When I received the Evite for Corolla Elevated, an unveiling of the 2014 Toyota Corolla in Santa Monica, California this June, I was intrigued. The Evite mentioned live performances spiced with food and beverage by Chef Richard Blais, winner of Bravo’sTop Chef All-Stars. Toyota also invited me to bring a guest!
I called the company’s California headquarters to ask some questions about the launch. I wanted to know which day the test drive was and if they really meant for me to invite a guest. The answer: “There’s no test drive, and of course you can bring a guest. Just come out to Santa Monica and enjoy yourselves!”
That sounded easy enough. A couple of days in Southern California with no agenda except for a big party to attend. I responded, “YES!”
Already this was different for Toyota. Past reviews included detailed press conferences with PowerPoint presentations and mind boggling technical information. And that’s all before a day of test driving.
No test drive? No presentation? It was obvious that Toyota was on to something different for its gen X Corolla. The Corolla, the car that is practically a word in the dictionary, is turning 45 this year. It is time for the Corolla to come on to the scene with a new personality.
I invited my cousin, Jenny Gould, a performing artist, choreographer, teacher and a self-described car enthusiast. Jenny, who has driven me all over the hilly streets of San Francisco in her manual Mazda Miata, says she dreams about being a racecar driver. And this girl has it! It turns out she was the perfect guest to bring along. Unlike the jaded auto writer that I am sometimes guilty of being, Jenny provided a fresh perspective.
The event was held at Barker Hanger at Santa Monica airport, a 35,000 square-foot space with ceilings 43 feet high. In the 1960s it was a hanger for DC3’s, in the 1970s the hanger stored Howard Hughes’ plane. This night, it was hosting 500-plus people to see the unveiling of the new Corolla.
Inside the venue, there were a variety of food and beverage stations created by Chef Richard Blais. For example, there was a bar with liquid nitrogen infused margaritas, ice creams and sorbets, gourmet cheeses, meats, all types of whole grain breads and a station for hot Southern food. Blais, who hails from Atlanta, had his cooks prepare licorice infused grits, corn bread, fried green tomatoes and outstanding barbequed spare ribs with a pickled pear.
The performances started inside a handful of translucent columns hung from the rafters. To a background of electronic music and light shows, trapeze artists descended from swings to perform a series of stunning acrobatics.
Eventually, the music became louder with a more techno Latin vibe. The back wall opened up, and the group gravitated en masse to view another show created by the Argentine group Fuerza Bruta (Brute Force). Two performers hung from harnesses skittered across an undulating foil curtain on one of the sidewalls.
When the lighting changed and the music amplified, our attention was drawn overhead where an immense clear bottom pool filled with water descended from the ceiling. Above us a group of performers slid, ran, crawled, walked and danced in the bed of water. At one point, the pool lowered close enough to touch the performers who hung above us like supernatural creatures.
So, you wonder, where’s the car we all came to see?
“After the compelling, mysterious and emotional performance, I was curious to see how the Corolla would be presented,” said Jenny. Thinking back on it, I can’t even remember where they came from. However, as Jenny said, “Then, there they were: three new Corollas, beautifully detailed, showing off a clean, sculpted new shape.”
As for the other stats? We’ll leave those for the test drive at a future date.
The final take: my cousin, who is in love with her Nissan Altima coupe, said, “This experience definitely enticed me to consider trying out a new Corolla.”
And that’s exactly what Toyota is hoping for.