Taking advantage of its six-speed manual transmission, I wind the engine up to 6,000rpm, aiming for the car's peak 132 horsepower. With a curb weight well under 3,000 pounds, it accelerates well, but the loose, soft suspension and vague steering indicate the 2017 Toyota Corolla was built for more suburban activities.
In truth, I didn't expect to be blown away by the Corolla's driving character during a Toyota-sponsored press drive. But something else about the car caught my eye. Not only does the new Corolla come standard with LED headlights, it also gets adaptive cruise control and collision prevention, also standard.
These upgrades for the 2017 model year give the Corolla a fighting chance against its impressive array of competition. In a Roadshow Rivals test earlier this year, the 2016 Corolla couldn't hold a candle to the Honda Civic or Hyundai Elantra.
The Corolla received its last generational update in 2012, unfortunate timing as this year is the model's 50th anniversary, but it won't likely see a major update until 2019. For now, Toyota dresses it up with some exterior flourishes, matching Toyota's new styling and its new tech. And it doesn't hurt that the tech comes standard.
The active safety tech comes as part of a package that Toyota calls Safety Sense-P, which uses radar and a camera to enable adaptive cruise control, collision prevention and lane-keeping assist. Automatic high beams even come as part of the package. Outside of Safety Sense-P, Toyota also makes a backup camera standard.
The collision prevention system includes the ability to detect pedestrians, and with its automatic braking can completely prevent low-speed collisions, while mitigating those at higher speeds.
Adaptive cruise control lets the Corolla automatically match speeds with slower traffic ahead, slowing it below its set speed. However, this system only works between 25 and 110 mph, according to Toyota, so you will need to take over in a traffic jam. When I turned on the lane-keeping system, the car sounded a warning tone when I got the tires too close to a lane line, and actively pulled the wheel if I didn't, preventing it from going off the road. That system also cuts out at lower speeds, but it might save drivers who doze off on the highway.
Standard on higher Corolla trims and available on all but the base model, Toyota offers a 7-inch touchscreen head unit it calls Entune Audio Plus with Connected Navigation. With this system, "Connected Navigation" means loading the free Scout GPS Link app, for Android or iOS, on your smartphone, then connecting it to the car. Although I did not have the chance to try it out during this drive event, I've had good experiences with Scout navigation in the past, so this should be a good navigation solution.
Buyers of high-trim Corollas can also opt for an onboard navigation system.
Given the 2017 Corolla represents a midcycle refresh, Toyota restyled the front a bit, but the drivetrain carries over from the previous model year. That means a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine making 132 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque, mated to either a continuously variable transmission or, as in the SE model I drove, a six-speed manual. Expect fuel economy to range between the Corolla's 28 mpg city and 32 mpg highway numbers, with a 2 mpg drop for the manual transmission.
For maximum fuel economy, Toyota offers the Corolla LE Eco, ranging from 30 mpg city to 40 mpg highway.
The base model, the 2017 Corolla L, comes in at only $18,500, impressive when you consider the high-tech safety features. In top trim as the Corolla XSE, the base price only comes to $22,680. Although the competition looks strong, these prices and standard features give Toyota a value leader position.