2012 Toyota Corolla Review and Prices

Last Updated: Jan 14, 2012

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2012 Toyota Corolla Buying Advice

The 2012 Toyota Corolla is the best car for you if a conservative driving experience is your compact-sedan ideal.

The 2012 Toyota Corolla is newly available with a navigation system and adds such new-age essentials as a USB iPod interface and Bluetooth hands-free mobile-phone connectivity as standard on some models. The base-version Corolla also gains keyless remote entry and power windows and locks as standard. These changes inch Corolla into the modern age of onboard infotainment. But the car’s styling, powertrain, and performance remain dated compared with those of newer rivals, namely the Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, and Volkswagen Jetta. Instead, Toyota’s five-passenger, four-door sedan stays devoted to a take-no-chances character that appeals to its legions of loyal buyers.

Should you buy a 2012 Toyota Corolla or wait for the 2013 Toyota Corolla? If Toyota’s fidelity to the tried and true strikes your fancy, buy a 2012 Corolla because the 2013 model probably won’t change much, either. Corolla’s next full redesign isn’t due until model-year 2014. So buying a 2012 Corolla instead of a 2013 means you’d have the car a year longer before the all-new replacement makes it even more outdated. You’d also sidestep an almost inevitable model-changeover price increase for what’s essentially the same car.

2012 Toyota Corolla Changes back to top

Styling: The 2012 Toyota Corolla is a visual repeat of the 2011 Corolla, carrying over the modestly reshaped nose and tail that were part of the car’s model-year 2011 midcycle freshening. Toyota hasn’t tampered with this car’s basic shape or size, so the 2012 model remains essentially the same sedan that launched Corolla’s 10th design generation when it was introduced for model-year 2009.  

That’ll please buyers devoted to Corolla’s conservative character, enough of whom are around to keep this among America’s best-selling compact cars. It won’t, however, help Toyota attract shoppers intrigued by livelier new alternatives, such as the Cruze Focus, Civic, Elantra, and Jetta. The oldest car in its competitive set, the 2012 Corolla by comparison seems tired in appearance and old-fashioned mechanically.  

For overall exterior size, the 2012 Corolla is actually among the largest cars in the compact-car field. But its 102.4-inch wheelbase is stingy compared with that of newer models that stretch that key dimension. Wheelbase is the distance between the front and rear axles. It basically determines a vehicle’s passenger space. Indeed, Corolla is pinched for rear-seat space versus leaders in its competitive set. The Elantra’s wheelbase, for example, is 106.3 inches and the Civic’s is 105.1 and both feel far roomier inside than the Corolla.

Some competitors offer more than one body style, too: the Focus, Mazda 3, and the Kia Forte, for example, also come as versatile four-door hatchback body styles in addition to sedans while the Civic also offers a two-door coupe. The 2012 Corolla continues exclusively as a four-door sedan, though a wagon version is marketed as the Toyota Matrix. It shares the Corolla’s chassis but has a tall roof and is available with all-wheel drive.

The 2012 Corolla lineup offers three levels of trim: entry-level L, volume-selling LE, and sporty-looking S. Toyota for model-year 2012 eliminates a styling distinction by ridding the entry-level Corolla of black outside mirrors and giving it body-colored mirrors like those on the LE and S. And the 2012 LE graduates to 16-inch wheels, although like the 15-inchers that remain standard on the L model, they’re still steel units with plastic wheel covers. Sixteen-inch alloys are optional on the LE and standard on the S.

The 2012 Corolla S continues its impersonation of a sporty compact sedan, with a standard tail spoiler, aero body add-ons, fog lamps, a chrome-tipped exhaust pipe, and the 16-inch alloys. Inside the S gets extra bolstering for its front seats, metallic-style trim, and sportier instrumentation.  

Mechanical: The 2012 Toyota Corolla stands pat mechanically, and that puts it further behind newer rivals that boast 40-mpg highway fuel-economy ratings and combined city/highway ratings of 30-33 mpg. The 2012 Corolla rates a best 35 mpg highway and 30 mpg combined – and that’s with the seldom-ordered manual transmission.

All three 2012 Corolla models share a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 132 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. Once squarely in the ballpark, those figures are now below par for Corolla’s competitive set, where rivals such as the Elantra and Focus offer base four-cylinder engines with around 150 horsepower, and advanced direct fuel-injection, to boot.

The new crop of top compacts also comes with sophisticated six-speed automatic transmissions. The 2011 Corolla is again saddled with a four-speed automatic that’s archaic by comparison. In transmissions, the greater the number of gear ratios, the more efficiently the transmission extracts the engine’s power and the better chance of optimizing fuel economy.

The automatic transmission remains standard on the 2012 Corolla LE model and an option on the Base and S versions in place of a five-speed manual. Even here, Corolla lags; manuals in top rivals have six speeds.    

Corolla’s suspension is tuned for ride comfort at the expense of sporty handling. Even the 2012 S model, which does not have a tauter suspension or meaningfully larger wheels and tires, floats over bumps and noseplows when rushed through a corner. And while Corolla retains a torsion-beam rear suspension, top rivals, such as the Focus, Civic, and Mazda 3 have a fully independent rear suspension for superior ride and handling.

Like all its competition, the 2012 Toyota Corolla is a front-wheel-drive car. Front-wheel drive places the weight of the engine on the tires that propel the car. That translates to good wet-surface traction and, by grouping powertrain components in the nose, results in efficient packaging.

Features: Corolla may be hidebound stylistically and mechanically but the 2012 version expands its roster of features to offer most of what’s germane to the cost-conscious compact-car buyer.

Toyota finally added a USB iPod interface and Bluetooth mobile-phone connectivity to Corolla for model-year 2011 -- though only as options on LE and S versions. For model-year 2012, those modern-day essentials are standard on the LE and S and optionally available for the first time on the L. An auxiliary audio jack remains standard on the L model.

Optional for the first time on the 10th-generation Corolla is a GPS navigation system and includes voice-command programming. It’s available on LE and S models as part of Toyota’s Display Audio with Navigation and Entune system. This option includes a 6.1-inch dashboard touchscreen, Sirius XM satellite radio with a free 90-day subscription, iTunes Tagging to store songs for later purchase, text-to-voice capability that reads text messages aloud, Pandora Internet radio access, and music streaming via Bluetooth compatible devices.  

Still, shoppers drawn to such new-age amenities as pushbutton ignition, lane-departure warning, and self-parking – all available in some 2012 Corolla competitors -- will have to wait until the model-year 2014 redesign to see if Toyota’s compact will offer them.

Continuing standard on every 2012 Corolla are such basics as air conditioning, height adjustable driver’s seat, a tilt/telescope steering wheel, and split-folding rear seatbacks. All models again come with power mirrors, which are heated on LE and S versions. And every Corolla is equipped with handy instrument-panel readouts for outside temperature, average and instant fuel economy, average speed, and distance traveled.   

Base-model Corolla buyers no longer need pay extra for power windows and locks, though, oddly, cruise control remains available only on LE and S models, where it’s standard. Among other model-year 2012 changes, the LE joins the S with standard steering-wheel audio controls and the S gains double-stitched upholstery accents.

Toyota declines to restore the optional leather upholstery that was deleted for model-year 2011 but does offer the 2012 Corolla LE with a Premium Package option that includes the alloy wheels, fog lamps and a power moonroof; the moonroof is also optional on the S model.

2012 Toyota Corolla Prices back to top

Base-price range for the 2012 Toyota Corolla is $16,890-$19,580.That’s an increase of less than 2 percent over Corolla’s 2011 base prices, according to Toyota, and reflects pressure on the automaker to hold the line as a hedge against competition from newer rivals.

The 2012 Toyota Corolla L model is priced from $16,890 with the five-speed manual transmission and from $17,030 with the four-speed automatic. (Base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s mandatory destination fee. Toyota’s fee for factory-distributed 2012 Corollas is $760. Toyotas in some Southeastern and Gulf states are distributed independently and may carry different destination charges.)

The volume seller in the 2012 Corolla line is again the LE model, justifiably so, because it best expresses Corolla’s strength as a good value in a refined small car that doesn’t pretend to be a luxury compact or a sports sedan. The 2012 Toyota Corolla LE starts at $18,670 and again includes automatic transmission.

Base price for the 2012 Toyota Corolla S model is $18,750 with manual transmission and $19,580 with automatic.

Among key 2012 Corolla options, the Premium Package for the LE model is priced at $860. The Display Audio with Navigation and Entune system adds $1,170 to an LE or an S model. The S model’s optional moonroof is priced at $420.

Note that the Corolla is available with various factory-developed, dealer-installed options, including, rather incongruously, 18-inch alloy wheels in trendy grey and black finishes that retail for $1,999, including tires.  

2012 Toyota Corolla Fuel Economy back to top

EPA fuel economy ratings for 2012 models were not released in time for this report. Barring major powertrain changes (see the “Mechanical” section above), 2012 Corollas with the 1.8-liter engine should continue to rate around 28/35 mpg city/highway with the five-speed manual transmission and 26/34 with the four-speed automatic transmission.

While reasonably thrifty, these ratings would see the 2012 Corolla fall well off the pace of newer competitors, such as the latest Hyundai Elantra and the redesigned 2012 Ford Focus and quite probably the redesigned 2012 Honda Civic. For those cars, 40-mpg highway ratings are going to be selling points.

2012 Toyota Corolla Release Date back to top

The 2012 Toyota Corolla went on sale in December 2011.

What's next for the 2012 Toyota Corolla back to top

The next full redesign for the Toyota Corolla should come with the 2014 model; it’ll likely bow during the first or second quarter of 2013.

Toyota’s biggest challenge is to keep Corolla relevant in the face of racier new rivals yet conservative enough to satisfy buyers seeking good basic transportation, not automotive adventure. Corolla has made history by appealing to the former.

The Corolla nameplate debuted in Japan for model-year 1966 and came to the U.S. for 1968. Wagon, coupe, even all-wheel-drive versions have been offered over the years. By the late 1990s, Corolla had surpassed such icons as the Ford Model T and Volkswagen Beetle to become the best-selling car nameplate in history.  

Look for the 11th-generation Corolla to have more styling panache but also deliver greater cabin space without growing much in exterior size or gaining much weight. Toyota will endeavor to amplify the car’s performance, but not at the expense of the expected comfort, value pricing or predictable driving manners.

A future hybrid version might be in the cards, but given Corolla’s cost-sensitive positioning and its traditionalist buyer base, Toyota is more likely to continue to rely on its Prius family of hybrids and plug-in hybrids to carry its green banner.

2012 Toyota Corolla Competition back to top

Chevrolet Cruze: This is one newcomer with relatively conservative styling fairly close to the spirit of the Corolla’s. Cruze debuted for model-year 2011 and by the conclusion of calendar 2011 had climbed past both the Civic and Corolla to become America’s top-selling compact car. This handsome Chevy is a sold-feeling sedan with a base-price range of $17,740-$23,860. It feels livelier on the road than the Corolla, with sharper handling and a more controlled ride. All models have a 138-horsepower four-cylinder engine but top-line versions get a punchier turbocharged variant with 148 pound-feet of torque instead of 125. Fuel-economy ratings range from 22/35 mpg, 27 combined with automatic transmission to a high of 28/42/33 for the manual-transmission Eco model. Cruze’s design originated with Daewoo, GM’s South Korean subsidiary, and the car shares components with the well regarded Opel Astra from GM’s European brand and is the basis for Buick’s new upscale compact, the Verano.

Honda Civic: Honda redesigned the Civic for model-year 2012, making it larger inside and giving it a more refined driving manner. But it failed to furnish mainstream models with a needed powertrain upgrade and has been deservedly criticized for cheapening the car’s passenger-compartment materials. The styling is merely evolutionary, too, leaving the 2012 Civic looking a bit too familiar against flashier new rivals. Nonetheless, this is an excellent compact-car choice with impressive roominess and more than competent handling. And it consistently scores high marks for quality, reliability, and resale value. The Corolla-rivaling sedans have a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine with 140 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque and rate 28/39/32 mpg -- or 29/41/33 for the HF model -- with automatic transmission. Manual-transmission versions start at $16,555; base-price range for automatic-equipped Corolla alternatives is $17,355-$24,205. A Civic highlight is the gas-electric hybrid sedan rated a delightful 44/44/44 mpg and starting at $24,800.    

Hyundai Elantra: A model-year 2011 redesign turned this compact sedan from ugly duckling to extroverted swan and earned it critical and commercial success. Elantra is spacious, thrifty, and shapely. The price-leader manual-transmission edition starts at a tempting $15,950 but most buyers rightly go for the automatic-transmission versions, which have a base-price range of $18,205-$21,205. All use a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine with 148 horsepower and 131 pound feet of torque and rate an impressive 29/40/33 mpg, regardless of transmission or trim level. Standard-equipment lists are relatively generous and so is the warranty, though Hyundai concentrates more on Elantra’s appearance and value proposition than on making it a car demanding drivers will appreciate.

2012 Toyota Corolla Next Steps