With rivals getting better tech inclusions and more standard kit, the small sedan segment is as tough as it's ever been for the 2017 Toyota Corolla.
The 2017 Toyota Corolla Ascent is – in our CarAdvice judging parlance – a 7 to 7.5 out of 10 every day of the week. In fact, I’d use two words to describe everything about it. ‘Utterly’ and ‘inoffensive’.
There’s quite simply nothing it does that is either grating or unlikeable. The Corolla remains perhaps the best example of why Toyota sells as many cars as it does, even when they aren’t the standard-setters in the segment.
Straight up, the Corolla’s appeal becomes evident in its pricing, which is among the most competitive in the segment. With the CVT included, pricing starts from $23,490 for the Ascent model grade tested here.
Standard equipment highlights for this refreshed 2017 model year Corolla include: 15-inch alloy wheels, revised front and rear styling, new LED taillights, an optional safety package costing ($1500) for this specification grade which includes pre-collision warning, AEB, lane departure warning and automatic high beams, 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment, Toyota Link apps, 4.2-inch driver’s display screen and a rear-view camera (but no sensors).
Under the bonnet, there’s a four-cylinder engine mated to a seven-speed CVT. The engine generates an easy 103kW at 6400rpm and 173Nm at 4000rpm and consumes an ADR-claimed 6.8L/100km. On test, over a week behind the wheel, we used an indicated 9.1L/100km.
Inside the cabin, we appreciated the way Toyota has worked the design and execution of the infotainment screen, which appears bigger than it is. It’s a clear and easy to decipher display, too. The point needs to be made though, it feels out of date in terms of the fonts used and the general feel of the operating system.
There’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, which means you’ll need the Toyota proprietary app on your smartphone to tap into any of the added functionality.
We don't like the steering wheel, which looks and feels cheap and is formed from a poly-type mould. The buttons to control basic functionality are there, but they don’t bring any feeling of premium inclusion to the front of mind.
Annoyingly, there's no digital speedo, a broad, slab-fronted dash that takes up a lot more cabin space than we reckon is necessary (in terms of space and ergonomic design) and gauges that are clear but don't offer anything special in the way of interactivity or information.
Around town, the most important inclusion is likely to be the rear-view camera, which is clear and wide with accurate guidelines that work well. In short, it makes reverse parking – and parallel parking for that matter – as easy as it could possibly be. We liked the forward collision avoidance system fitted to our test Corolla too, but remember that it costs $1500 as part of the pack we listed above.
You’ll find it easy to get comfortable behind the wheel, with the driver’s seat adjustable for height and rake and the steering wheel adjustable for tilt and reach. There’s good visibility once you’re settled in too, which adds to the feeling that the Corolla is an easy sedan to drive.
Strangely, given the cheap feel of the steering wheel, the other major touch points in the cabin are well executed. The doors get decent padding front and rear, and there’s fabric trim with soft touch plastic at the tops of the doors where your elbows are likely to come in contact with them.
Also noteworthy is the fact both driver and passenger vanity mirrors are illuminated, and there’s a handy sunglasses storage hidey-hole as well.
The Corolla can’t match the segment leaders for interior storage though, with door bins we'd describe as okay, while the console doesn't make the most of the available space and isn’t as big as it looks like it would be from the outside.
Further, the back door storage bins are shallow but will hold bottles large enough for the kids on longer road trips. There are twin map pockets in the second row and the centre armrest in the second row folds down and features two cupholders with a cover. There’s more than enough room in the second row for adults too, something that belies the Corolla’s compact exterior dimensions.
The Toyota Corolla has recently received revisions to its CVT, which according to Toyota, 'make it deliver quicker, crisper shifts and improves acceleration off the mark'. We can report the theory plays out in the real world when you need to get up to speed in snappy fashion.
However, if you need to dart into a gap or cut across traffic rapidly, it’s still possible to catch the Corolla’s CVT out and it’s no match for a properly sorted conventional automatic
It has to be said however – and we hate having to admit it given how much a CVT saps the fun out of driving – the Toyota’s is reasonably quiet, refined and well behaved. It seems to get the best out of the engine with none of the nastiness we used to despise with early iterations of the CVT.
Interestingly, the Corolla rides a little firmer around town than we expected and doesn’t waft along in typical Toyota fashion. It still feels planted, comfortable and reassured, but it’s just a little firmer than we expected.
What you would expect is the Corolla running out of grip at the limit, and that proves to be the case without trying too hard. It can tend toward understeer if you wind the wick up a little (99.99 per cent of owners won’t) and the harsh stability control system kicks in to reign everything back in.
We found the Corolla’s steering to be excellent across the broad spectrum of around town driving disciplines and it has a great turning circle for negotiating the city too. It does have that weird sensation on centre on the freeway that so many modern systems do and when cornering you often have to add a bit more lock to the equation than you initially thought you might require. While it’s not something that would prevent us buying the Corolla, it’s a factor worth noting given some manufacturers seem so capable of delivering an excellent power-assisted steering system.
The Corolla comes with Toyota’s three-year/100,000km warranty, and a capped-price servicing scheme. The pricing of the scheme is extremely competitive and will cost owners just $140 per visit for the first three years or 60,000km, whichever comes first. Services are due every 10,000km, which means over the first three years, if you travel 20,000km per year, the total will be $840.
As I noted from the outset, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the Corolla in any of the ways we assess a new vehicle. It’s easy to fall into the trap set by many critics who call Toyotas boring or bland, but you only need to spend some time with any of their broad product portfolio to understand why owners love them as much as they do.
The Corolla Ascent isn’t perfect, and it’s not the head of the segment. It is however, a perfectly capable and excellent value for money daily driver that promises to never let you down. That’s why we’ve gone with a 7.5 overall score here.