What makes a car good? Why do some models succeed beyond their manufacturers’ wildest expectations while others are stillborn?
Price point? Absolutely – people want to get their money’s worth and a well-priced automobile with good value for the buck has already got a leg up on the competition.
What about styling? Not so much. Your average consumer doesn’t want to be seen behind the wheel of a harpy, but nor does he or she want to stick out in the crowd.
How about performance? Secondary to most people. Yes, there are those who want to get the jump on everyone else, but the vast pool of mainstream consumers, performance just isn’t relevant.
Fuel economy? Absolutely, but as long as th car isn’t a gas pig, most people go with the flow.
How about reliability? Bingo. That’s the one. For 99.9 per cent of all car buyers, a reliable automobile is an absolute must and if the car has a proven track record for dependability, it can’t lose.
For proof, you need look no further than the Toyota Corolla, which has been one of the top selling cars – if not the top selling – in Canada for decades. It’s priced well, features decent content, is thrifty and, numero uno, is pretty much dead reliable.
And for 2020, Toyota’s best seller soldiers on.
Available in eight variations – including a hybrid and a nicely styled hatchback – the Corolla can be had with either a six-speed manual or continuously variable transmission CVT. Power source for most models is a tried-and-true 2.0-litre four-cylinder that, depending upon the model, will deliver 139 to 169 horsepower. My XLE CVT-equipped tester was good for the latter and, while it’s far from being a road-scorcher, there’s enough oomph there for most typical Corolla buyers.
And most buyers probably put the emphasis on practicality and usefulness. The Corolla will provide 371 litres (13 cubic feet) of trunk space, which is slightly less than a Honda Civic (15 cubic feet) but still pretty roomy.
My XLE will deliver a combined fuel economy rating of 7.3 litres/100 km, which is definitely in the ballpark but not the top of the heap.
It also came with a full roster of modern conveniences and extras, including heated front seats, backup camera, automatic collision notification, heated steering wheel, multi-information instrumentation display, block heater and my favourite: stolen vehicle locator.
In virtually all respects, this is an extremely well-equipped automobile. No fripperies like cooled front seats or puddle lighting, but what the hey.
So what makes the Corolla such an attractive proposition?
Driveability: No messing around with ingress/egress, just slip behind the wheel and go. Instrumentation/switchgear is straightforward and uncomplicated, the seats are comfortable and peripheral visibility is excellent. Absolutely nothing to pick nits about here.
A decent CVT: Finally, a CVT that is unobtrusive and usable. No sudden power lurches when overtaking, no “I’ll get going shortly” moments as it spools up, no discernible loss of power. I’m still a skeptic about these things, but if you must have a CVT, this is a good one.
Affordability: A base Corolla starts at just under $19,000 – that’s cheap like borscht for a car of this calibre. My almost-top-of-the-line XLE will set you back a little more than that, but you’re getting a compact sedan that thinks it’s a luxury car.
Reliability: In a nutshell, they just don’t come any more dependable. Virtually from the beginning, the Corolla has distinguished itself with cast-iron reliability and things have not changed for 2020. If you are a non-car person who needs a car, this is the one.
And that may be the Corolla’s weak point. It’s not exciting or scintillating and doesn’t raise pulses. It’s efficient and usable, and its lack of pizzazz can be kind of numbing. But so what? For most folks, that’s more than enough.
Don’t take my word for it. Check out the taxi fleet in any major Canadian city and you’ll find Corollas in abundance. There is no higher recommendation for a car’s toughness and day-in, day-out durability.
2020 Toyota Corolla
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder
Drive: Front/all wheel
Horsepower: 1,392 at 6,100 rpm
Base price: $26,990
Fuel economy: 8.2 litre/100 km (city) and 6.5 (highway) with regular gas
Some alternatives: Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, VW Jetta, Nissan Sentra, Chevrolet Cruise, Mazda3, Subaru Impreza.
Ted Laturnus writes for Troy Media’s Driver Seat Associate website. An automotive journalist since 1976, he has been named Canadian Automotive Journalist of the Year twice and is past-president of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).