Safety is one of the most important considerations when you’re buying a small, affordable car like the 2017 Toyota Corolla.
Young, comparatively inexperienced and frequently distracted drivers buy cars like the Corolla. So do cash-strapped families seeking greater value in their purchase. Small cars weigh less, which means they suffer greater damage in collisions with big vehicles like SUVs and trucks. If you’re buying a small car, and if the model you’ve chosen doesn’t get top crash-test ratings, you should reconsider and select one that does.
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After engineering work on the current Corolla’s underlying structure had commenced in anticipation of a 2014 model year launch, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) rolled out a difficult new crash-test assessment called the small overlap frontal-impact test. Designed to excel in all trials but the new one, Toyota nevertheless confidently predicted that the redesigned 2014 Corolla would be named a “Top Safety Pick.”
It was. For the period of time during the 2013 calendar year that it was on sale. On January 1, 2014, it lost that title because the new Corolla earned a “Marginal” rating in the difficult new test.
Now, for 2017, the Corolla gets a minor freshening. Most of the changes are relatively minor, except those related to safety.Standard automatic emergency braking + upgrades to improve crash-test ratings
Over dinner at the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa, to which members of the automotive media were invited to sample a range of new and updated 2017 Toyota models, I asked the automaker’s Corolla product planner a direct question: Did you make any changes to improve the Corolla’s small offset frontal-impact test result?
Yes, changes were made with the intention of improving the test result, and Toyota has requested that the IIHS conduct new evaluations to see whether or not the modifications will help the Corolla to earn back its “Top Safety Pick” rating. The result of this testing is expected before the end of the year.
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This, combined with the addition of Toyota Safety Sense driver assistance and collision avoidance technology as standard equipment for all trim levels, is the single most important thing that you need to know about the updated 2017 Corolla.
Should the Corolla get top marks in crash tests, it will instantly become a better car. But that doesn’t mean it will become the best choice in the segment, because it remains a basic, bread-and-butter form of transportation, even when dressed up in racy-looking SE and XSE trim. Plus, it still can’t be outfitted with a blind spot warning system or rear cross-traffic alert technology.Styling updates, interior enhancements, infotainment system improvements
In addition to safety-related improvements, the 2017 Corolla receives a restyled front end with standard full-LED headlights, a revised interior with added soft-touch materials and fresh color schemes, new wheel designs and new paint colors. Toyota also updates the Corolla’s infotainment systems for 2017.
New naming conventions are used for the Corolla’s trim levels this year. The base L, popular LE, and thrifty LE Eco return, while the sporty S becomes the sporty SE. Versions with upscale SofTex seat upholstery get XLE and XSE trim designations, and to commemorate the Corolla’s semi-centennial birthday, a 50th Anniversary Special Edition also debuts.
While Toyota is accurate in saying that the 2017 Corolla’s interior has more soft-touch surfaces than before, they remain missing from the tops of the door panels, a location commonly used for resting arms and elbows. Instead, the hard plastic continues in this location while the entire top and middle sections of my XSE test vehicle’s dashboard were covered in soft, plush material.
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Call me crazy, but I think soft-touch surfaces are best used for parts of the interior that people are likely to touch on a regular basis.
Wrapped in SofTex upholstery, a fancy name used to describe vinyl or leatherette, the XSE’s seats feature blue piping, exposed contrast stitching, and appear to be deeply bolstered. They look substantial, and they are comfortable, unless it is hot and muggy outside. SofTex does not breathe well, so it tends to trap sweat. I also had trouble dialing in the proper amount of seat height and leg space, so I felt a little bit cramped behind the steering wheel.
One of the Corolla’s main selling points is rear seat room. Leg space is generous, allowing a Corolla to easily accommodate a family of four. Given this, Toyota could easily add travel for the driver’s seat in order to make this car more comfortable for taller people. Trunk space measures 13 cubic-feet, a decent amount for a small car.If you want something fun to drive, shop elsewhere
What Toyota has not changed for 2017 is the Corolla’s snooze-worthy driving dynamics. Aside from discontinuing the yester-tech 4-speed automatic in the base L trim level and replacing it with the continuously variable transmission offered in other models, the latest Corolla is the same as it has been for several years.
All but one of the Corolla’s trim levels have a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine making 132 horsepower, and the best thing that can be said about it is that if you change the oil regularly, it will probably still be going strong 20 years from now. The LE Eco continues with a more sophisticated 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine that is more powerful, at 140 horsepower, and is more fuel-efficient.
A CVT is standard in all models except for the SE, in which a 6-speed manual gearbox is offered in an apparent nod to car enthusiasts who would not otherwise give the Corolla’s underpowered engine and beam-axle rear suspension a moment of consideration. As if it were 1997 instead of 2017, drum-style rear brakes are included in L, LE, LE Eco and XLE models, while the SE, XSE and 50th Anniversary models get modern disc brakes.
I spent just enough time driving the Corolla LE Eco to identify the Corolla XSE as the better car to drive. Instead of feeling soft and floppy and disconnected like the LE Eco, the XSE attempted to mimic a more sporting automobile. Exiting a shopping center parking lot onto a busy road, however, revealed the Corolla’s undeniable lack of punch, especially right off the line. Should you buy a Corolla, leave yourself plenty of room.
Under part throttle acceleration, the Corolla feels lively enough, but under such conditions you’re not trying to get anywhere in a hurry. Optimistically, Toyota provides paddle shifters for the CVT, but they’re rather pointless. On an hour-long driving loop combining city, highway and country driving, the Corolla returned 29.2 mpg, falling short of the EPA’s estimate of 32 mpg in combined driving.
Equipped with rear discs, the XSE’s brakes performed to expectations, and the pedal provided decent feel and easy modulation. The electric steering felt heavier than what’s supplied in the LE Eco, too, lending the car a sense of greater stability. The ride tends toward busy, what with the relatively rudimentary rear suspension design and stiffer tuning, and the Corolla XSE doesn’t feel as securely affixed to the road as several of its competitors.
Overall, the Corolla isn’t much fun to drive. If engaging driving dynamics are not high on your list of requirements in a new car, I understand. But when alternatives provide driving enjoyment in addition to safety, reliability, roominess and other practical factors, wouldn’t you rather smile and grin during your commute?Impressive value, promising safety and legendary reliability are the Corolla’s strong suits
When your old car finally costs more time, money and hassle than it is worth to continue avoiding a car payment, any new vehicle looks, feels, smells and performs like a serious upgrade.
Within this context, and based on its deserved reputation for reliability and value, the Toyota Corolla sells itself. It is new. It is shiny. It doesn’t smell like something died inside the glove box. It comes with free scheduled maintenance for two years or 25,000 miles. And check out all of the cool technology, from Bluetooth to automatic emergency braking, and even on the cheapest version there is!
Before you decide that a new Corolla is your dream car, however, check out the competition. Start by researching the safest small cars on the market. Then drive a few of them. Where Toyota has made an undeniable argument in favor of the Corolla is with regard to the standard TSS-P technologies, especially if the car returns to the ranks of the Top Safety Picks when test results are released.
My advice? Before buying a new Corolla, wait to see if it can protect you in a crash as well as it might help you to avoid one in the first place.
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