The XSE sits at the top of the Corolla lineup for 2017 and, like all Corollas this year, offers a slew of standard active safety features. But despite its sporting pretensions, it remains a sensible, rather than fun-to-drive, compact sedan.
Rear seat room
Harsher ride than other models
2017 Toyota Corolla XSE
The Toyota Corolla is a popular choice in the compact sedan segment for a number of reasons. It's reliable, economical to own, and comes with better-than-average resale values. It's also the best-selling nameplate in history, with over forty-three million copies sold since its introduction in the fall of 1966.
For 2017, Toyota has given the three-year-old eleventh-generation Corolla a mild facelift. Here's how those changes shake out:
Up front, while the XSE shares the same hood and headlight enclosures, the fascia is unique to "S" models. The lower air intake features a narrower floating black floating bumper, while the lower air intake features a mesh grill, rather than the horizontal bars featured on other Corolla models. The headlamp enclosures retain the all-new complex-LED headlights found on the XLE and remain the best we've ever encountered on a compact sedan. The faux air intake pods that bracket the lower grille, on the other hand, are deeper and more aggressive-looking on S models and contain a vertical array of LED daytime running lamps.
Along the sides, however, even this sporty trim level remains uninteresting. There's just a single character line - that runs from just behind the front wheel well, terminating at the midpoint of the rear tail lamps – to break up the monotony. Even the optional body side moldings, in this case, add a bit of style. XSE models also receive the largest wheels in the entire Corolla lineup – 17x7-inch alloys.
In back, the XSE is differentiated by a small decklid lip spoiler.
The interior is every bit as practical as the exterior. The horizontal dash pad has been re-shaped and is softer to the touch. There's a narrow, soft trim strip below it that features a narrow welt with blue stitching. The size of the infotainment screen is unchanged, but the hard buttons surrounding it have been replaced by flush, soft-touch controls. Likewise, the controls for the heating and air conditioning system are now flush and pressure-sensitive.
The instrumentation is clear, easy to read, and intuitive to operate. The XSE trim get a two gauge cluster with a 3.5-inch TFT screen between them. The touchscreen infotainment system is within easy reach, while the flush-mounted surfaces surrounding it control many of its' major functions. Bluetooth is standard as is Toyota's simple, user-friendly Entune app suite.
With 97.1 cubic feet of passenger space (in sunroof-equipped models), there's plenty of leg, hip, shoulder and headroom up front. But despite its sporting pretensions, even the seats on our XSE tester offered only average amounts of thigh, lateral and lumbar support. On the bright side, with 41.4 inches of legroom, over an inch more than the current Camry, there really is room for three adults in back.
Visibility for the driver is very good in front and decent out the sides, back and rear three-quarters. All Corolla trim levels now get a standard rear view camera. But the big news is that, for the 2017 model year, all Corollas now come standard with Toyota's Safety Sense-P system. It includes a pre-collision with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning with steering assist, dynamic radar cruise control and automatic high beam headlights. Oddly, a blind spot monitor is not offered, even as an option.
Under the hood
The XSE may be the sport model, but (with the exception of LE Eco) it still uses the same 1.8-liter DOHC inline-4 as most of the Corolla lineup. Equipped with dual variable valve timing and a 10.0:1 compression ratio, it produces a less-than-heart-pounding 132 horsepower and 128 lb-ft of torque. Adding insult to injury, the only available transmission is a performance-sucking CVT automatic.
The EPA rates the 2017 Corolla XSE at 28/35/31 city/highway/combined, while we managed a better-than-average 30.2 mpg in city driving.
On the road
The latest Corolla is the best handling one yet, but that is faint praise. It's more than adequate for everything from commuting to taking the family on vacation, but despite some sporty bits (sport mode, paddle shifters) plus SE/XSE-exclusive rear disc brakes, it's not a sports sedan. For one, it lacks the steering feedback and responsive suspension found in the best vehicles in this class. The chassis also exhibits noticeable body lean in corners, acceleration can be measured with an hourglass and, when pressed, there is a noticeable drone from the engine as the CVT attempts to hold revs at 4,000 rpm even under hard acceleration.
Despite those shortcomings, handling is secure and the ride is well controlled. Minor road irregularities are also handled well, but bigger bumps and potholes are transmitted through the body – something we chalk up to its larger 17-inch wheels and lower profile tires. Feedback through the pedal is improved, thanks to the rear disc brakes, but there's still not a lot of initial bite to the pads. At the same time, braking is responsive, linear and easy to modulate.
For its size, there isn't much in the way of wind or tire noise entering the, especially in around town driving. At freeway speeds the softly-sprung suspension makes it feels like a much larger sedan – although that's not always a good thing. On the other hand, the ride is very comfortable without the floating feeling found in many small cars that sacrifice agility for suspension travel.
2017 Toyota Corolla prices
2017 Corolla prices, including an $865 delivery fee, start at $19,365 for a base L model. That's a $1,230 increase from last year, but it reflects the additional costs of a rear view camera and the added safety equipment. It also covers the cost of a CVT transmission, as the base transmission on the 2016 Corolla L was a 6-speed manual.
Corolla pricing in 2017 can top out at close to $25,000 for a fully-accessorized XSE, which is where this tester landed.
Starting with a base price of $22,680, this particular XSE also came with the $525 premium audio package, $209 for body side moldings, $129 for mudguards, $199 for door sill enhancements and $224 for carpeted floor mats and a trunk mat. This brought its' total Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price, including destination charges, to $24,831.
The Bottom Line
Although it's boring for a so-called sporty model, we found that there are things we like about the Corolla XSE. It comes with decent fuel economy and a quiet, roomy interior. It also has arguably the best standard headlight setup of any compact we've driven.
On the other hand, ride and handling is just average, while overall performance is only adequate – almost a given in a 2,885 pound vehicle saddled with 132 horsepower and a CVT. In fact, the engine drone when you put your foot into it quickly puts a damper on any aspirations of fun.
But the bottom line is that Corolla buyers are only looking for dependable transportation. The newest version is all that and, if nothing else, is also a pleasant car to drive around town and even on long stretches of freeway. Current owners will appreciate the improvements made to the latest generation, while its smooth, quiet ride – combined with Toyota's quality and reliability – will probably attract even more buyers to the Corolla nameplate.