Test Drive:2017 Toyota Corolla

Christian Wardlaw, Independent Expert | Sep 29, 2016


2017 Toyota Corolla XSE front quarter right photo

Half a century ago, Toyota built the first Corolla. Always small, always dependable, and occasionally fun to drive, the Corolla has delivered value to generations of owners. For 2017, Toyota celebrates the Corolla's 50th birthday by continuing that tradition while significantly enhancing the car's ability to both avoid accidents and protect occupants in the event a collision occurs.

Of secondary importance, Toyota also updates the 2017 Corolla with new styling, upgraded interior materials, and a 50th Anniversary Special Edition variant. New paint colors, new interior hues, and new wheel designs help to visually signal the 2017 Corolla, while buyers also benefit from enhanced infotainment systems.

Toyota also reworks the trim level designations. The L, LE, and LE Eco return, while the SE replaces the previous S. Versions equipped with more standard equipment and SofTex leatherette upholstery are now called the XLE and the XSE. The 50th Anniversary Special Edition is based on the SE and comes with unique wheels and an available exclusive Black Cherry Pearl paint color.

Styling and Design

2017 Toyota Corolla XSE side profile photo

After decades of drab Corollas, Toyota spiced things up with the debut of the current model in 2014. In fact, outside of practical considerations such as reliability, roominess, efficiency, and value, styling was the main reason to consider the Corolla.

That doesn't change for 2017. The front styling is different, and Toyota continues to give the SE and XSE trim levels a more aggressive look as well as standard machined-face aluminum wheels. The headlights are full-LED for 2017, and Toyota has made subtle changes to the taillights.

Inside, Toyota claims the 2017 Corolla offers a more premium interior with a new layered design. Any distinctions between this new model and the old one are largely cosmetic, though, including added soft-touch material on the dashboard that should have been placed on the upper door panels.

To make the 50th Anniversary Special Edition more unique, it comes with Black Cherry seat and dashboard stitching, as well as Black Cherry dashboard and door panel trim.

Features and Controls

2017 Toyota Corolla infotainment and climate control system photo

Small, affordable cars tend to be simple inside, and that's true of the new Corolla. Most controls are located in logical places and are very easy to understand and use. Any confusion is related to operating the technology, either the driver information display between the gauges or the infotainment systems.

Drivers use buttons on the steering wheel to cycle through the various driver information center menus, and it is not always easy to execute the right command the first time. Toyota's touch-screen infotainment systems are easier to navigate, but are not always intuitive.

My test car, a Corolla XSE, came with the top-shelf Entune infotainment system with integrated navigation and a 7-in. touch-screen display. While the screen is larger than what Toyota previously offered in the Corolla, it still lacks a "Nav" or "Map" shortcut and the virtual radio station pre-set buttons still require smooth road and a fair degree of accuracy to use. Plus, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto still are not available for the Corolla.

Thankfully, Toyota sees fit to supply a power/volume knob and a tuning knob, items rapidly disappearing from modern vehicles...and for no good reason.

Safety and Technology

2017 Toyota Corolla Eco interior photo

The major news for the 2017 Corolla is related to safety. Standard equipment for all trim levels includes Toyota Safety Sense, a package of driver-assistance and collision-avoidance systems. This move, combined with reported changes that are designed to help the Corolla earn a "Top Safety Pick+" rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), strengthen the Corolla's value equation and its appeal to families and young drivers.

Toyota Safety Sense equips the Corolla with a forward-collision warning system, pedestrian detection, and automatic emergency braking, as well as a lane-departure warning system with lane-keep assist, automatic high-beam headlights, and automatic high-beam headlights. A reversing camera is now standard for the basic Corolla L, too.

What remains missing is a blind-spot warning system with rear cross-traffic alert and any kind of automatic collision-notification service. You also can't get safe teen driver technologies for a 2017 Corolla, items such as a speed warning, curfew alert, geographic boundary alerts, and the like.

Should a collision occur, the outgoing 2016 Corolla does a good job of protecting its occupants with a single exception: In the small overlap frontal-impact test conducted by the IIHS. For 2017, Toyota says it has made changes intended to improve upon the car's "Marginal" rating.

Driving Impressions

2017 Toyota Corolla 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine photo

Aside from making a continuously variable transmission standard for the base Corolla L (replacing an outdated 4-speed automatic), Toyota makes no mechanical changes to the 2017 Corolla.

That means all trim levels except for the LE Eco come with a 132-horsepower, 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine. The LE Eco has a 140-horsepower, 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine with variable valve timing. It also delivers slightly better fuel economy. A 6-speed manual gearbox is offered only for the Corolla SE. Electric steering and a simplistic beam axle rear suspension are standard for all 2017 Corollas. The L, LE, and LE Eco come with rear drum brakes, while SE, XSE, XLE, and 50th Anniversary Special Edition versions have rear discs.

Driving excitement is not the Corolla's strong suit. Even in racy SE and XSE trim the car is a rolling sleep aid. Under normal driving conditions on smooth pavement the Corolla's dynamics are a model of adequacy. Ask for more–whether you want power for cutting across or merging with traffic or seek confidence-inspiring grip and stability for threading twisty roads–and you're likely to be disappointed. As for fuel economy, I got 29.2 mpg on a short 30-mile loop.

Tall people won't find the Corolla comfortable, either, unless they're sitting in the back. The driver's seat simply does not offer enough seat track travel, so if your inseam measures longer than 32 inches, prepare to fold your legs up beneath the steering wheel and dashboard. Rear-seat room is generous, especially for a small car.


2017 Toyota Corolla XSE rear quarter right photo

Value and dependability remain the Toyota Corolla's calling cards. Especially after any available discounts, a Corolla's price tag looks mighty appealing, and Toyota supplies free scheduled maintenance for the first 2 years or 25,000 miles of ownership. Plus, for 2017, Toyota wraps the Corolla's proven mechanicals in a more attractive package.

This is not an engaging automobile to drive, though, and while the safety enhancements for 2017 are certainly welcome, key features still are not offered for this car. The infotainment system isn't as robust as it could be, either, and front-seat comfort eludes the lanky of limb.

If you're intending to buy a Corolla, don't expect to enjoy driving it as much as you might some competitors. Also, do yourself a big favor and wait to see if the 2017 Corolla passes IIHS crash-test assessments with flying colors.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2020 J.D. Power

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