What is it about style? Why are most of us so susceptible to it? When the current 11th-generation Corolla was introduced in 2013 for the 2014 model year it was considered the most stylish car in its class. I was shocked by a progressive design that even made base models look both classy and sporty at a premium level, aided by complex standard LED headlamps and taillights. In comparison, previous generations were at best conservatively handsome even when new, but the most recent model was a real head-turner, a total knockout by economy car standards.
Sales immediately jumped, from 290,947 units in 2012 to 302,180 in 2013 when first introduced, and then 339,498 deliveries in 2014, the first full year of availability. People liked what they saw, as well as the much better looking, more refined interior filled with up-to-date electronics, its improved ride and handling, etcetera. Sales during calendar year 2015 improved further still to 363,332 units, while last year it slid down slightly to 360,483 units which allowed the nicely redesigned Honda Civic to take the lead with 366,927 deliveries.
In comparison the Nissan Sentra sold 214,709 units during 2016, Hyundai Elantra 208,319, Chevy Cruze 188,876, Ford Focus 168,789, VW Jetta 121,107, Kia Forte 103,292, Mazda3 95,567, Subaru Impreza 88,517, Dodge Dart 43,402, and Mitsubishi Lancer 14,304. Of note, being that the Corolla reviewed is a sedan I didn’t specifically compared compact hatchback, wagon or coupe models, but most competitors don’t differentiate between body styles and thus the Civic, Elantra, Cruze (that now has a hatchback), Focus, Forte, Mazda3, Impreza, and Lancer have an unfair advantage compared to the Jetta and Corolla that separate these models out (the Sentra and Dart only offer sedans). Therefore I need to mention the new “Corolla Family” designation, which combines sedan and the recently rebadged Scion iM (now Toyota Corolla iM) five-door into one for a new total of 378,210 units.
Toyota hopes the Corolla iM will increase sales under its namesake brand, which was a very good decision for a car that deserves much more attention than its old Scion branding allowed, while a dramatically refreshed 2017 Corolla Sedan should give good reason for compact four-door buyers to once again consider Toyota.
I really like what they’ve done with its exterior styling, especially up front where new LED headlamp clusters blend more fluidly into a revised horizontal upper grille, while a much deeper, bolder and dare I say aggressive gloss black lower grille gives even the base car a determinedly sporty character.
The new Corolla’s frontal design is even more pronounced in SE trim and this top-line XSE pictured here, where its emblem protrudes farther outward and its lower grille insert gets filled with a gloss black mesh insert. At each corner a set of nicely sculpted faux vents get replaced by four gloss black horizontal strakes feeding into neatly stacked vertical LED driving lights, these ahead of large 17-inch machine-finished alloys with black painted pockets, while the rear end design that’s more subtly updated overall merely gets a discreet rear spoiler on Eco, SE and XSE trims. The overall look is eye-catching and should appeal to most of the Corolla’s faithful as well as other compact buyers who are tired of waiting for updates to their current rides, while those turned off by the Civic’s angular spaceship design may find the more traditionally shaped Corolla a welcome alternative.
Liking the Corolla’s updated interior will come down to personal taste too, the Civic by far the segment’s new leader from a technology standpoint, particularly when viewing its digitized driving instruments and using its new electromechanical parking brake, while the Elantra and Corolla are similarly strong with their infotainment systems and HVAC interfaces, but more conventional in their primary gauge packages, both offering the usual dual-dial analog tachometer and speedometer setup flanking large, tall multi-information displays, and hand operated mechanical parking brake levers. Levels of refinement are good all-round, with each layering on premium-like soft touch synthetic surfaces in different if not more places, as is the case for metallic and piano black lacquer accents, etcetera.
Of course, such niceties are dependent on the trim level chosen, my Corolla XSE tester filled to the brim with nearly everything Toyota’s has available within its compact four-door offering. With respect to previously noted details, the entire dash-top as well as much of the instrument panel gets covered in upscale pliable plastics, but the door uppers get neglected across the entire Corolla line, while this sportier car substitutes the majority of shiny metallics used in alternative trims for glossy black surfaces.
Therefore the motif is mostly black, albeit with bold blue highlights accenting the primary instruments, the contrast stitching across the dash, a thin plastic trim-line highlighting each door panel, and piping that edges each SofTex pleather seat front to back, while only the front shoulder bolsters and headrests benefit from yet more blue stitching. I say benefit because I happened to like it, although contrarily my partner didn’t. Yes, it’s hard to please everyone when pushing style boundaries.
Likewise it’s difficult to find everyone’s sweet spot when it comes to technologies, but most should be happy with Toyota’s new infotainment system. It’s a big 7.0-inch touchscreen with a guideline-enhanced backup camera, handy quick-access “buttons” at each side for the audio system at the top left and station/track seek on the top right, while on the bottom right there’s a phone button and the on the left side “HOME” button opens a default dual or three-way split-screen with multiple features shown simultaneously, while just above is an “APPS” button that displays every feature available including a message center, eco driving monitor, car setup controls, maintenance minder, and navigation system with mapping, that latter standard with the XSE.
Of note, Toyota’s infotainment system doesn’t include Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, but rather an Entune App Suite that gives access to access Pandora and iHeartRadio, lets you make restaurant reservations, purchase movie tickets, get sports scores, find fuel prices, and access real-time traffic and weather updates.
Additional XSE equipment includes rear disc brakes, heatable power-adjustable side mirrors with integrated turn signals, proximity-sensing keyless access, pushbutton ignition, a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a HomeLink garage door opener, automatic climate control, voice recognition, decent sounding six-speaker audio, satellite radio, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB and aux ports, an eight-way powered driver’s seat, realistic feeling SofTex simulated leather upholstery, two-way heatable front seats, a powered moonroof, tire pressure monitoring, and all the usual active and passive safety equipment.
As you may already be aware, Toyota has long touted its Star Safety System that includes ABS-enhanced brakes, auto brake assist, electronic brake-force distribution, traction and stability control, exclusive Smart Stop Technology that will stop the vehicle when both throttle and brake pedal are pressed simultaneously, while a full allotment of airbags also come standard, the latter including a driver’s knee blocker and front passenger seat cushion airbag. When this brand-wide program was introduced it was novel, especially among entry-level models, but now most of Toyota’s competitors have caught up. What to do? In its quest to keep its customers safest, all 2017 Corollas will also include an entirely new package of high-tech features dubbed Toyota Safety Sense (TSS).
TSS isn’t exclusive to the Corolla, but rather Toyota plans to roll the suite of safety features out across its entire lineup as models get updated. Currently Toyota splits its TSS systems into two categories, with the Corolla Sedan utilizing TSS-P (as do the Prius, RAV4, RAV4 Hybrid, Highlander, Highlander Hybrid, and Avalon), and the new Corolla iM coming standard with TSS-C (as do the Yaris Hatchback and Prius C).
TSS-C (“C” for car) is the lesser system that only includes auto high beams for dimming your headlights when surrounding vehicles come into your line of sight, a Pre-Collision System that immediately slows/stops your car if it detects an imminent crash, and Lane Departure Alert that notifies you if a car is just behind you in the adjacent lane. The Corolla’s more advanced TSS-P system includes all of the above plus Pedestrian detection for the Pre-Collision System (the “P” in the acronym for person), as well as active steering assist that will turn your front wheels back towards your current lane if it detects a car in the adjacent lane when you attempt to change lanes, and dynamic cruise control that maintains a safe distance behind a given vehicle even if that vehicle slows. TSS-P results in a Top Safety Pick Plus rating from the IIHS in base trim, the Corolla the only car in its class to achieve such a high standard safety rating.
Also standard with SE and XSE trims is a sequential shifter for the sport-tuned CVTi-S continuously variable transmission, as well as a Sport mode and steering wheel paddles, the latter two items also unusually welcome within this class of car. For those lamenting the lack of a manual transmission in this top-tier model, take some refuge in knowing that Toyota will let you outfit its six-speed manual equipped Corolla with all of the same visual and performance upgrades in SE trim (sans Sport mode or paddles of course), but those that fight the daily commute will be glad to know the Corolla SE/XSE CVT is a cut above most others on offer from rival brands.
The CVTi-S makes the most of the Corolla’s 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, its output rated at just 132 horsepower and 128 lb-ft of torque. I say just because it’s one of the more conservative powertrains in the segment, and there’s no performance upgrade when moving up to its sportiest trims. This won’t be an issue for most buyers who use their cars for commuting to and from work during the week and running errands on weekends, but those looking for extracurricular stimulation may be disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, as it gets up and goes quickly enough and there’s ample power for passing on the highway, but it won’t exactly cause fear in the hearts of sport compact owners at the stoplight. I’ve learned to have fun no matter what level of power is on tap and the Corolla XSE’s nicely sorted independent front and twist-beam rear suspension setup provided enough action through twisting two-laners to excite when opportunity arose.
More importantly it’s a comfortable car with a nice composed ride and good sound isolation, which is more of what the compact car segment is about anyway, while its as-tested fuel economy is excellent at a claimed 28 mpg city, 36 highway and 32 combined. Of note, Corollas with the six-speed manual are good for 27 mpg city, 35 highway and 30 combined, while Eco trim achieves an estimated 29 city, 38 highway and 33 combined.
It’s roomy too, the front seating area ideal for most body types, especially when it comes to headroom, while those relegated to the rear shouldn’t complain unless ultra-large. On that note I’m not ultra-large, but nevertheless my nearly average five-foot-eight medium-build frame had about six inches available ahead of my knees when the driver’s seat was set to my body height (and I push the seat farther back than most my size due to longer legs than torso), plus about four inches above my head and no shortage from side to side. My guess is that three people my size would be relatively comfortable in back, although two would be happier due to a comfortable armrest that folds down from center. Those seats are split 60/40 for expanding the reasonable large 13.0 cubic-foot trunk when longer cargo requires.
Of note, my tester’s trunk wasn’t attached properly, its normally tight fitting gaps badly askew (the left side sat about 5/8ths higher). It didn’t hamper opening or closing but it was aesthetically disturbing, while my only other complaint relates to driver’s seat ergonomics, my just noted body type requiring more telescopic reach than Toyota provides. I’ve griped about this problem with the Corolla and other Toyota models before, because there’s only about an inch and a half of play between fully forward and maximum extension, which leaves me stretching my arms to reach the top of the steering wheel. All I can say is make sure you feel comfortable and fully in control before you buy.
Other than these two issues I can only say good things about the updated Corolla, especially in XSE trim. At $22,680 before freight, dealer fees and taxes it strikes a very competitive deal. Alternatively you can get into a base Corolla L for just $18,500, but I’ll leave discussion of this car until reviewing a Corolla LE I recently drove. Until then you should seriously consider the new Corolla when shopping for a compact, as it delivers well on most counts and extremely high on safety and reliability. As far as style goes, it should meet most peoples’ needs for new and improved, and then some.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press Copyright: American Auto Press