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Three things Toyota did to boost the 2014 Corolla LE Eco's fuel economy to number one

Toyota did three things to push the 2014 Corolla LE Eco to the top of the fuel economy world. Two are relatively technical, but easily understood. The third was ridiculously simple and inexpensive.

The new 2014 Toyota Corolla LE Eco is the mid-size fuel economy champion of cars without an electric drive. Toyota was able to move the 2014 Corolla LE Eco’s fuel economy up an astounding 21 percent in the EPA highway estimate category and 17% in combined fuel economy compared to the 2013 Corolla. The way that Toyota went about moving the Corolla up so dramatically is a huge list of little things, but three things made the most important contributions. Here they are in terms of importance.

Corolla LE Eco CVTi-S Transmission
Toyota moved all but its bare-bones introductory base 2014 model from a 4 speed automatic transmission to a constantly variable transmission (CVT). Called CVT Intelligent Shift, the new transmission was the highlight of a recent article we published. Like all CVTs, the Toyota CVTi-S, improves fuel economy. Toyota says that it added 2.85 MPG to the car. That alone is almost 10% of the combined EPA rating. It works by eliminating the car’s need to shift gears to four limited ratios. Instead, the CVT can be in any gear ratio from lowest to highest at any time the car feels it needs to. Using two pulleys and a drive belt the engine can always have the optimum RPMs for the given situation. Toyota focused its efforts on the details of the design including the fluid pressure and temperature in the CVT to ensure optimal fuel economy. More importantly, the team at Toyota also engineered out the lousy slipping feeling and groaning sounds associated with most CVTs now on the market. This CVT feels much like a conventional transmission and those who test drive it will not notice anything unusual (we have driven it extensively). Toyota expects fully 90 percent of its Corollas buyers to opt for the CVTi-S.

Toyota Corolla LE Eco Valvematic
Variable valve timing is no longer new and exciting technology, and of course the 2014 Corolla LE uses it. However, Corolla LE Eco models also have an additional system called Valvematic that enhances this system and improves fuel economy by about 10%. Even better, it adds 8 horsepower to the Corolla LE Eco compared to the standard version of Toyota’s 1.8 liter engine. That makes the Corolla LE Eco one of the very few vehicles in America that have the most horsepower in their most fuel efficient engine.

The Valvematic system works on the intake valve side of the engine only. It augments the engine’s variable valve timing system by allowing for much greater range of valve timing (both lift and phasing). This is Toyota’s first use of Valvematic in the North American market. When asked by the press why it appears on LE Eco models (which are not the highest price Corollas) Toyota answered openly and frankly that it cannot make the system fast enough to meet the demand it has, so it was limited (for now) to the most fuel efficient Corolla.

Toyota Corolla Proves Wheels Matter
All of these special treatments to the 2014 Corolla LE Eco only brought it to parity with its rivals, Civic, Mazda, and others. However, it was discovered that by using a 15 inch diameter wheel, now considered small by the marketplace, and using a low rolling resistance tire, the car actually tested out on the EPA cycles to have a 5% gain in overall fuel economy. Such a simple thing. Here is the really cool part. At a recent event we drove the car back to back with a Corolla that had the fancier 16 inch alloys wheels and low profile tires and we liked the steel wheels much better. Although they do not enhance the car’s looks, the ride is noticeably smoother over road imperfections (pot holes, bumps, etc.) All automakers have gone too far with large wheels. They act as flywheels slowing acceleration and deceleration, their added mass hurts responsiveness and handling, and their added weight hurts fuel economy. It is nice to have such a simple comparison to point to of this group-think gone wrong.

The 2014 Corolla LE Eco is now the mid-size market’s fuel economy leader among all conventionally powered cars, even beating the pants off the diesels, making so much noise about their fuel economy. That the car is also the most powerful and smoothest riding Corolla is just icing on the cake.