Folks who don’t have time – or want to be bothered – to do the research for a new car have always found the Toyota Corolla a pretty safe bet. They’ve heard from neighbors and relatives that it’s reliable, economical and gets good marks for safety.
And, there are a million of them around – actually, 43 million have been sold since its inception (Toyota says it’s the best-selling nameplate in the world). So, geez, can 43 million people have gotten it wrong?
The Japanese carmaker is celebrating Corolla’s 50th anniversary this year by making it an even safer bet – emphasis on safe. Borrowing from its eco-friendly Prius, the Corolla for 2017 now includes Toyota’s Safety Sense-P package of active safety features. And it’s standard on all trims, across the board.
Using a camera and laser to monitor traffic conditions, the system offers pre-collision warning and pedestrian detection with automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning with mitigation to steer the car back into the lane, and a back-up camera. Also added this year is blind-spot monitoring.
Plus, Corolla again earned a 5-star overall rating from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, and was declared a top safety pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Marking the anniversary (actually, 2018 is the anniversary for Corolla’s entry into the U.S.) is a special-edition model with its own 17-inch wheels, anniversary badging and floor mats, and a special black-cherry paint color.
Also new this year is a sport trim, the XSE, which has a black grille with fog lamps, an integrated rear spoiler, and a CVT that mimics a 6-speed transmission when placed in Sport mode. And, with Scion now merged into the Toyota family, the Corolla line gains a hatchback for 2017: the Corolla iM (which you may remember as the Scion iM).
So there’s lots going on for the birthday bash, but very little in terms of Corolla’s style, power and performance. Oh, there are some tweaks to the front fascia, nicer taillight elements and a refreshed dashboard design.
But power still comes from an efficient but sluggish 1.8-liter inline-4, which gets 132 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. If you really get on it (and how many will bother?) it should get to 60 mph in just under 10 seconds. So, if you’re looking for a brisk or fun ride, better look elsewhere in the segment. Ford Focus, Mazda 3 and VW Golf come to mind.
Most will opt for the CVT (continuously variable transmission) which is well behaved and not as whiny as some of them. A 6-speed manual gearbox is still available on one model, the SE, for an additional $1,220.
The ride is mostly smooth and quiet, combing over bumps and ruts adequately. Steering feel is next to numb. And Corolla has no interest in attacking corners so they are best taken casually.
More important to Corolleans, EPA-estimated figures of 35 on the highway, 27 around town, are well within reach and can even be better with the 6-speed manual. An LE Eco version beats those figures with 42 mpg highway.
Inside, a new gauge cluster, some softer materials and up to a 4.2-inch infotainment screen, depending on trim level, class up the dash a bit. For an extra $309, you can get illuminated door sills, too.
Front seats offer good support and are comfortable enough for long trips. Back-seat space has adequate room for heads, legs and knees. A week’s worth of groceries easily fits into the trunk which is better-than-average in cubic feet for the segment.
Toyota knows these are the things that matter most to Corolla buyers. Comfort, reliability, economy. But, to honor its 50th birthday, the carmaker threw in a few more features – just to be safe.
Barry Spyker was the automotive editor and columnist for the Miami Herald.
2017 Toyota Corolla SE
MSRP: $24,171 (with TRD performance exhaust, sway bar, 6-speed transmission)
What’s all the excitement about? Corolla celebrates its 50th anniversary with a high-tech safety package, standard across the board
Powertrain: 1.8-liter inline-4 mated to 6-speed manual or CVT
How’s the performance? Well, it’s a Corolla: Underpowered, 0-60 mph in 10 seconds, but it’ll get you there every time
What about fuel economy? 30 mpg combined (27 city, 35 highway); LE Eco model rated at 42 mpg highway