Is the 2014 Corolla ‘Stunning, Next Generation’ Material?

It’s easy to forgive Toyota (NYSE:TM) for gushing over the new Corolla it’s rolling out. The 2014 version marks the first legitimate style upgrade in a decade, and the first improvements under the hood in five years. By adding more room, improving fuel economy, and increasing the sportiness of a famously boring car, Toyota is hoping to recharge the image of a car that’s had the most popular nameplate on the planet.

Why is there a need to change the Corolla, whose name is synonymous with reliability? Among other things, changes by competitors have forced Toyota’s hand. The Honda (NYSE:HMC) Civic has been nearly matching the pace of the Corolla in the past eight months. Since it comes at higher price tag than the Corolla, Honda is proving its more impressive style — not to mention fuel economy — are big factors in customers’ purchases. The Ford (NYSE:F) Focus and Hyundai Elantra are two other compact cars eating away at the Corolla’s dominance.

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Toyota is not ignoring the comfort factor, either. It has added about four inches of space to the Corolla’s interior, lowered the car’s height, and improved engine functions to add another level of quietness. Looking to “appeal with youthful car buyers,” Toyota is offering a “more expressive, chiseled exterior design,” with a new-look grille aimed at delivering a sporty, “more assertive” impression. In short, the company wants to win younger buyers for a car whose market averages an age of 53 years old.

Will the added flash be a turnoff to the Corolla buyer who prizes dependability above all else? Toyota is betting it won’t lose any of the loyal customers it has racked up in its run as the world’s leading automaker. The improvement in fuel economy, for example, shows Toyota hasn’t lost sight of what is important to its customers. Improved spaciousness — the other major improvement — will only increase how comfortable the car’s passengers feel.

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A look at the 2014 Corolla suggests a departure from the bland styling of older models, in what the company touted as a “stunning, next generation” version of the definition of reliability. Customers hoping for the same subdued hum in the engine will be pleased, as the Corolla’s 132 horsepower will trail the Focus (160 hp), Civic (140 hp), and Elantra (148 hp). Toyota will also offer a second engine with different valve technology that matches the Civic’s 140 hp.

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