When we last met the Toyota Corolla back in 2016, we loved its compact size, improved styling, as well as its high value for the money ratio. However, we pulled no punches when it came to its lackluster performance hardware, especially its fussy manual gearbox. With the arrival of the 2017 Corolla, Toyota promises new things for its venerable compact offering. But can the Corolla's suite of updates help it stand up to a growing wave of compact competition? Or will it still get left in the dust once again?
The exterior styling of our XSE grade tester certainly makes a strong case for itself when viewed from various angles. Toyota engineers went for refinement, and gave the Corolla a redesigned front fascia that features new headlights as well as LED daytime running lamps in the lower portions of the front bumper. The redesign also helps the Blue Crush metallic paint standout even more (a favorite feature of our 2016 SE grade tester.) The side profile transitions to the subtly tweaked rear fascia, and while it's still about as plain as a tub of tapioca pudding, new tail light lenses do their part to add a bit more zest to the Corolla's duds.
The interior of our tester still retains the impressive levels of spaciousness and comfort that has become a key Corolla attribute. XSE models gain comfortable leather seats which also did a good job delivering commendable levels of side support. Headroom in the rear seat is still tight, but passengers will still have plenty of rear legroom which is enhanced by a nearly flat drivetrain hump. Front seat occupants also have good amounts of legroom with visibility being excellent all around.
Interior quality is still excellent, and the majority of the buttons and switches are ergonomically placed and easy to find. The familiar Entune infotainment system is still present and accounted for, and is operated by a 7-inch touchscreen that delivers vibrant colors as well as quick inputs between menus. However, some of the buttons in the system are still too close together, and the screen is mounted lower than some of its rivals, which does take some getting used to.
A key update for 2017 is the addition of the all new Toyota Safety Sense P system that bestows the Corolla with goodies such as Automatic High Beams, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure with Steering Assist, as well as a Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection.
Buyers looking for more performance under the hood will be disappointed to see that the 2017 updates did not address this critical flaw, and it still continues to be the Corolla's biggest weakness. Like before, the Corolla is powered by a 1.8 liter four cylinder engine that is good for 132 horsepower and 128 lb-ft of torque for nearly all Corolla models. The lone exception to this rule is the green tinged LE Eco model which gets 140 horsepower, but shaves a few pounds of torque for a revised 126 lb-ft.
Acceleration is still lethargic with our tester hitting 60 mph in a leisurely 9.8 seconds. Merging onto a freeway requires patience, with the engine generating more noise than actual motion. Unlike last time, our tester came equipped with the optional CVT automatic, and while it did little to improve the Corolla's acceleration, it did deliver smooth shifts, and even came equipped with a sport mode which helps sharpen things up slightly.
Our tester's steering was also nicely weighted, but road feel is non-existent, and like other budget minded compacts, it is also too numb. While these attributes will ensure that the Corolla will not be a top choice for track duty, the Corolla still proved to be an excellent companion on a long road trip to Lansing, Michigan to experience Shutocon with my girlfriend. The trunk had enough room to swallow our suitcases as well as our souvenirs from the convention, while the suspension did an excellent job soaking up the bumps and divots that dotted our route to and from the convention.
Pricing for the 2017 Corolla starts at $18,500 for the base L model with base XSE models starting at $22,680. Our lightly optioned XSE tester had a final price of $24,831 which includes the $865 destination fee as well as the $525 for the Entune Premium Audio and Navigation Suite, and other various interior and exterior enhancements. This pricing puts the Corolla head to head with rivals such as the Honda Civic, Ford Focus, and the Chevrolet Cruze. Nearly all of these rivals boast more horsepower than the Corolla, and all three can also be configured as hatchbacks.
Despite these disadvantages, the 2017 Toyota Corolla still offers a healthy balance of room, safety, and value, and we look forward to seeing if the next generation Corolla will finally bestow the long running compact with the performance upgrades that it rightfully deserves.