It’s getting hard to match up the cars with their manufacturers these days. The Toyota Yaris iA sedan we test-drove a few weeks ago was a subcompact Mazda that evolved into a Scion iA and, when Toyota discontinued its Scion brand last year, became a Yaris iA. Meanwhile, the Scion iM hatchback, which we judged the best car Toyota’s entry-level brand ever produced, is now a Corolla iM. But fear not: The tried and true Yaris and Corolla are still with us. They just have personalities that are markedly different from same-name models with different body styles.
Take the 2017 Corolla XLE we test-drove in mid-April. It’s Toyota through and through — comfortable, functional and reassuring, but unexciting. Of the iM we drove in 2015, we observed: “It rides as smoothly and quietly as Toyota’s venerable Corolla, (but) it’s more fun to drive and costs less when comparably equipped.”
Why buy a Corolla? Well, its production record is hard to beat. The first Corollas rolled onto these shores 50 years ago, and Toyota has been producing them without a break ever since. People have kept coming back to the Corolla because it’s inexpensive, reliable, durable and fuel-efficient, year after year.
Our Corolla XLE test car was a 4-door sedan priced at $23,717. It wasn’t fast, and when we took a sharp corner at moderate speed, it didn’t summon forth memories of the last Porsche Boxster we drove. Toyota’s goal was to make the car as comfortable as possible, within the limits of its compact size and price. Our tallest driver had plenty of room, and the back seat was comparatively roomy. The ride was commendably smooth and quiet, though not up to the standards of Toyota’s top-selling passenger car, the midsize Camry.
The base Corolla L starts at $18,500. In XLE trim, the Corolla’s standard features included power moonroof, heated front seats, power front seats, Entune audio system with navigation and 7-inch touch-screen, Entune multimedia bundle, push-button start, automatic climate control, and power door locks and windows.
Fuel economy is excellent but not class-leading, at 28 mpg city, 36 highway.
Toyota’s commitment to safety is, in a word, extreme. In crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Corolla was awarded Top Safety Pick Plus status. But that’s just the beginning. In addition to a backup camera, our Corolla was equipped with a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, dynamic radar cruise control, lane-departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams and whiplash-injury-lessening front seats. Remarkably, these safety features are standard at every trim level. But lifesaving crash-avoidance technology like the rear cross-traffic alert and blind-spot warning system remain unavailable.
Competitors in the compact-sedan segment include the Honda Civic, Nissan Sentra, Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze, Mazda3, Hyundai Elantra and Kia Forte. Some, especially the Civic, Focus and Mazda3, are more engaging to drive than the Corolla. But the Corolla long has been assigned to a different mission and performs it well.
Engine: 1.8-liter inline Four, 132 horsepower, 128 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: continuously variable automatic
Weight: 2,870 lb.
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear
Wheels: 16-in. machined alloy
Tires: 205/55R16 all-season
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 13 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 13.2 gal.
Fuel economy: 28 mpg city, 36 mpg highway
Fuel type: Regular unleaded gasoline
Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.