Good For: Non-hybrid Prius. Toyota has finally brought a lot of the technology that has been standard on the Prius down to the Corolla. When I first sat down in the latest Corolla, all the electronics were where I was used to finding it in the Prius, from Bluetooth pairing and phone controls down to the customization settings to turn off beeps for remote locking. The CVT transmission helps achieve a Prius-like fuel efficiency of over 40 mpg on the highway. The 6" display even has a "Car" button that displays an efficiency per minute chart like the Prius. For those who don't buy the false economy of the heavy and expensive hybrid system, the Corolla is the sensible car on this platform.
Compromises: The Corolla starts at $17k and the LE package I drive is in the 18s, which is a good deal compared to the more expensive Prius. The prices for this "small crown" are still higher competing sedans, however. The Smart Key option, which is the only way around Toyota's silly remote locking behaviour, is found in packages over $21k. At least they have thrown manual transmission guys a bone with a 6-speed option on the top "S-Plus" trim.
Overall reaction - Thumb up: Toyota is no longer resting on their laurels and brought the Corolla up to modern standards. They executed well, paying attention to details that add up to a distinctively nicer driving experience. The hand brake is where it should be, instead of the Prius' foot pedal. "Sport" mode is an offset gate on the shifter, exactly where it should be, and brings the CVT's revs up for better performance around town. Below Sport is "B" mode, carried over from the Prius, which is effective at keeping the revs high for Interstate merging maneuvers.