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Toyota Corolla
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Overall: Toyota’s smooth Corolla boasts one of the nicer-looking designs around; minor changes for 2016.

Drivetrain: Base 1.8-liter four-cylinder; six-speed manual transmission and four-speed automatics remain; fuel-sipping CVT optional on sporty S, but standard with LE Eco model.

Toyota is one year shy of having its Corolla nameplate around for 50 continuous years. Toyota has sold more than 40 million of them and currently operates 16 factories worldwide that ship to 154 countries. The 11th-generation North American version, released for 2014, has much more style — especially from the windshield forward — than its broad base of customers are used to seeing. The car grew about four inches in overall length and in distance between the front and rear wheels. A slightly wider cabin also contributes to more passenger space. Interior styling was also improved, but in a conservative way that differs from more daring competitors. Likewise, engine choices eschew anything performance-related. A 132-horsepower four-cylinder carries over from the previous generation and is connected to a six-speed manual transmission. A four-speed automatic is optional for the base L, while a continuously variable unit (CVT) is optional for the LE and S, but standard for the LE Eco. To reduce that “rubber-band” sensation of varying engine speed that’s prevalent with many CVT applications, Toyota’s engineers added seven artificial shift points that function automatically (or can be controlled through available steering-column-mounted paddle shifters) to simulate the action of a regular automatic transmission. The LE Eco is also equipped with a 140-horsepower version of the 1.8 that’s rated at 30 mpg in the city and 42 on the highway, compared to the base 1.8’s 29/38 numbers (with the CVT). Those figures are aided by under-body panels that improve the car’s aerodynamics (and reduce highway-speed fuel consumption). Entry-level Corollas come with air conditioning and basic comfort items, but likely more popular is the LE that includes climate and cruise control touch-screen audio communications interface plus a backup camera. “S” versions add sport bucket seats, sport suspension plus 17-inch wheels (16-inchers are standard). For 2016, a special edition based on the CVT-equipped S model has different 17-inch wheels with black finish, red contrast stitching and red accents inside, along with keyless entry and ignition. Of course a wide assortment of comfort, communications and crash-mitigating safety options are offered for each model.