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2015 Toyota Corolla LE Eco review - green, affordable, family car excellence

The Corolla LE Eco is the star of the affordable family car class. Here’s why.


The 2015* Toyota Corolla is Toyota’s second most popular car and off and on the top seller in its segment, which is a HUGE segment. The LE Eco is the most powerful of the Corollas and also the most fuel efficient. The Corolla LE Eco is easy to define by its fuel economy numbers, but doing so misses the point. This is a vehicle that excels in many ways, and just happens to be one of the most fuel efficient and economical liquid fuel cars one can buy.

When I was a kid my family had “The Dusta.” The Duster was a Plymouth family car that was in front of a lot of homes in the 1970s. The Duster was compact, affordable to buy and own, and great on gas, by the standards of the time. Plymouth is extinct, but the affordable family car isn’t. This type of car still makes up the number one and two most popular car segments in North America. The Toyota Corolla LE Eco now fits the bill of the old ‘Dusta, and it also happens to be one of the greenest cars for sale at any price.

Exterior Styling
The 2015 Corolla LE Eco has a sharp new front end compared to older Corollas. It was the first to move to Toyota’s new styling and sales went up. The Corolla looks like a slightly smaller Camry (of the just released style) and Avalon. At this price point of $20K you are not paying for style in a sedan this big. You are paying for practicality. However, the Corolla is a car that looks modern and not out of style for our times.

More Photos are just a click away!

My Corolla LE Eco came with 15” steel wheels and wheel covers. This is not to save money (though I’m sure it does). It is because the 15 inch wheels and aero covers actually save fuel compared to the available 16” alloys one can opt for. With these wheels Toyota squeezes out a couple more MPG and puts the car ahead of rivals.

Wondering what Torque News thought of the Corolla with more options? Well here is your answer! A Review of the 2014 Toyota Corolla LE Eco Plus: New and Improved While Maintaining Affordability

Interior and Infotainment Details
Inside, the Corolla’s style works very well, and looks good. The dash is up and out of the way of the driver’s right knee. I’m six feet tall and the front of the Corolla is very roomy for me. This car is much more roomy than the Audi A3 or Mazda3, two cars about its size. The seats in my tester were manual, covered in cloth that looked good and which seemed like it would last two family generations, as many Corollas are asked to by owners. For short trips the seats are comfortable, but for those who plan to drive long distances Corolla offers more power seat options in the higher trim levels.

The trim inside the Corolla seems more upscale than the price point of my $19,510 MSR tester. There is a neat little color line around the trim that added color to the otherwise dark dash. In the center of the dash was a touch screen that worked very well. My tester had BlueTooth that connected my phone hands-free and could be actuated using the steering wheel. I was also able to stream my music from Pandora. The audio quality was decent not super, but remember the price. The screen is also the back-up camera’s monitor. I just tested two German cars in the mid- $30K range that did not have a back-up camera. Nor did they have the automatic climate control this Corolla did. My Corolla also had a spare tire, something I have a hang-up about. I despise cars without a spare.

The room in the back of the Corolla is a big deal. Two six-foot or taller people can sit back there very comfortably without the front passengers needing to move forward. Try this Corolla and you will be shocked by how large it is inside. This car is bigger inside than the Lexus IS sedan. The rear middle seat is not bad either and would certainly work for a child. The trunk is very large (for the segment) and the seats fold down. I hauled lumber home form Lowes with no problem.

The Drive
The 2015 Toyota Corolla LE Eco drives so well you forget it is so affordable. It is powerful enough and smooth enough around town and when merging onto the highway. Its 140 horsepower somehow do the job. The constantly variable transmission is the best of its type. Normally, I dislike CVTs, this one I have liked since I first drove it at the media launch a couple years back. It simulates shifts, and does not seem to moan and groan, like most of the CVTs I have driven.

The reason the LE Eco version of the Corolla is more powerful and also more fuel efficient is the Valvematic system. This more advanced variable valve timing in the engine allows the car to produce more power and also use less fuel. Originally, when I went to the product launch Toyota said that the reason it was not an all Corollas was availability. Now, over a year later, that excuse is starting to seem “less true.” My guess is cost. Either way, the LE Eco Premium is not far off of the “S” in terms of features.

Ride comfort in the Corolla LE Eco is excellent. It absorbs bumps and road imperfections much better than cars I have recently driven costing twice as much. Yet, it still handles well. Steering is direct and easy, and the power steering makes swinging the wheel around in parking lots very easy. BMW could learn a lot from studying this car’s steering. I tested an X1 recently that was so bad it was almost funny.

I credit the 15 inch steel wheels and Hancook Optimo tires with much of the good ride. I have driven more upscale Corollas with lower profile tires and they are rougher over the road without any improvement in handling. My tester was past 14,000 miles, yet the Hancooks were relatively quiet on the highway and had worn perfectly. Unless you cannot bear the look, I would strongly suggest any Corolla LE Eco buyer keep the standard wheels.

Price, MPG, Safety, and Value
The price of the Corolla is one of its main features. This is a very affordable car. Cars equipped with what you need in a family car start under $20K. Fully-loaded, the LE Eco Premium is about $23.5K. That moves you into Camry territory (after discounts on Camry) and makes a loaded Corolla a tougher choice. About 2,000 of the 33,000 Corollas that Toyota sells each month are LE Ecos in the approximately $20K price range. There are also L and LE models that are less expensive, and S models that are more expensive. The LE and LE Eco are the value buys.

All Toyotas come with 2 full years or 24K miles of included maintenance. The Corolla also holds its value very well and is third-best among cars in its class. Toyota wins pretty much every quality award and is way ahead in terms of used car reliability. Combine these elements with the fact that during my time with the Corolla it only cost 8 cents per mile in fuel, and it is easy to argue it offers the lowest cost of ownership of any family car in America. The Corolla LE Eco also emits less CO2 than any other car its size and price. This is the greenest affordable family car in the US market. No hybrid, diesel, or EV its size and price can match it. None are really even close.

The 2015 Toyota Corolla is an IIHS Top Safety Pick. It scored marginal on the small frontal offset crash and my test car did not have forward collision prevention. At its price point, I don’t there are any cars this size that are rated higher. Some cars like the excellent Mazda3 and larger Toyota Camry are Top Safety Pick + rated, but they come in at a substantially higher cost. Click for a full story on the Corolla's safety ratings.

The fuel economy and fuel efficiency of the 2015 Toyota Corolla LE Eco are fantastic, amazing, almost without equal. The EPA estimates the LE Eco will return 30 MPG city, 35 MPG in combined driving, and a whopping 42 MPG highway. I did much better. See my related story for more details, but I was never below 41.5 MPG over the almost 1,000 miles I drove this car in all types of settings. On the highway, without significant traffic, I averaged 43.5 MPG. The Corolla takes regular unleaded. If you compare this car to the VW Jetta diesel you will find that the Corolla LE Eco costs much less per mile for fuel, while at the same time emitting 9% less CO2 than the diesel.

In case it was not obvious I am of the opinion that the 2015 Toyota Corolla LE Eco is a significant car. Not only did I like the vehicle, and find it enjoyable, it seems to me that as a family car it stands head and shoulders above most of the field.

*Note: Our Test car was a 2014 Model, but the car is unchanged for 2015 and the 2015 cars were on dealer lots at the time of this test.

Photo by John Goreham


Mark Day (not verified)    September 22, 2014 - 11:47PM

" Unless you cannot bear the look, I would strongly suggest any Corolla LE Eco buyer keep the standard wheels."

Great advice. Super low-profile tires on huge wheels (18" +) have become an industry fad - unfortunately. An expensive Toyota - the Avalon Limited - has a rough ride the result of a poor wheel/tire combination. If consumers knew the lack of benefits and pricey tire replacements they'd be less likely to accept the fad.

John Goreham    September 23, 2014 - 10:51AM

In reply to by Mark Day (not verified)

Mark, my favorite comment on this topic. Thank you. I may actually quote you in future stories. I feel strongly that these larger diameter wheels and low profile tires are spoiling fine rides and are more likely to be damaged by road imperfections. Thanks for the comment. Good to know I am not alone.

Bob Plantz (not verified)    October 6, 2014 - 5:36PM

"...the 15 inch [steel] wheels and aero covers actually save fuel compared to the available 16” alloys one can opt for." Can anyone explain this to me? I've always heard that alloys are lighter, so would give better mileage. I note that my 2005 Prius has alloy wheels. If this wheel/cover combination saves fuel, why wouldn't Toyota at least offer the option on the Prius? If it's the aero wheel covers, why not design aero wheel covers for the Prius alloy wheels?

John Goreham    October 6, 2014 - 5:51PM

In reply to by Bob Plantz (not verified)

First, don't believe the hype. Alloy wheels are not necessarily lighter than steel. In this case, the alloys are larger, so the mass is lower with the steel wheels and covers. The tires also matter and the ones with the better fuel economy will be harder, and have less rolling resistance. The Prius wheels/tires always have been chosen carefully for maximum fuel economy. The BMW i3 takes this to almost comical extremes.

Howie (not verified)    October 7, 2014 - 9:46PM

I don't think there is a definitive answer to the wheels dilemma.

For sure, the smaller tires and steel whells of Eco Base have smaller mass together than the bigger tires and alloys of the Eco Plus/Premium, giving the first one a 2 mpg advantage over the latter (EPA). That says a lot about the hype toward bigger wheels VS alleged quest in fuel efficiency.

Would alloys (or even smaller 14'' wheels !) improve the efficiency of the Eco Base ? Maybe, but not all alloys are equals and some end up actually weighting more than steel... So it is not neccessarly true to assume a car will feel slightly more planted and less fuel efficient with steelies and slightly more agile and more fuel efficient with alloys.

I guess Toyota went for a compormise between cost, efficiency and comfort here.

robert andrews (not verified)    January 26, 2015 - 9:05PM

In reply to by John Goreham

I have a question. My wife likes the car cool on a hot day. Since the ECO mode reduces the power of the compressor on the A/C, could I run the car without the ECO button on to get the air conditioner up to speed and the car cooled and then put the ECO mode into effect and have the cool temperature maintained. I just want to know if the air temperature would just drop and make the car temperature uncomfortable. Thanks, Bob Andrews

John Goreham    January 27, 2015 - 1:37PM

In reply to by robert andrews (not verified)

I think that would work fine. Electric vehicles struggle with this issue, but I have not heard of any complaints about LE Eco owners about the AC not keeping up. Another idea would be a remote starter to turn the car on and start the AC a couple minutes before entering on the hottest days. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Bob Plantz (not verified)    January 27, 2015 - 1:49PM

In reply to by John Goreham

Pre-cooling would probably be a good idea. Many years ago I installed a timer thermostat in my home. I set it to warm the house (on cold days!) about 1/2 hour before I got home from work. I learned that I could set the temperature a few degrees lower than when walking into a cold house. Part of the effect was that the pre-warming heated the walls, which then radiated heat into the room. Actually saved me a fair amount of heating cost even though I started heating the house while nobody was home.

Francois Bergeron (not verified)    October 13, 2016 - 7:28PM

In reply to by robert andrews (not verified)

Am in the market for the Corolla LE ECO 2016 (Canadian model), and my questions as to why the LE Eco model does not offer the 16" alloy wheels in the upgrade have been answered - and then some ! Thank you to all - great article, great comments

marshall (not verified)    May 31, 2016 - 8:32PM

This car is the most fuel efficient car I have ever owned, It's a great alternative to the Prius hybrid. I own the ECO. I drove behind a semi truck on the freeway doing 70MPH. This car got an amazing 50 MPG. Without a truck in front of you it gets an amazing 46MPG. I strongly recommend that you get the rear stabilizer bar installed from TRD. It should be standard on this car. It improves handling corners immensely. This car pulls up mountain passes easily with the CVT. This car is truly an amazing engineering feat.

Richie (not verified)    January 28, 2017 - 8:09PM

In reply to by marshall (not verified)

We just picked up one of the 2015 LE ECO's
Our previous car was a 2001 Corolla CE which was on death's door. We had owned it from brand new.
The dealer actually gave us $500 for it!

I must say that I am thoroughly impressed with this car! My commute is 120 miles round trip and it is a joy to be in a comparable, safe, reliable car.
My first week's average MPG was just shy of 45 mpg! Amazing numbers for a non hybrid car.
Thanks Toyota! :-)

Bob Andrews (not verified)    June 1, 2016 - 10:42AM

I bought the 2015 Corolla ECO in Feb. 2015 and I love it. I have gotten mileage up to 50 mpg also and this is on a highway going about 60 mph. Usually I get about mid forties mpg and the car is tight and wonderful. I have the green color and it is beautiful. Will eventually get another Corolla.