2014 Toyota Corolla review:

Corolla update shows nice styling, connected tech

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Interface paradigm
With five years since the last update, one area I was eager to see in the new Corolla was the cabin tech, which had a lot of catching up to do considering the pace of consumer electronics. And I wasn't disappointed, as Toyota made some interesting choices with the Corolla's optional navigation head unit, which integrated the relatively new Entune connected features.

2014 Toyota Corolla
Toyota puts all the cabin tech features under one menu called Apps. Josh Miller/CNET

Not terribly surprising for an economy car, the touch-screen LCD is only 6.1 inches. To either side of the LCD sit hard buttons, but Toyota made some interesting choices here. Down the left side there were buttons labeled Audio, Apps, and Home. Home brought up a configurable screen capable of showing the map, stereo, and speed dial numbers for the phone system. Audio was a direct route to the stereo screens, while Apps brought up a menu with all the car functions, from navigation to audio to fuel prices.

Toyota may have stolen the Apps interface idea from smartphone makers, but it works as an excellent paradigm for the car, putting all the functions in one easily accessible bucket. The Apps screen also lets Toyota easily add functions, as there are multiple menu pages.

The navigation system runs off an SD card and includes live traffic, which I found helpful on a number of occasions. But this system is also a bit primitive. First off, the maps only display in plan view, with no perspective format. They look a little washed-out and are not easily read on the small screen.

Route guidance was also weak, as turn graphics were jammed onto the small screen and voice prompts did not call out street names. Worse, the system did not say which side of the street my destination was on.

Entune's connected features integrate with this navigation system, which can be a great help. For example, I called up Yelp on the car's screen, found a recommended restaurant, and with a few touch-screen actions set the address as my destination. Similarly, Entune includes Bing search, helpful for finding local destinations based on a keyword search. Unlike a static points-of-interest database, Bing's results are likely to be up-to-date.

2014 Toyota Corolla
Toyota uses Bing for its online local search engine. Josh Miller/CNET

For Bing, I could also initiate searches using the voice command button on the steering wheel, the system doing an excellent job of recognizing the keywords I spoke.

In fact, voice command for the Corolla's head unit was generally excellent. Not only could I perform online searches, I could also enter addresses as a single string, or request music by artist, album, or song title.

The touch screen was reasonably responsive, showing little lag between when I pressed a button and when I got a result. However, voice commands took a little longer to parse.

Entune added online audio sources to the stereo, with Pandora and iHeartRadio. Besides those, it had the usual digital collection, such as Bluetooth streaming, a USB port for USB drives and iOS devices, and satellite radio.

The Corolla's six-speaker audio system left a lot to be desired. It clearly lacked much in the way of power, as the speakers produced hollow-sounding audio. The different frequencies came out all mashed together, making it hard to distinguish individual instruments or get any sort of separation from a singer's voice and the musical background. Unfortunately, there is no upgrade path, at least not from Toyota. This system is as good as it gets in the Corolla.

Corolla or Prius?
Toyota's push for high fuel economy in the 2014 Corolla LE Eco left me wondering, why would someone buy this car when they could get a Prius for about the same price, averaging anywhere from 7 to 15 mpg better depending on the variant? There may be a few people who, despite 15 years on the market, still distrust hybrids. The Corolla's real reason for existing seems to reside in Americans' preference for sedans, as the Prius only comes in hatchback form.

Although I wasn't terribly impressed with the driving dynamics of the new Corolla, I have to give Toyota credit for some nice design tweaks. The exterior incorporates some sharp features that follow the company's design language, and the interior is outright bold.

As part of the $2,360 Convenience package, the navigation head unit brings in some nice features. The navigation itself is a bit lacking and will probably get you lost more than once, but Entune is very compelling. I like the audio sources, voice command, and Bluetooth phone system as well. However, the audio system needs improvement; possibly a subwoofer from the aftermarket might give it a little depth.

Tech specs
Model 2014 Toyota Corolla
Trim LE Eco Premium
Powertrain 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine, continuously variable transmission
EPA fuel economy 30 mpg city/40 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 34.2 mpg
Navigation Optional flash memory-based system with live traffic
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Digital audio sources Internet-based apps, Bluetooth streaming, iOS integration, USB drive, satellite radio
Audio system 6-speaker system
Driver aids Backup camera
Base price $16,800
Price as tested $23,270

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