When it comes to longevity, simplicity and reliability, the Toyota Corolla is up there behind the Volkswagen Beetle. We’re talking 50 years and 40 million cars, a milestone that’s being marked with a 2017 Corolla 50th Anniversary Limited Edition. Only 8000 will built, according to Toyota, in three colors, with 17-inch alloy wheels, cherry stitching on black leather interior, and a badge or two.
Otherwise, the 2017 Corolla isn’t changed over 2016, except for available safety technology that comes from the Prius. The 2017 Toyota Corolla is an 11th-generation product, launched as a 2014 model.
The base engine is a 1.8-liter four cylinder making 132 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. The 1.8-liter Eco engine uses variable valve timing to produce 140 hp and 126 lb-ft.
Most Corollas come with a continuously variable transmission, though a 6-speed manual transmission is available. Toyota’s CVT is better than most (the Subaru is excellent, as well). It’s successfully designed and programmed to feel like a 7-speed automatic.
The Corolla is 183 inches long, big for a compact, but that gives it room. It grew by four inches in its last redesign, 2014. That gained 5.1 inches in rear legroom, so now six-foot-tall passengers are comfortable anywhere in the car.
There’s no hatchback Corolla model. The Toyota iM (formerly known as the Scion iM) is for all practical purposes is the Corolla hatchback.
The Prius is Toyota’s fuel-mileage model, but the Toyota Corolla LE Eco gets an EPA-rated 30/42 mpg City/Highway, or 35 Combined miles per gallon, while other Corolla models get a respectable 31 or 32 mpg Combined. Corolla LE Eco features an Eco Drive mode altering transmission and throttle response, as well as a/c and accessory management.
In crash testing, Corolla gets five stars overall from the federal government, NHTSA, with four stars in rollover. From the IIHS insurance industry it got top Good ratings in frontal, side, rear, and roof crash tests, but just Marginal in the small overlap frontal test. There are eight airbags designed to protect you. However there’s not a rearview camera in every model, to protect you from backing into a telephone pole.
New for 2017, Corolla models offer the Safety Sense-P package, including forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, and lane-departure warning with active lane control that steers the car into the center of the lane.
The 2017 Toyota Corolla L comes standard with fabric-trimmed upholstery, air conditioning with pollen filter, 132-horsepower engine. Corolla LE gets automatic climate control, upgraded tires and the CVT. Corolla LE Premium upgrades to leather-trimmed upholstery and paddle shifters.
Corolla Eco models feature the 140-horsepower engine.
Toyota calls the Corolla design Iconic Dynamism. Well. If you want to make your journeyman transportation sound special, feel free to tell admirers your sedan is iconically dynamic. We won’t argue. It is an icon, and, for what it is, it’s not bad looking, for being nose-heavy. It’s got a big chin.
Its wheelbase is long for a compact car, and the stance is wide. That gives good interior room and suggests sporty handling. The windshield is steep, giving a hint of wedge to the profile, and the window line turns up behind the rear doors. There are contemporary LED headlamps and running lamps. And the XSE and 50th Anniversary Edition aren’t afraid to go out there, with a black grille that says small sports sedan.
The split level dashboard pushes the corners away from the passengers toward the windshield, which adds to the already spacious interior. The surface of the dash is soft-touch with molded-in stitching, which looks good against the subtle pinstriped accents in contrasting colors on the dash and door panels. It’s a fresh touch, which is what any icon struggles to find.
Interior refinement and the quality of materials is good. Engine noise is isolated well. The seats are nice enough, less firm than some competitors such as the Honda Civic. One thing about the Corolla is a relaxed, natural driving position. The SE and XSE get more bolstering. In the rear there’s excellent legroom, however the seat is narrow, so three adults can’t fit comfortably.
No hatchback, but the 60/40 rear seat folds for cargo, and the decent-sized 13-cubic-foot trunk opens wide and has a low floor.
There’s good outward visibility, and a rearview camera is standard in most models, but not all of them, as we think it should be.
The 132 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque in the Corolla propel it quickly enough to hold your own on the freeway. The available Valvematic engine with variable valve timing makes 8 more horsepower, and it’s not so much the horsepower but rather the range that makes it worthwhile; that’s what vvt does, allows good response at any rpm.
The base Corolla L comes with a four-speed automatic that belongs back in the Seventies. It shifts slow and the ratios between gears are wide, and ultimately might not save much money anyhow, because the fuel mileage is lower than with the CVT. If it works for you, you’re probably wasting you money on a new Corolla. Buy a used one, there are good values out there.
As for the CVT, it can feel sluggish at low speeds because of its tall starting gear ratio, especially uphill or with the extra weight of passengers. But acceleration and response improves when you get going. When you take off casually, you probably won’t notice.
And there’s always a six-speed manual transmission available in some models, including the base L, which makes the model a reasonable low-cost option, just not with that four-speed automatic. The shifts aren’t as precise as a sport sedan’s shifts are supposed to be (but it’s not a sport sedan), and the throws are fairly long. But the clutch feels good, nice and light. It’s easy to drive around town, with a lot of shifting.
The Corolla uses an old-school tried-and-true torsion-beam rear suspension that’s good enough for this car, and produces an admirable ride and solid handling for a compact car. The bushings are designed in a way to keep down the noise, vibration, and harshness. But because it’s not independent, the bumps and bounces one one side are transferred to the other, so that admirable ride has its limits.
Everything about the Corolla is proven, so it’s hard to go wrong. Fuel mileage is high. The CVT is a good one, and that’s important. We wish there were a hatchback, but at least there’s the Toyota iM.
Sam Moses contributed to this report, with staff reports by The Car Connection.