2017 Toyota Corolla Sedan XSE Road Test

What is it about style? Why are most of us so susceptible to it? When the current 11th-generation Corolla was introduced in 2013
2017 Toyota Corolla Sedan XSE
The new 2017 Toyota Corolla XSE should work well for most style mavens. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
for the 2014 model year it was considered the most stylish car in its class. I was shocked by a progressive design that even made base models look both classy and sporty at a premium level, aided by complex standard LED headlamps and taillights. In comparison, previous generations were at best conservatively handsome even when new, but the most recent model was a real head-turner, a total knockout by economy car standards.

Sales immediately jumped, from 40,906 units in 2012 to 44,449 in 2013 when first introduced, and then 48,881 deliveries in 2014, the first full year of availability. People liked what they saw, as well as the much better looking, more refined interior filled with up-to-date electronics, its improved ride and handling, etcetera.
2017 Toyota Corolla Sedan XSE
Its rear design hasn’t changed much, but it still looks good. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
Still, sales have ebbed over the past couple of years, sliding to 47,918 units in 2015 and then 45,626 last year, the latter of which allowed the nicely redesigned 2017 Hyundai Elantra (which arrived on the scene in early 2016) to take back its second-place lead with 48,875 deliveries, although both models’ Canadian market success pale in comparison to Honda’s perennial bestselling Civic that despite an especially dramatic segment-upending redesign for the previous model year actually saw its sales dip from 64,950 units in 2015 to 64,552 last year, yet it still holds onto its crown by a very wide margin.

In comparison, the once powerful Mazda3 saw its 2016 calendar year sales plunge to 27,689 units from 34,811 in 2015 and 40,974 in 2014 (it was as high as 47,740
2017 Toyota Corolla Sedan XSE
The SE and XSE’s frontal design is downright aggressive. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
units in 2010), while Chevy’s Cruze dropped under the 30k threshold for the first time since inception with a total of 26,824 deliveries. It’s probably not fair to sum up Volkswagen’s compact sales by separating its models as none of the others do, its 20,954 Jettas, 19,966 Golfs, 2,453 GTIs and 2,402 Beetles combining for a sizeable 45,775 compacts in 2016, while Ford’s Focus plummeted to 16,627 units, Nissan’s Sentra was fairly steady at 14,281, Kia actually grew its Forte sales to 12,296, as did Subaru with 11,673 Impreza deliveries (not including 4,217 WRX/STIs), and Mitsubishi with 6,575 Lancers, while remaining compact sales were nominal.

This slight sag in Civic and Corolla sales and collective drop for most others has more
2017 Toyota Corolla Sedan XSE
Standard LED headlights with auto high beams set all Corolla Sedan trims apart. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
to do with an upsurge in compact SUV popularity than any issues with the various compact sedans, coupes, and hatchbacks available (although some are getting quite old). Honda now sells all three of the noted body styles with the introduction of a new five-door hatchback, while Toyota now offers two thanks to melding the Scion iM five-door into a new “Corolla Family”. While Toyota would no doubt love me to mention that their recently refreshed RAV4 placed first in its category with sales of 49,103 units throughout 2016 compared to the previous bestselling Ford Escape’s 46,661, it would only be fair to mention the CR-V shot up from third in 2016 after 44,789 sales to first over the initial two months of 2017 with 6,091 deliveries compared to the RAV4’s 5,707; it’s a fun game for us to watch, but it’s serious business to them. In comparison the two Corolla models
2017 Toyota Corolla Sedan XSE
Vertically stacked LED driving lights add to the SE/XSE’s visual drama. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
combined for 5,996 sales during January and February, whereas the three Civic body styles are already much farther ahead with 7,251.

Toyota hopes the Corolla iM will increase sales under its namesake brand, which was a very good decision for a car that deserves much more attention than its old Scion branding allowed, while a dramatically refreshed 2017 Corolla Sedan should give good reason for compact four-door buyers to once again consider Toyota. I really like what they’d done with its exterior styling, especially up front where new LED headlamp clusters blend more fluidly into a revised horizontal upper grille, while a much deeper, bolder and dare I say aggressive gloss black lower grille gives even the base car a determinedly sporty character.

2017 Toyota Corolla Sedan XSE
Attractive 17-inch alloys enhance design and performance. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
new Corolla’s frontal design is even more pronounced in SE trim and this top-line XSE pictured here, where its emblem protrudes farther outward and its lower grille insert gets filled with a gloss black mesh insert. At each corner a set of nicely sculpted faux vents get replaced by four gloss black horizontal strakes feeding into neatly stacked vertical LED driving lights, these ahead of large 17-inch machine-finished alloys with black painted pockets, while the rear end design that’s more subtly updated overall merely gets a discreet rear spoiler on Eco, SE and XSE trims. The overall look is eye-catching and should appeal to most of the Corolla’s faithful as well as other compact buyers who are tired of waiting for updates to their current rides, while those turned off by the Civic’s angular spaceship design may find the more traditionally shaped Corolla a welcome alternative.

2017 Toyota Corolla Sedan XSE
The rear deck lid spoiler aids aerodynamics to improve fuel economy. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
the Corolla’s updated interior will come down to personal taste too, the Civic by far the segment’s new leader from a technology standpoint, particularly when viewing its digitized driving instruments and using its new electromechanical parking brake, while the Elantra and Corolla are similarly strong with their infotainment systems and HVAC interfaces, but more conventional in their primary gauge packages, both offering the usual dual-dial analog tachometer and speedometer setup flanking large, tall multi-information displays, and hand operated mechanical parking brake levers. Levels of refinement are good all-round, with some layering on premium-like soft touch synthetic surfaces in different if not more places, as is the case for metallic and piano black lacquer accents, etcetera.

2017 Toyota Corolla Sedan XSE
The Corolla’s LED taillights remain very attractive. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
course, such niceties are dependent on the trim level chosen, my Corolla XSE tester filled to the brim with everything Toyota’s has available within its compact four-door offering. With respect to previously noted details, the entire dash-top as well as much of the instrument panel gets covered in particularly upscale pliable plastics, but the door uppers get neglected across the entire Corolla line, while this sportier car substitutes the majority of shiny metallics used in alternative trims for glossy black surfaces.

Therefore the motif is mostly black, albeit with bold blue highlights accenting the primary instruments, contrast stitching across the dash, a thin plastic trim-line highlighting each door panel, and piping that edges each SofTex pleather seat front
2017 Toyota Corolla Sedan XSE
The SE/XSE’s interior combines refined luxury elements with a sporty design. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
to back, while only the front shoulder bolsters and headrests benefit from yet more blue stitching. I say benefit because I happened to like it, although contrarily my partner didn’t. Yes, it’s hard to please everyone when pushing style boundaries.

Likewise it’s difficult to find everyone’s sweet spot when it comes to technologies, but most should be happy with Toyota’s new infotainment system. It’s a big 7.0-inch touchscreen with a guideline-enhanced backup camera, handy quick-access “buttons” at each side for the audio system at the top left and station/track seek on the top right, while on the bottom right there’s a phone button and the on the left side “HOME” button opens a default dual or three-way split-screen with multiple features shown simultaneously, while just above is an “APPS” button that displays
2017 Toyota Corolla Sedan XSE
The dash top and much of the instrument panel are covered in soft touch synthetics. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
every feature available including a message centre, eco driving monitor, car setup controls, maintenance minder, and navigation system with mapping, that latter standard with the XSE (which takes over last year’s SE with the tech package).

Of note, Toyota’s infotainment system doesn’t include Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and what’s more you’ll need to wait until the 2018 model year to get its Entune App Suite in Canada. It reportedly gives access to Pandora and iHeartRadio, plus lets you make restaurant reservations, purchase movie tickets, get sports scores, find fuel prices, as well as access real-time traffic and weather updates from the touchscreen. Is it what Canadian buyers want? You’ll soon have the option of voting with your wallet, and no doubt they’ll respond if you choose otherwise.

Additional XSE equipment includes rear disc brakes, heatable power-adjustable side mirrors with integrated turn signals, proximity-sensing
2017 Toyota Corolla Sedan XSE
The mostly analog gauge cluster gets a large multi-info display at centre. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
keyless access, pushbutton ignition, a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a HomeLink garage door opener, automatic climate control, voice recognition, decent sounding six-speaker audio, satellite radio, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB and aux ports, an eight-way powered driver’s seat, realistic feeling SofTex simulated leather upholstery, two-way heatable front seats, a powered moonroof, tire pressure monitoring, and all the usual active and passive safety equipment.

As you may already be aware, Toyota has long touted its Star Safety System that includes ABS-enhanced brakes, auto brake assist, electronic brake-force distribution, traction and stability control, exclusive Smart Stop
2017 Toyota Corolla Sedan XSE
The centre stack is nicely laid out and filled with premium-like features. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
Technology that will stop the vehicle when both throttle and brake pedal are pressed simultaneously, while a full allotment of airbags also come standard, the latter including a driver’s knee blocker and front passenger seat cushion airbag. When this brand-wide program was introduced it was novel, especially amongst entry-level models, but now most of Toyota’s competitors have caught up. What to do? In its quest to keep its customers safest, all 2017 Corollas will also include an entirely new package of high-tech features dubbed Toyota Safety Sense (TSS).

TSS isn’t exclusive to the Corolla, but rather Toyota plans to roll the suite of safety features out across its entire lineup as models get updated. Currently Toyota splits its TSS systems into two categories, with the Corolla Sedan utilizing TSS-P (as do the Prius, RAV4, RAV4 Hybrid,
2017 Toyota Corolla Sedan XSE
The Corolla XSE’s infotainment touchscreen includes standard navigation. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
Highlander, Highlander Hybrid, and Avalon), and the new Corolla iM coming standard with TSS-C (as do the Yaris Hatchback and Prius C).

TSS-C (“C” for car) is the lesser system that only includes auto high beams for dimming your headlights when surrounding vehicles come into your line of sight, a Pre-Collision System that immediately slows/stops your car if it detects an imminent crash, and Lane Departure Alert that notifies you if a car is just behind you in the adjacent lane. The Corolla’s more advanced TSS-P system includes all of the above plus Pedestrian detection for the Pre-Collision System (the “P” in the acronym for person), as well as active steering assist that will turn your front wheels back towards your current lane if it detects a car in the adjacent lane when you
2017 Toyota Corolla Sedan XSE
TSS-P is Toyota’s best active safety suite, ensuring a Top Safety Pick Plus rating from the IIHS. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
attempt to change lanes, and dynamic cruise control that maintains a safe distance behind a given vehicle even if that vehicle slows. TSS-P results in a Top Safety Pick Plus rating from the IIHS in base trim, the Corolla the only car in its class to achieve such a high standard safety rating.

Also standard with SE and XSE trims is a sequential shifter for the sport-tuned CVTi-S continuously variable transmission, as well as a Sport mode and steering wheel paddles, the latter two items also unusually welcome within this class of car. For those lamenting the lack of a manual transmission in this top-tier model, take some refuge in knowing that Toyota will let you outfit its six-speed manual equipped Corolla with all of the same visual and performance upgrades in SE trim (sans
2017 Toyota Corolla Sedan XSE
See the blue piping on the seat? It’s not for everyone, but it’s certainly sporty. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
Sport mode or paddles of course), but those that fight the daily commute will be glad to know the Corolla SE/XSE CVT is a cut above most others on offer from rival brands.

The CVTi-S makes the most of the Corolla’s 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine, its output rated at just 132 horsepower and 128 lb-ft of torque. I say just because it’s one of the more conservative powertrains in the segment, and there’s no performance upgrade when moving up to its sportiest trims. This won’t be an issue for most buyers who use their cars for commuting to and from work during the week and running errands on weekends, but those looking for extracurricular stimulation may be disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, as it gets up and goes quickly enough and there’s ample power for passing on the highway, but it won’t exactly
2017 Toyota Corolla Sedan XSE
The SE/XSE sport seats are wonderfully comfortable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
cause fear in the hearts of sport compact owners at the stoplight. I’ve learned to have fun no matter what level of power is on tap and the Corolla XSE’s nicely sorted independent front and twist-beam rear suspension setup provided enough action through twisting two-laners to excite when opportunity arose.

More importantly it’s a comfortable car with a nice composed ride and good sound isolation, which is more of what the compact car segment is about anyway, while its as-tested fuel economy is excellent at a claimed 8.3 L/100km city, 6.7 highway and 7.5 combined. Of note, Corollas with the six-speed manual are good for 8.4 L/100km city, 6.5 highway and 7.5 combined, while Eco trim achieves an estimated 7.8 city, 5.9 highway and 6.9 combined.

2017 Toyota Corolla Sedan XSE
A powered glass sunroof is standard in XSE trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
roomy too, the front seating area ideal for most body types, especially when it comes to headroom, while those relegated to the rear shouldn’t complain unless ultra-large. On that note I’m not ultra-large, but nevertheless my nearly average five-foot-eight medium-build frame had about six inches available ahead of my knees when the driver’s seat was set to my body height (and I push the seat farther back than most my size due to longer legs than torso), plus about four inches above my head and no shortage from side to side. My guess is that three people my size would be relatively comfortable in back, although two would be happier due to a comfortable armrest that folds down from center. Those seats are split 60/40 for expanding the reasonable large 369-litre (13.0 cubic-foot) trunk when longer cargo requires.

2017 Toyota Corolla Sedan XSE
With plenty of room in back, the Corolla is comfortable for rear passengers. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
note, my tester’s trunk wasn’t attached properly, its normally tight fitting gaps badly askew (the left side sat about 5/8ths higher). It didn’t hamper opening or closing but it was aesthetically disturbing, while my only other complaint relates to driver’s seat ergonomics, my just noted body type requiring more telescopic reach than Toyota provides. I’ve griped about this problem with the Corolla and other Toyota models before, because there’s only about an inch and a half of play between fully forward and maximum extension, which leaves me stretching my arms to reach the top of the steering wheel. All I can say is make sure you feel comfortable and fully in control before you buy.

Other than these two issues I
2017 Toyota Corolla Sedan XSE
A generous trunk provides 60/40-split seatbacks for stowing longer cargo. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
can only say good things about the updated Corolla, especially in XSE trim. At $25,410 before freight, dealer fees and taxes it strikes a very competitive deal, and at the time of writing Toyota was discounting it another $1,000 further no questions asked. Alternatively you can get into a base Corolla for just $16,390, but I’ll leave discussion of this car until reviewing a Corolla LE I recently drove. Until then you should seriously consider the new Corolla when shopping for a compact, as it delivers well on most counts and extremely high on safety and reliability, while Toyota is one of the best brands around when it comes to retained value, or so says both Canadian Black Book and ALG. As far as style goes, it should meet most peoples’ needs for new and improved, and then some.
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