The 2017 Toyota Corolla SX has sporty looks and decent road manners, and it now comes with new optional safety tech – but it's still a bit short of the best in class.
If you’re planning to buy a small car this year, there’s every chance a 2017 Toyota Corolla is on your list.
The SX model is offered with a new safety pack as a $750 option (also on the Ascent, Ascent Sport and Hybrid models), while the pack is standard equipment in the flagship ZR.
The new optional pack includes forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking (which works at speeds from 10-80km/h), along with lane departure alert and automatic high-beam headlights.
The forward collision avoidance system works using a windscreen-mounted camera and LIDAR to identify and warn (beep) or take action (prime the brakes, and actually brake if required), if a possible crash is imminent. Unlike some other systems, there’s no adaptive cruise control function built in to the tech.
Lane departure alert likewise uses LIDAR to identify lane markings to trigger warnings if the vehicle begins to leave the lane without the turn signal active. Unlike lane-keeping assist systems, it will not adjust the steering for you: it’ll just beep to warn you that you’ve made a mistake. It works over 50km/h, and it beeps fairly often – six times, in fact, unless you correct your course.
Just 12 months ago this sort of technology was almost exotic at this price point, but now you can get similar systems in plenty of small cars, like the Subaru Impreza and Mazda 3 – in the latter, AEB is standard across the range, but spec-for-spec the Corolla is a little cheaper, obviously leaving the choice to buyers if they want to spend the money on the technology or not.
On the topic of price, our SX model is listed at $26,000 plus on-road costs, and that plots it as the second-from-top model in the regular petrol Corolla range – the frugal Corolla Hybrid is a little dearer, at $27,530. The SX is styled almost identically to the more expensive ZR, with the pair both fitted with a sportier looking lower body kit and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Nothing has changed in terms of standard equipment in the SX, apart from the fact that the cheaper manual model has been ditched from this variant. Unlike the ZR with its LED headlights the SX has halogens, and it doesn’t get LED daytime running lights, either.
There's no push-button start and no keyless entry, and you don’t get leather seat trim, either – instead, the cloth seat trim is stitched in funky polarising orange. So it isn’t flush with standard kit, but you do get satellite navigation standard.
The media system lacks the latest connectivity – there’s no Android Auto or Apple CarPlay – but there is touchscreen with Bluetooth phone and audio stream and ToyotaLink app connectivity, and unlike some competitors it has a CD player. There’s a driver information screen in front of the driver, but as with Lexus, Toyota continues to baffle us by not offering a digital speedometer.
You’ll either be a fan of the upright, pronounced dashboard that seems to sit quite high in front of the occupants, or you won’t. You sit quite low in the cabin, and while the seats are comfortable and offer enough adjustment, the steering wheel – with tilt and reach adjustment – doesn’t quite offer enough of the latter for those of us with long limbs.
Taller peeps may not be fans of the rear-seat accommodation, either: the space is adequate, but headroom is a little bit tight and knee- and toe-room isn’t the best in the class, but nor is it the worst. The flat rear floor means three across mightn’t be too terrible. There are no rear air-vents, but there are dual ISOFIX outboard child-seat anchor-points, as well as three top-tether hooks.
Rear-seat occupants have access to a pair of map pockets for storage, while there is a centre flip-down arm-rest with cupholders. There are bottle holsters in the rear door cards, and up front there are bottle holders with a shallow sleeve for documents and the like. The centre console between the front seats is quite small, and the space in front of the gear-selector – where the USB port is – is too small to leave your phone when you put the car in park, but there are big cupholders.
One area where the Toyota falls short is boot space: there’s only 360 litres of cargo capacity available (note: an earlier version of this story said the boot space was 280L), well short of the better examples in the class (Peugeot 308: 425L). The seats fold down reasonably flat in a 60:40 fashion if you need to load larger items, and under the boot floor there’s a space-saver spare wheel and a small storage section.
The design of the Corolla’s rear end means that over-shoulder vision isn't terrific, and nor is rearward vision through the rear-view mirror, because of the shallow glass of the hatch.
When you’re on the road, the Corolla’s unchanged 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine remains – again – adequate, without being exceptional. The petrol engine has 103kW of power and 173Nm of torque – fine for the class – and at open-road speed it cruises along nicely, with the continuously variable transmission (CVT) auto keeping revs under control on flat sections decently.
Reach a hill, though, and the CVT can drone noisily to maintain pace. It's a transmission that prefers to remain in the lowest part of the rev range, and that means it can feel like you are lurching under on/off throttle at times. Pressing the Sport mode button will make the transmission keep the engine revving a little bit higher (about 500rpm at cruising speed) and results in a noticeable improvement when you are on and off the throttle.
Down hills the gearbox holds revs a little higher than you might expect, allowing some engine braking, and if you decide to take matters into your own hands in manual mode – there are paddle-shifters, too – it is generally well behaved. The ‘shifts’ aren’t as genuine as a standard auto would feel, but nor is it disappointing in its action.
If you’re pushing it a little harder there are noticeable steps in the transmission where it feels like it's trying to mimic a conventional automatic, and the engine – while not a powerhouse – is certainly willing enough when you plant your foot.
Fuel use is rated at 6.1 litres per 100 kilometres, though we saw 8.5L/100km across a mix of different driving disciplines.
It is adept at dealing with corners – more than you might think a Corolla should be – with really good grip in tightening corners, and its steering response copes solidly with mid-corner adjustments. On straighter stretches the steering is fine, too, without that unnatural feel some cars exhibit on centre – it is natural and predictable.
The Corolla’s suspension (as with its steering) saw some upgrades in 2016, and it remains well sorted in terms of its suspension tune. It copes decently with sharp-edged speed humps, and while the front end can jolt a little over chopped surfaces, it’s never clumsy or uncomfortable.
While the Corolla may not be the best-equipped car in the class, it remains one of the most affordable to own. The servicing costs are low – $140 per scheduled visit, meaning $280 per year (maintenance is due every six months or 10,000km, whichever occurs first) – and there’s three years of capped-price cover. The car is covered by a three-year/100,000km warranty, but there’s no free roadside assist included.
It’s fair to say that the Corolla is a perfectly adequate small car. Indeed, if adequacy were in art form, Toyota’s work would be as collectible as Picasso.
So if you like the look of the Corolla SX and you can deal with the fact it isn’t the best for space and equipment, you should put it on your list. Or perhaps check out one of the less expensive Corolla models, or the Hybrid.
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