Car Reviews First Drives

2017 Toyota Corolla First Drive: This Boring Compact Will Thrill

Corolla Buyers Should Be Happy With 2017 Updates

Corolla Buyers Should Be Happy With 2017 Updates

At the price point, it’s incredible. The 2017 Toyota Corolla L base model’s impressive standard equipment includes LED headlights, a rearview camera on a 6.1-inch touchscreen, a CVT instead of a manual transmission or four-speed auto, and a suite of active safety tech that competitors don’t yet offer across their lines. For just $19,365 USD, you’d think there might be something missing from this picture to make that price doable, and, well, that’s partially true. We spent some time in the refreshed 2017 Corolla to find out whether the popular compact has more on its side than just a legendary nameplate that’s been around for half a century.

Yes, the Corolla really has been around that long. Other automakers have cycled through one name after another for their compact cars, the Corolla name has been a reliable presence. Still, a name isn’t enough to keep a 2016 model from placing sixth out of seven cars in a recent Big Test comparison of compact sedans. The 2017 Corolla gets minor interior improvements, a face-lifted exterior, and new active safety tech features, which are all standard. What hasn’t changed will continue to prevent the Corolla from winning over more than the 300,000-plus annual buyers it regularly sees.

Read our 2017 Toyota Corolla By the Numbers feature right here.

The 2017 Corolla is still powered by a 1.8-liter naturally aspirated I-4 that makes 132 hp and 128 lb-ft of torque in every trim except the more efficient LE Eco, which is good for 140 hp and 126 lb-ft. If you’ve test-driven other compacts, you may wonder if something is wrong when you press the accelerator pedal to the floorboard. Until about 30–35 mph (48-56 km/h), the response is lethargic, and the car won’t surprise with class-above dynamics in terms of engine noise. In the comparison of a pre-refresh Corolla with the same engine, the 2016 model hit 60 mph in a Motor Trend–tested 9.8 seconds, nearly a full second slower than everything except a 2016 Nissan Sentra, which reached the benchmark speed in 10.0 seconds. When you really need power to get moving, the 2017 Corolla can’t deliver, but the car’s CVT is plenty responsive and smooth the rest of the time.

The brakes tell a similar story. They feel fine on the road, but our panic-stop-simulating 60–0-mph tests of 2014–2016 Corollas have yielded mixed results. The 2016 Corolla’s 131-foot performance was the worst in the comparison, and the brakes haven’t changed from 2016 to 2017. As with other compacts, including the Elantra and Sentra, the 2017 Corolla keeps costs in check by using rear drum brakes on lower trims and four-wheel discs on higher ones. Previously tested 2014 Corollas came to a stop from 60 in 118–135 feet; those performances range from respectable to back of the class, and we look forward to testing a 2017 model.

One feature that requires no track testing is the Corolla’s spacious interior. Although rear-seat headroom could be better, the 2017 Toyota has plenty of rear-seat legroom with room under the front seats for your feet, soft seat backs in case you’re sitting behind a tall driver, and a nearly flat drivetrain hump that increases the impression of space.

2017 Toyota Corolla XSE cabin 02

On the road, the Corolla’s steering is weighted nicely, but you don’t feel as much of the road as you hear from it, at least on the XSE we drove. The SE and XSE trims get a Sport mode, which has a helpful if subtle effect on the transmission’s responsiveness. If you want a compact sedan that does more than just look sporty, consider other options.

When active safety tech is on your wish list for a sub-$25,000 USD compact, consider the Corolla. The 2017 Corolla’s new safety features include an automatic braking system to help slow the car down if an obstacle or pedestrian is detected and active cruise control that can accelerate or slow down up to the set speed. We wish the latter system worked below 25 mph (40 km/h), as others do, but it’s still a cool technology that could prove useful on a road trip. The same is true for the lane keeping assist system, which subtly nudges the car back into place if you’re veering from your lane; it worked well on two-lane roads in Ojai, California. Safety scores for the revised 2017 Toyota Corolla aren’t yet available, but the IIHS tells us test results for the updated model will be available before the end of 2016.

EPA-rated fuel economy on the new Corolla has gone down compared to its predecessor, but this is likely because of the stricter rating procedures introduced for 2017, not any changes on the car itself. Although the 2017 Corolla is good for 28/35–36 mpg (8.4/6.7-6.5 L/100km) city/highway in most trims with a CVT, 29–30/38–40 mpg (7.8/6.2-5.9 L/100km) in LE Eco trim, and 27/35 mpg (8.7/6.7 L/100km) for the low-volume six-speed manual option on the SE. Those aren’t class-leading figures, but in our Big Test of compacts, the 2016 Corolla actually matched its EPA combined rating in the real-world-focused Real MPG efficiency tests—not something that comparison’s Sentra, Jetta, Cruze, or Mazda3 can claim.

There’s no doubt the 2017 Toyota Corolla has improved, but it’s not moved far enough dynamically to grab the attention of consumers not already enamored of the nameplate’s reputation for producing cars that last a long time. Drivers who remember their sister/uncle/friend’s Corolla that seemed to last forever should be thrilled at how much better the compact looks than previous generations. The Corolla is spacious but slow, and it’s not quite as good to drive as others in the class, some of which offer Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. When interior space and safety tech are more important than class-competitive acceleration and driving fun, the Corolla will still earn its place among those with fond associations of the Toyota brand.