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2011 Toyota Corolla CE

Sales sweeteners will turn you on to Toyota's bland sedan Add to ...

Don’t think I am insulting your intelligence by suggesting there is something secretly sexy about the 2011 Toyota Corolla.

Secretly sexy? The Corolla? The tried-and-true, fuel-sipping traffic buster built in good, ol’ Cambridge, Ont.? Yes – and it has nothing to do with the slight exterior freshening for 2011, nor those few interior tweaks.

What’s sexy about the Corolla is the pricing. The base sticker may say $15,540, but Toyota Canada has $2,000 in cash incentives in play and they can be combined or “stacked” with 0.0 per cent financing for three years.

Yes, the 2011 Corolla is stacked; you read it here. And if you are a really savvy buyer, you should be able to squeeze a few hundred bucks out of the dealer in the form of a dealer discount, too. The $2,000? $1,500 is in the form of a Consumer Cash factory-to-buyer discount, while another $500 is on the table in a Four Million Sold stackable celebration bonus. Again, a factory-to-buyer rebate.

Realistically, you very well might find it possible to buy a new Corolla, a pretty basic one, but a new one nonetheless, for less than $14,000, based on our information about rebates from carcostcanada.com. Quite a bit less, and not pay anything for the financing, either.

That’s a deal worth considering, especially given the Corolla is a solid little four-door. Nothing fancy, mind you. But solid.

Consider: the Corolla is a Top Safety Pick by the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. That means it has earned a “Good” rating in front and side crash tests, the roof crush results are good and stability control is standard. All good.

Resale value? The Canadian Black Books says a Toyota typically retains 47 per cent of its value after four years, which is well above the industry average of 41.1 per cent. Again, all good.

The Corolla’s reliability is among the very best in its class and fuel economy using regular gas – 7.4 litres/100 km city/5.6 highway – is truly outstanding. That in a car with a very competitive 132-horsepower engine.

Toyota may be slogging one of the worst periods in its history, what with recall issues and the earthquake and tsunami crisis in Japan, but that doesn’t make the Corolla any less of a good buy. There are good reasons why the Corolla is the world's best-selling car of all time, with more than 33 million sold in the last 35 years.

At the top of the list is Toyota’s overall reputation for dependability. Still, the Corolla is no longer the class leader it once was in many categories.

The Corolla’s fuel economy used to be a benchmark, but now it gets thumped by the new Hyundai Elantra's 6.8 city/4.9 highway rating with a more powerful 148-hp engine.

I’d argue the Corolla’s interior is also outclassed by several rivals, including the Elantra, the new Ford Focus, the Chevrolet Cruze, the Mazda3 and the new Honda Civic.

Fun to drive? Compared to the best in this class, the Corolla feels shockingly disconnected from the road. The sport-tuned XRS trim ($23,235), with its more powerful four-cylinder engine (158-hp), is the model of choice for Corolla buyers seeking extra responsiveness.

Frankly, it is surprising to me that the Corolla is such a disappointing car to drive, and that the look and feel of its cabin trails so many rivals. Toyota knows how to build and tune cars. It appears the Corolla is a victim of Toyota’s complacency, then.

A lot of Canadians will, nonetheless, opt for the no-worries experience of owning a Corolla. This is a perfectly reasonably position to take – buying a reliable five-passenger compact that is priced well and holds its value.

Still, be forewarned that the base Corolla has manual windows and door locks, though a tilt and telescoping steering wheel is standard. The starter model has a four-speaker compact disc/AM-FM stereo, too.

All Corollas save the XRX are powered by a 1.8-litre, inline-four-cylinder and the standard transmission is a five-speed manual; a four-speed automatic will cost you another $1,000.

The cabin, while a bit dull, has controls that are quite simple to use, though opting for the upgraded stereo with iPod and Bluetooth controls makes things a bit more complicated. The Corolla’s seats are soft and comfy; words like “recliner” and “La-Z-Boy” come to mind. What’s missing is long-distance support.

Up front, you’ll find decent space even for taller drivers, while the back seat boasts decent room and a cushy bottom. Trunk space is average, but the trunk boasts a usefully wide opening.

Commuters will, for the most part, like the softly sprung ride and wind and road noise are nicely quelled. The soft ride means handling is unimpressive; if you want an exciting driving experience, you don’t want a Corolla. Engine power is okay, though.

What we have in the Corolla is a city car with an attractive price and a good reputation. That’s not enough for everyone, though.

To be blunt: the competition in this segment is fierce and Toyota is in tough to keep up.

jcato@globeandmail.com

Tech Specs

2011 Toyota Corolla CE

Type: Compact sedan

Base Price: $15,450 ($1,390 freight)

Engine: 1.8-litre, four-cylinder

Horsepower/torque: 132 hp/128 lb-ft

Transmission: Five-speed manual

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 7.4 city/5.8 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Mazda3, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze, Nissan Sentra, Volkswagen Jetta

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