Still the Safe, Smart Choice, Now with Style
My first review of Toyota’s bread and butter Corolla was an all-new 7th generation 1991 model. At the time, I said it was one of the cars I recommended to my friends who weren’t looking to get a kick out of driving, they just wanted something to go from point A to B economically and reliably. I still recommend it.
Fast forward to today, and apparently lots of folks have recommended it. The 11th generation Corolla celebrated it’s 50th anniversary last year, and it is just not the best-selling compact in America, but the best-selling automotive nameplate of all time.
Toyota sells approximately 1.5 million Corollas globally each year, and sold more than 1,000 of the things every day last year in the U.S alone—including weekends and holidays. The first Corolla went into production in November 1966 and made its United States debut in 1968. Since then it has tallied 43 million units sold worldwide.
For 2017, Toyota changed the lineup, discarding the Corolla S in favor of SE and XSE models. An XLE is also new, while the base L and mid-grade LE are unchanged. The LE Eco is the top fuel miser with an EPA rating of 40 mpg highway/30 city/34 combined, earning a membership in Clean Fleet Report’s 40 mpg club. Other models with a continuous-variable transmission are rated at 36 mpg highway/28 city/32 combined, while the Corolla SE with optional six-speed manual transmission offers 35 mpg highway/27 city/32 combined.
Ensuring the Corolla will continue to rack up the sales numbers, Toyota priced the little sedanette starting at $19,365 for the base L, including destination charges, and a host of standard features. Many of those features weren’t even available in 1991, like the rearview camera. Our top-of-line test driver XSE had a sticker price of $23,545 that included features such as cruise control, power leatherette front seats and a moon roof.
New Looks For 2017
The current car debuted in 2014 as an all-new model. For 2017, Toyota gave the exterior some nips and tucks and this edition is visually different from the 2016 model, yet remains instantly
recognizable as a Corolla.
Finally, the little sedanette has an upscale appearance with a silhouette that projects a somewhat substantial presence. A new front grille flanked by LED headlights and running lights brings it up to par will other Toyota sedans. A long wheelbase places the wheels close to the corners of the car, which not only gives it good interior space but, dare I say, makes it look almost sporty. The changes do what they needed to do, avoid the generic look of so many past Corollas.
To achieve its 40 mpg rating, the 2017 Toyota Corolla LE Eco cheats the wind with unseen aerodynamic underbody covers and a rear spoiler, which lowers its coefficient of drag (Cd) down to an impressive 0.28 compared to 0.29 and 0.30 in other Corolla models.
Inside, the cabin’s appointments give it a look that, compared to the 1991 car, make it downright luxurious. The interior has a two-tier dashboard, and the dash surface itself is a soft-touch material with molded-in stitching that comes across as fresh—at least for a Corolla.
A low cowl and belt line make for a commanding forward and side view of the road. Finding a comfortable driving position is easy with a standard six-way adjustable driver’s seat and tilt/telescopic steering wheel. Gauges are unobstructed and easy enough to read, while controls are orderly, obvious and ergonomically placed. And thank you, Toyota interior designers, for keeping the radio tuning and volume knob controls.
The touch screen, regardless of size, has large virtual buttons, clear graphics and quick response times to touch inputs. Toyota’s available Entune integrates smartphone-connected services such as Facebook, Bing, Yelp and Pandora, but for some reason Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are not available.
Front seats are on the soft side and could use some more thigh bolstering, but they are pleasant for long distance travel. The driver and front passenger have generous head, leg and shoulder room for a small car, while rear seat passengers will find more rear legroom than most small sedans—41.4-inches—plus room under the front seats to place their feet. A nearly flat rear floor increases the feeling of space.
At 13 cubic feet, the Corolla’s trunk is spacious for this size car, and the opening is wide, making it easy to load and unload.
Significantly, all Corolla models come standard with Toyota’s Safety Sense package. Driver aids that include automated emergency braking with pedestrian detection, forward collision warning, lane departure intervention and adaptive cruise control—features that aren’t commonly standard even on luxury sedans.
The Engine Bay
Perhaps disappointing to some drivers, the 2017 Toyota Corolla’s engine remains the same as the outgoing model. It’s a 1.8-liter dual overhead-cam four-cylinder with Toyota’s variable valve timing with
intelligence. It’s good for 132 horsepower and 128 pounds-feet of torque, just enough to keep things moving when needed. Surprisingly, the fuel sipping LE Eco model is more powerful with a specially tuned 1.8-liter four that puts out 140 horsepower.
On all but the SE model with optional six-speed manual transmission, Corolla’s power output is managed with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that mimics the characteristics of hydraulic automatics by creating a sense of positive shift engagement. On upper trim levels the transmission can be manipulated with paddle shifters.
On The Road
Unlike the 1991 Corolla, the 2017 edition is no longer a sleep-inducing, penalty box econo car. Instead, it easily darted about in town, merged safely onto fast-moving freeways and proved a gracious long-haul companion.
Our 2017 Toyota Corolla XSE test car had more than adequate power and enough verve for stress-free driving. The feisty four-cylinder loafed along at just 3,200 rpms in freeway far-left lanes at 80 mph, delivering low cabin noise. Past Corollas impressed with their quietness, but this one was even better. Bumps were absorbed well and straight-line stability was good.
The Barcelona Red Metallic XSE gave the appearance of having sporting pretensions, but didn’t really excite. The suspension—independent MacPherson struts up front, torsion beam in the rear—favors ride comfort over handling. Despite front and rear stabilizer bars, body roll was apparent in hard cornering, though the car was agile, “tossable” and predictable. It had decent grip in turns and was reasonably quick to respond to steering inputs. Braking was swift and undramatic.
Like many drivers, I am not a fan of CVTs, but this one did not feel like it had a slipping manual transmission clutch, and the engine revs didn’t sound like they were outpacing the speed. It did indeed mimic a standard automatic transmission; the paddle “shifts,” up or down, hesitated only briefly in their faux engagement.
When I turned the keys back to Toyota after one week, the trip odometer read 292 miles. The driving was a mixed bag of in town, a 150-mile freeway trip and 27 miles on one of my favorite two-lane country roads. The fuel-economy read out registered 31.9 mpg, nearly a mile per gallon better than the EPA’s estimated number.
In The Marketplace
In the end, the 2017 Toyota Corolla does the most important things well. It is not a flashy choice, but savvy shoppers will give this latest Corolla high marks for its price/value equation, reliability and the historically high resale value.
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Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.
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