Today’s Corolla too dull? Wait ‘till 2020. Meantime, the 2018 boasts some solid virtues

2018 Toyota Corolla

2018 Toyota Corolla

What changes will make the 2018 Toyota Corolla different?

Probably not much, coming off a freshening for model-year 2017 and heading for a full model-year 2020 redesign. The ’17 Corolla sedan got updated styling, a newly standard suite of advanced safety features, and a revised model lineup. And it continued a roster expanded for model-year 2016 by the iM, a four-door hatchback inherited from Toyota’s now-defunct Scion division. The dust settles for model-year ’18, with the sedan likely to see few changes until the ’20 redesign and the hatchback likely to follow shortly thereafter.

The Corolla sedan outsells the Corolla iM hatchback 20-1, but combine them and the result is America’s best-selling compact-car line. The Honda Civic is a close second, with the Nissan Sentra, Hyundai Elantra, and Chevrolet Cruze trailing in the distance. Corolla’s calendar 2016 sales are relatively flat — though that’s not a bad thing, considering compact-car sales overall are down 7 percent. Toyota would like to keep Corolla sales at least treading water until the redesigned 2020 sedan comes online during calendar 2019.

Why should I wait for the 2018?

No reason to. Both the sedan and hatchback will almost certainly be repeats of their ’17 counterparts, with perhaps a couple new color choices — and higher sticker prices. The ’18 won’t change mechanically, remaining modest performers that favor low running costs and, for the sedan, comfort over driver engagement. Dimensions won’t change, with passenger room spacious for their exterior size. The sedan lineup should again consist of five models: the stripper L, the volume-selling LE, the sporty-flavored SE, the upscale XLE, and the top-line sporty/upscale XSE. It’ll also return the fuel-economy-optimized LE Eco.

The iM is a size-class smaller than the Corolla sedan and competes more directly with subcompacts such as the Nissan Versa and Hyundai Accent. Hatchbacks, though, are making something of a comeback in the compact class. The body style was recently added to the Civic and Cruise lines and has long been available in a Focus, Mazda 3, and Subaru Impreza and as the Volkswagen Golf, Elantra GT, and Kia Forte5. So it’s possible Toyota could expand the 2018 iM hatchback to more than just the one trim level it inherited from Scion.

Any ’18 Corolla or iM should again benefit from Toyota’s complimentary scheduled maintenance program for the first two years or 25,000 miles of ownership. Add that to the brand’s reputation for reliability and strong resale value when comparing against the competition.

Should I buy a 2017 model instead?

Yes, if you’re among the many who find Corolla satisfies your need for dependable, economical, user-friendly transportation. Sedans come with the additional advantage of standard autonomous emergency braking, a feature that makes them eligible for top safety ratings. Add to that affordability not only in sticker prices but through regular offerings of strong factory incentives. As of this writing, for example, Toyota was offering zero—percent financing for six years on both the ’17 Corolla sedan and hatchback. Finally, model-year 2017 will be your only chance to purchase one of the special-edition 50th Anniversary sedan models, of which Toyota is producing a total of 8,000 units. They’re based on the popular SE variant and are distinguished mostly by their unique paint colors and interior trim.

pic-2

Will the styling be different?

Most likely not. The sedan’s model-year 2017 styling refresh was highlighted by a new front fascia that brought its “face” in line with the look of the brand’s Prius hybrid hatchback, RAV4 compact crossover, and likely the soon-to-be-revealed redesigned 2018 Camry midsize sedan. All ’18 Corolla sedans will again have LED headlights. The high beams function slightly differently on the L, LE, and LE Eco models versus the other trim levels, but this is still a welcome feature and rare in for the class. LEDs are bright and consume less energy than more common automotive lighting. Many Corolla rivals have only LED daytime running lights or no LED lighting at all.

The iM was introduced for model-year 2016 and has swoopier styling than the Corolla sedan, in keeping with its original role as a member of Toyota’s youth-oriented Scion offshoot. It comes with livelier exterior detailing, including a piano-black grille treatment and employs LEDs for daytime running lights, taillamps, and turn-signal indicators integrated into the side mirrors. Its only styling update for ’17 was a change to Toyota badges in place of Scion logos.

Inside, the iM has less passenger room than the Corolla sedan, thought its hatchback design gives it more cargo versatility. Both models have fairly simple controls. Expect the sedan to again employ Toyota’s proprietary Entune infotainment system with Bluetooth connectivity and support for built-in applications that can be managed with a smartphone app. Being a Scion holdover, the hatchback has not offered this functionality. Toyota could fit it with Entune for 2018 in place of continuing with a third-party head unit to supply audio and optional GPS navigation. No Corolla thus far supports Apple CarPlay or Google Android Auto.

Any mechanical changes?

No. All Corolla and iM models have front-wheel drive and a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine. All sedans save the LE Eco have 132 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. Despite being a fuel-economy special, the LE Eco’s engine produces more horsepower (140) but slightly less torque (126 pound feet). Hatchbacks have 137 horsepower and 126 pound-feet of torque. A continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) is standard on all but the hatchback and SE sedan, where it’s a $740 option in place of a 6-speed manual.

No Corolla accelerates quickly, but the manual at least allows you to extract the most potential from the engine, making stick-shift models reasonably entertaining to drive. A smooth shifter and light clutch make them easy to drive, even in heavy traffic. Not so with the CVT. Its programming allows engine speed to race ahead of road speed, making you feel like you’re not making as much forward progress as you really are. Compound this with a very noisy engine and dull handling, and you have a driving experience that lags far behind just about every rival in the competitive set.

The sedan absorbs most bumps without disturbing it occupants, though it’s prone to porpoise-like motion on wavy pavement. Handling isn’t a sedan selling point. Anything more than the gentlest cornering reveals modest tire grip and significant body lean. Add to that numb steering feel and Corolla’s reputation as a boring driving appliance is met. Lighter, smaller, and aimed at the more youthful driver, the iM hatchback is a far better twisty-road companion. It reacts more readily to steering inputs and is more composed overall, thanks in large degree to its all-independent suspension; the sedan by contrast uses a prosaic torsion-beam rear axle. The iM also comes with 17-inch alloy wheels and tires sized generously for a subcompact. The sedan makes due with 15-inch tires on steel wheels as standard on L, LE, and LE Eco models (16-inch wheels are LE and LE Eco options), with 17-inch alloys included with the SE and XSE.

Will fuel economy improve?

No. You would think Corolla’s comparatively low horsepower and enjoyment-sapping CVT would at least pay a dividend at the fuel pump, but it doesn’t, at least not according to the EPA. Ratings for the hatchbacks and sedans, save the LE Eco, are no better than average among rival compact cars.

With the manual transmission, the Corolla sedan rates 28/37/31 mpg city/highway/combined while the iM hatchback gets 27/35/30. For CVT-equipped sedans, the wheel/tire combination you get has an impact on the car’s estimated fuel economy. Non-Eco models have standard 16-inch tires and rate 29/38/32 mpg, while the optional 17s rate 29/37/32.

It’s the same story for the LE Eco, which employs assorted mechanical and aerodynamic tweaks to boost fuel economy. Standard on these models are 15-inch wheels (a rarity among cars of any size nowadays), and so equipped, the EPA rates them at 30/42/35 mpg. Sixteen-inch wheels are available and come with a rating of 30/40/34. CVT-equipped hatchbacks rate 38/36/31 mpg.

pic-3

Will it have new features?

Probably not for 2018. For ’17, the company made the impressive move of making its “Toyota Safety Sense-P” (TSS-P) suite standard on every Corolla sedan. TSS-P includes lane-departure warning with automatic steering correction to help keep you in your lane; radar-based adaptive cruise control to maintain a set following distance; and automatic high-beam headlights. It also has autonomous emergency braking that can apply the brakes if sensors detect an impending frontal collision with another vehicle, object, or even a pedestrian.

The autonomous braking function means the 2017 Corolla sedan is eligible for the coveted Top Safety Pick+ award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). As of this review, however, the institute hadn’t yet evaluated the ’17 Corolla sedan. The pre-freshened 2016 version received laudable “good” ratings from the IIHS in all but one crash test; it received the IIHS’s second-to-worst rating of “Marginal” in the “Small overlap front” collision test designed to replicate what happens when the front corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or an object like a tree or utility pole.

The Corolla iM got some new safety gear for 2017 as well, but it’s less comprehensive than the sedan’s. Dubbed “Toyota Safety Sense-C” (TSS-C), it includes automatic high-beam headlight control and lane-departure warning but without the ability to steer itself back into its lane. Forward-emergency braking is also included, but it does not support pedestrian detection. As a Scion, the iM got “Good” ratings in IIHS crash tests, so it could receive at least “Top Safety Pick” status from the group.

Depending on trim level, Corolla offers most features that compact-car shoppers are looking for today. Among the available amenities, depending on trim level, are in-dash GPS navigation, heated front seats, leatherette upholstery (in place of cloth), a power sunroof, and keyless entry with pushbutton ignition. Note that blind-spot alert with rear cross-traffic detection is not available on any Corolla.

How will 2018 prices be different?

They’ll probably increase but not by a whole lot. Despite the addition of important crash-prevention features on the 2017 model, Toyota only raised prices by about $300 across the board. For comparison, the Honda Sensing safety suite, which includes most of the features of TSS-P, is a $1,000 option on the company’s Civic compact car.

For 2018, figure on a starting price of about $19,500 for the base L, inclusive of destination fee (which was $865 on the 2017 Corolla). LE versions would start at about $20,000, the LE Eco at about $20,250, the SE at about $22,500, and the XSE at around $23,500.

The hatchback should remain a decent value for the money with a starting price of about $20,000 for the manual and $20,800 for the CVT.

LE and SE sedans should continue to remain the most popular. Expect the former to once again offer a Premium Package that includes a smartphone-based navigation system; upgraded audio system; and aluminum wheels for about $1,250. A Premium Package with power sunroof would be about $1,700. The SE’s Premium Package would include everything mentioned here plus keyless access and pushbutton ignition for a cost of about $1,550. In-dash GPS navigation that doesn’t require a smartphone should continue to be available on the XLE and XSE for about $525.

Hatchbacks would likely continue to not offer any factory options. Any extra-cost items would come in the form of dealer-installed accessories, such as larger alloy wheels, exterior body kits, and an upgraded audio system with GPS navigation.

When will it come out?

Release date for the 2018 Toyota Corolla and Corolla iM should be in the fall of 2017.

Best competitors

Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Mazda 3, Nissan Sentra, Subaru Impreza, Volkswagen Golf and Jetta

What change would make it better?

We recognize a place for a small car that’s comfortable and dependable. But even Toyota realizes that nothing short of an outright redesign will address complaints about the Corolla sedan’s slow acceleration, unrefined engine, and dull road manners. Meantime, we strongly recommend shopping the competition. This generation Corolla dates from model-year 2014 and nearly every rival has a much newer basic design, not to mention more power and refinement and similar, if not better, fuel economy.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at chuck.giametta@carpreview.com