LACar was lucky enough to be invited to Toyota’s new Los Angeles* HQs the other day to get a first impression of the Corolla line-up for 2020.  The takeaway was that Toyota is still well on top of things and making some very nice mid-sized automobiles in a mid-reasonable price range ($19,500 for the quite serviceable “L” model to $25,450 for the all-in XSE version, with the 52 mile-per-gallon LE Hybrid almost precisely-centered at $22,950).

All of our drives were quick ones, staying in the sprawling high tech office park neighborhood and trying to remember where some of the old landmarks like Orange County International Raceway was once located. (in fact … only about one mile due west just across the 5)

We drove three models of the Corolla, an SE model with a 6-speed manual gearbox.  It was really a manual, but it had Toyota’s (here come the acronyms!) iMT (for “intelligent matching transmission”) which had “rev matching capability”.  I asked about what percentage of Corolla sales were for “stick shifts” and the educated guess I got from our hosts was 2 to 4 (no, not cars … percent).

It actually seemed (very) weird to be driving a Corolla (or any new Toyota sedan for that matter) with a 6-speed manual.  It worked well, the shifts were smooth, and I suppose that somewhere, someone will really want/need a manual “box”. Fun drive in light traffic … would not a have like driving it to Toyota from the SGV earlier in the day in a stop and go and then stop some more rain storm.

The sweet spot (with page after page of really cool stuff at $23,950) XLE that we drove, was a whole other side of the street.  With an eager-to-please 1.8-liter engine, the 139 claimed horsepower felt all present and accounted for and quite healthy and the XLE’s 6-speed CVT (continuously-variable transmission) seamlessly put the power to the road.

We all know that Corolla’s are really not supposed to be tricked-out sports sedans; they’re fully sensible, modern transportation with smart styling and sweet drivability.  But having a little fun when driving is not a bad thing to build into even the most prosaic of automobiles … it’s here with the Corolla.

And then there’s the LE Hybrid version… who among us cannot but blink in amazement at this Corolla’s EPA City/Highway/Combined mileage numbers of 53/52/52 and then not quickly calculate not only the savings, but the convenience of about half as many long waits in gas lines at Costco?

The 2020 Corolla Hybrid is offered in LE trim and, as we mentioned, at $22,950 this one really seemed to offer outstanding value for money.

Corollas are (very) popular cars, and the press materials that we got with this one underlined that assumption with the fact that 43 million Toyota Corollas have been sold so far.  It was pretty evident that the 2020 editions we drove are all set to add nicely to that tally. Simply put, everything just adds up in the 2020 Corolla, the car needs no more explaining than a quick test drive and it all falls into place.

As mentioned, the drives we took were short, the Corollas were all well-behaved, handsome, had room for four full-size adults and scads of luggage.

And, the colors, the cars we saw and drove were each and every one of them painted in some striking tones that perfectly showed-off the lines as well as lead to a close look at fit and finish which was just as pretty.

Yeah, the Corolla is the Camry’s smaller sibling … which is far from a problem in my copy book.

ERR … There is one thing though, something that sort of bothered me in this whole exercise in newness and that’s the getting-louder-every-day emphasis on a lot of new cars these days.  That being a whole laundry list of electronic driver aids that are listed over two pages in the press material that we got for the Corolla.

QUESTION: How are you with acronyms?  Try these: VDIM, VSC, TRAC, ABS, EBD, BA, SST* and then add these:  Pre-Collision System with  Pedestrian Detection (replete with low light pedestrian detection and daytime cyclist detection), Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist and road edge detection with Sway Warning System, Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Road Sign Assist, Lane Tracing Assist, and, finally: driver-side seatbelt Emergency Locking Retractor (ELR) and Automatic/Emergency Locking Retractor (ALR/ERL) on all passenger belts.

All of the above is directly from the 2020 Corolla spec sheet including one called LATCH (for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) … honest.

My concern here is two-fold.  One: the TV advertising over dramatization of many of the above safety features which, I believe will lead to … Two: a seriously false sense of not really needing to PAY THE HELL ATTENTION TO WHAT ONE IS DOING WHILE DRIVING A CAR.

None, write that down, NONE of the above swirling alphabet soup of driver aids is a license to drive with one’s head up someplace dark.  Right, all of them sound like all one has to do is push the start button and put the car in D and the magic machines behind those impressive hi-tech acronyms will guide and guard our every mile.

If you think so and you think that true safe, aware driving is now actually optional, you may ARE be kidding yourself and your passengers.

All (each and every one of them) of the above conclusively-named items are only back-up tools for actual driver control, pure and simple.

Cars, all modern cars, are safer than ever because of disc brakes, independent suspension systems, radial tires, and just better all-around dynamics … but they still can get into a whole lot of trouble that (none of the above) can magically get you out of.

By the way, the Corolla boasts eight, count ‘em, eight airbags, an “energy-absorbing collapsible steering wheel” along with front and rear energy-absorbing crumple zones with side-impact door beams … does that tell you anything?

*Oh yeah, the names for that first bunch of acronyms: VDIM = Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management, VSC = Vehicle Stability Control, TRAC = Traction Control, ABS = Anti-Lock Brake System, EBD = Electronic Brake Force Distribution, BA = Brake Assist, and SST = Smart Stop Technology

BY THE WAY:  The preceding diatribe, although here attached to a review of a new Toyota product, is far from exclusive to that brand.  All manufacturers, at one level or another, now seem compelled to show off some sort of “active” safety system that will take over driving duties.  As readers may have noticed, I’m concerned about the mis-reliance on such aids and the idea (as put forth in the TV ads) that such gear is going to magically save the day under any/all conditions.  –Doug Stokes – Editor at Large

AND … ONE MORE FOR THE ROAD: COROLLA PRESS CONFAB THE INSIDER STUFF

At the 2020 Corolla launch event we were given a little 8-page folded brochure that was not really at all intended for media use. It was printed up for use by on-the-floor salespeople at Toyota dealerships.

It contained four pages outlining the basic features of each of the models of the Corolla along with a facing page that was meant for personal notes about those features … a little quick “crib sheet” that salespersons could refer to where features and benefits were broad and many.

The reason we mention this is that it might well be a good thing for shoppers to perhaps emulate this sort of a little “check list” when they go car shopping.

Knowing what you want (in your new car) at home, at the kitchen table, in the quiet of evening and then articulating those specific wants and needs in the flash and filigree of a brightly-lighted dealer showroom (with that damn red convertible just sitting there winking at you) can be two (quite) different things. We’ve all been there.

NOTE: We actually asked the PR people at Toyota if it would be OK to share this bit of “insider” stuff with our readers and they said,“Sure!”   They have no problem with LACar letting YOU know that the people who sell Toyotas know what they’re selling and that they are looking to advise customers on the right car for them.

*located deep in the heart of Orange County in Tustin, California.

and there’s more at www.toyota.com