom settings associated with my unique account. Not until, that is, I connected the phone via USB, at which point the settings transferred, but audio would no longer play.

It’s possible that all of these issues will be cleared up in future releases of software, but as it stands now, despite all its aspirations, Entune is very, very difficult to use. Combine all of this with the fact that the interface looks more akin to Windows 95 or Macintosh OS 9 than Android or iOS and I think most drivers will end up docking their smart phones above the dashboard and eschewing Entune as much as they can.

But, an infotainment system does not a vehicle make, and the Toyota Corolla is still a great small car.

*All testing was done using an iPhone 4S updated to the latest operating system.

3 Comments to “Seat Time: 2014 Toyota Corolla S Plus”

  1. w l simpson Says:

    What is the difference in texting & touch screening?–distraction/wise

  2. Howie Says:

    I disagree with the reviewer that Entune doesn’t work. It’s rather a matter of knowing how. Actually it’s one of the easiest with FAC Uconnect. And the owner’s manual is not that unclear.

    Any of those tech system will require a special app on a compatible phone until cars themselves provide an internet access (soon available at a fee (!!!) on GM models).

    Voice level of the nav system can not be adjust by the volume knob but true a menu on the screen. The «audio» button will allow you to choose to go directly to FM or any source instead of – or while waiting for – your phone content to be paired. (Some would prefer the system to reinitialize, other to go one where it left. It’s more a matter of personnel preference – and should be configurable)

    The problem with those car system is lack of uniformity. On a computer, whatever manufacturer you choose, an Apple or Windows access menu will always be the same. In a car, it varies even within a same manufacturer line-up (Cue vs MyLink for instance).

  3. Jon M Says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with the Entune portion of the review. I’ve experienced many of the same problems with Entune. I don’t call it difficult to use, just annoying. Is mine the prototype? The most I can say is one Toyota rep told me that per Apple, the phone has to be connected to a USB port; however, that didn’t do anything to make Pandora work. Now I only use the “infotainment” system to listen to XM radio and that’s it. Toyota can keep their useless so-called Entune; I’d rather not have it.