With a history dating back nearly half a century, the Toyota Corolla has been almost synonymous with the term compact car. Little has changed on the sedan for the 2018 model year, except for cancellation of last year’s 50th-anniversary special edition. All 2018 Corolla models get lighted vanity mirrors, while 2018 Corolla XLE and 2018 Corolla SE gain a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Corolla added a new model for 2017: the Corolla iM hatchback. Sharing little more than the model name, Corolla iM began life in 2016 as a member of the Scion family. When Toyota’s Scion division disappeared, prior to the 2017 model year, the iM became part of the regular Toyota lineup. Basically, the iM is a five-door hatchback, developed for European sale, with its own interior layout and a more sophisticated suspension. As a hatch, the iM represents a small fraction of Corolla sales in the U.S. (To learn more about the iM, see our 2016 Scion iM review.) In the iM hatchback, Toyota’s 1.8-liter engine produces 137 horsepower and 126 pound-feet. A single trim level is offered, with the choice of CVT or 6-speed manual shift.
Corolla sedans come in six trim levels: L, LE, LE Eco, XLE, SE, and XSE. Each holds a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 132 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. The LE Eco is an exception. Tuned for fuel-efficiency, with special valve timing, its engine is rated higher than the regular version, at 140 horsepower. Like other current Toyota products, the Corolla gets an impressive collection of safety features as standard equipment.
Most Corolla sedans are fitted with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). A 6-speed manual gearbox is available only for the SE sedan.
Corollas might be short on personality, ranking as average all around. But they’re refined in demeanor and fully capable of delivering common-sense satisfaction.
Not only do both body styles earn high scores for efficiency and comfort, they’ve earned admirable crash-test scores. Strong crashworthiness and superior standard safety equipment combine to make a compelling case for Corolla ownership.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rated the 2017 sedan a Top Safety Pick+. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave it five stars overall, with a four-star rating for frontal collision and four stars for rollover (a calculated score).
Every Corolla comes with LED headlights, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, and automatic high beams. Sedans also contain adaptive cruise control.
All Corolla models are sedans except the iM five-door hatch. All come with front-wheel drive. All come with 1.8-liter four-cylinder engines, though tuning varies. Most come with a continuously variable transmission, though a manual is available for the Corolla SE and iM hatch.
Corolla L ($18,500) includes the CVT, 6.1-inch touchscreen infotainment system, rearview camera, air conditioning, adaptive cruise control, power windows/locks, and Bluetooth. (All prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
Corolla LE ($18,935) adds automatic climate control, an integrated rear armrest, 3.5-inch TFT screen, and keyless entry. Options include a moonroof and a navigation app or smartphones.
Corolla LE Eco ($19,335) has a specially tuned engine and low-rolling-resistance tires.
Corolla SE ($20,445) comes with a leather-wrapped steering wheel, leatherette/fabric seat upholstery, and alloy wheels. Corolla SE is also available with a manual gearbox and 7.0-inch infotainment screen ($21,665).
Corolla XLE sedan ($21,825) includes a power driver’s seat, heated front seats, and proximity key.
Corolla XSE sedan ($22,680) differs from XLE in exterior design and upholstery.
A full, integrated navigation system is optional on XLE and XSE.
iM hatchback comes with manual gearbox ($18,750) or CVT ($19,490) and includes a 7.0-inch screen, Pioneer-branded audio, rearview camera, and 17-inch alloy wheels.
To many eyes, Corollas have a long history of uninspired appearance. That hasn’t kept tens of millions of motorists from driving one home. A bit awkward-looking overall, sedans have an uncommonly high ride height, with 6.7-inch ground clearance.
Corolla L and LE trim levels possess few decorative elements, and plastic hubcaps cover their steel wheels. Corolla SE and XSE models step up to alloy wheels.
More expressive styling is the province of the newer iM hatchback. In addition to a rather long roofline atop a bigger greenhouse, the iM benefits from details that impact a Eurostyle aura.
Comfortable seats, front and rear, highlight the Corolla sedan’s spacious cabin. Moderately bolstered, the front seats provide good support.
Legroom is good in the rear seat. Three passengers fit back there, but they’ll probably start to feel squeezed on a longer journey.
Despite a generally pleasing ambiance, nothing can be called luxurious within a Corolla, which contains an abundance of shiny plastic trim. Still, seat materials in most Corollas are attractive. Each Corolla has a height-adjustable driver’s seat, which is power-adjustable on top models. Synthetic leather used in upper models doesn’t feel real, but it doesn’t have to and should wear well.
All controls on the nearly-vertical dashboard are logical and easy to use. Contrasting stitching crosses the dashboard’s edges.
Though its dashboard is almost identical to the one in Corolla sedans, the iM’s infotainment system isn’t as neatly integrated into its surroundings.
Like its appearance, the performance of a Corolla ranks as average in every area. Handling with confidence, the Corolla provides a safe and sufficient road experience.
Steering feels light, providing minimal feedback from the pavement, but that’s hardly uncommon in family-friendly compact sedans. Body lean can become evident when taking corners energetically. The ride is smooth and easygoing, though not remarkably soft or lavish. Sedan suspensions permit considerable wheel travel, which helps absorb bumps and pot holes.
Corolla engines exhibit a refined nature. For most owners, that’s more important than brisk responses to the gas pedal. Toyota’s continuously variable transmission tends to keep the engine at higher speeds much of the time, but acceleration is wholly adequate. Sufficient sound-deadening tones down most engine rumbling.
Expect a firmer ride from the iM hatchback, but few trouble spots on the road will jar Corolla passengers.
Fuel economy doesn’t lead the compact-sedan pack, but Corollas qualify as thrifty. EPA estimates for 2018 have not yet been issued, but 2017 figures hover around 30 mpg in combined driving. L and LE sedans with the CVT are EPA-rated at 28/36 mpg City/Highway, or 32 mpg Combined. Upper trim levels are a hair less frugal, due to bigger wheels. Manual shift in the SE earns an EPA rating of 27/35 mpg City/Highway, or 30 mpg Combined. The LE Eco is EPA-rated as high as 30/40/34 mpg.
The Corolla iM is EPA-rated at 27/35 mpg City/Highway, or 30 mpg Combined, with 6-speed manual, rising to 28/36/31 mpg with the CVT.
All Corollas are capable and well-equipped, but no sedan qualifies as a stunning value. Plenty of competitors can match the Corolla’s practical virtues, while offering more character. Even so, a Corolla does it job competently. Only those who crave driving excitement even in a family car are likely to be displeased. Those folks would be advised to look at a Mazda 3 or Honda Civic.
Driving impressions by Andrew Ganz, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.