There are few things more stressful than a road trip.
For hundreds or thousands of miles, you’re stuck in a tiny space that may or may not have adequate air flow.
Depending on the destination, you might end up in totally new territory, making your navigation tools more than simple luxuries.
And on the longest trips, there’s the headache that comes from watching the needle on your gas tank steadily creep towards empty.
A few weeks back, Toyota let me borrow a new, ~$20,000 Corolla S for my road trip from the Bay Area to Southern California to attend the Coachella Music Festival.
I’ll be honest, as someone who personally drives an older model of the car as part of my commute, I expected the worst: a bumpy ride in a tight space for ten longs hours each way.
Instead, I was pleasantly surprised. Not only was the car fun to drive, it was also incredibly comfortable — something that can’t be said for most cars its size.
From the hills of Berkeley to the desert in Joshua Tree, the Corolla offered a smoother ride than most cars of its size that I've experienced.
It also managed to average about 34 miles per gallon for the trip, beating the combined 32 MPG estimate.
And it did it with more style than you'd expect from a compact sedan. Even covered in sand, the wheels Toyota put on the Corolla S are way better looking than the what you'd normally get on a car like this.
This year's Corolla is quite a bit more aggressive-looking than previous generations, too. From most angles, the new design on the front looks fantastic.
But again, not from every angle. The little spoiler on the back just looks like an unnecessary flourish.
Now for the interior, which is actually the more impressive part of the experience. The gauges that you'll be looking at are clear and unobstructed, though I wasn't sure when the 'eco' meter was telling me I was doing well or poorly.
It felt like 'Sport' mode really only changed responsiveness in the 40-60 mile-per-hour range. That's perfect, because the only time you really need 'oomph' in this kind of car is when you're getting on the freeway.
The controls available to the driver on the steering wheel are convenient and feel good, but don't work for every function of the infotainment system like you'd expect.
Here's the entire interface within reach while you're driving the Corolla. If not for the Toyota badge, it looks and feels like a luxury car.
It has all of the features you need -- music, navigation, etc. -- but if you dig deeper, there are a ton of useful tools for those who want to know a bit more about their car.
You can even see data about your recent trips, including how fast you were driving at specific times and how you did on gas mileage.
The climate controls are all obvious and easy to reach -- but I rarely messed with them, because the auto settings were great at keeping us comfortable.
There's a traditional power jack in addition to the available USB and audio plugs at the bottom of the center console. This seemed like an odd spot for the controls for the heated seats.
You can also customise the layout of the display so that the information you think is important is always available.
The trunk is pretty much what you would expect from a car this size: you're going to be able to bring large suitcases for a few adults, then stuff the rest of your luggage in around it.
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