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2011 Toyota Corolla: Transportation for the masses

There are still plenty of reasons to like the best selling car in history
by: Courtesy of Toyota Motors Caption: Stylish body moldings help dress up the S version of the 2011 Toyota Corolla.

A lot of automotive writers don't get it. They dismiss the Toyota Corolla as bland, a mere appliance instead of a fun to drive car. Such reviewers fail to realize that a lot of drivers are not looking for the latest, most exciting thing. Many consumers are only looking for a simple, reliable car that will transport them from point A to point B in relative comfort for not much money. That's why the compact Corolla has historically been the biggest selling car in the world.

Yes, the 2011 Corolla is not very thrilling. No, it doesn't have the crisp styling of the new Hyundai Elantra or the upscale interior of the new Ford Focus. Its mileage is not as good as them, either (although the EPA estimated 29 mpg of our test car isn't bad).

But for a large segment of the compact car-buying market, the new Corolla is just fine, thank you. The rounded body is attractive enough, especially accented by the aero package on the S model we tested. The relatively tall roof helps gives the Corolla a lot of interior room, especially considering how cramped compacts used to be. The front seats are as comfortable as stuffed chairs. The ride is soft and compliant. Controls are easy to find and use. The trunk is huge. And although the Corolla is not the fastest compact out there, acceleration is adequate, even with the four-speed automatic transmission.

If we wanted to nit-pick the Corolla, we'd complain about the amount of hard plastic in the interior and the lack of seat support during cornering. Some of the control felt kind of cheap, too. Some luxury features available on other compacts, like heated seats, aren't offered as options. And only offering four speeds in the automatic transmission hurts both performance and fuel economy.

But such criticisms overlook the fact that Corolla is meant to be inexpensive in the first place. During our week of test driving, local Toyota dealers were advertising new 2011 models at less than the approximately $17,000 suggested retail price. And not just one loss leader, either.

Toyota built its reputation on reliability, and the company's image took a hit when accusations of sticky gas pedals made the news. The earthquake and tsunami also played havoc with supplies. But both problems seem to have been solved. There are no new stories about Toyotas accelerating unexpectedly, and dealers appear to have plenty of cars in stock.

If you're in the market for a compact, by all means drive at least a few different ones. You might even take out a subcompact or two, considering how roomy some of them are these days. But don't be ashamed if you like the Corolla and find it meets you needs. You have plenty of company, after all.

Facts and figures (all models)

• Model: 2011 Corolla.

• Manufacturer: Toyota.

• Class: Compact car.

• Layout: Front engine, front-wheel-drive.

• Style: Four-door sedan.

• Engines: 1.8-liter (132 hp, 128 ft-lbs).

• Transmission: Five-speed manual; four-speed automatic - as tested.

• EPA estimated city/highway mileage: 28/31; 26/34 (as tested).

• Prices: Starting around $16,000 (about $18,000 as tested).