2017 Toyota Corolla XSE Review - A Little Respect

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain
Fast Facts

2017 Toyota Corolla XSE

1.8-liter I-4, DOHC, (132 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm; 128 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm)
Continuously variable transmission, front-wheel drive
28 city / 35 highway / 31 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
8.3 city/ 6.7 highway/ 7.5 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
32.2 mpg [7.3 L/100 km] (Observed)
Base Price
$19,425 (U.S) / $17,980 (Canada)
As Tested
$24,130 (U.S.) / $26,900 (Canada)
Prices include $925 destination charge in the United States and $1,690 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada.

So you say you want to understand Toyota. You want to look the company in the eye and get a sense of its soul. Without spending hours studying kaizen and poring over 2000GT imagery and learning the significance of the number 86, you want to know why Toyota is different from, say, Porsche.

Allow the 2017 Toyota Corolla to be your tutor. In LE Eco guise, the fuel-sipping Corolla’s 1.8-liter four-cylinder produces 140 horsepower. In “sporty” SE and XSE trims, the 1.8-liter produces eight fewer horsepower.

No kidding.

With nothing more substantive than rear disc brakes, bigger wheels, and wider low-profile tires, the 2017 Toyota Corolla XSE and its less luxurious SE sibling hardly bring performance to the Corolla lineup. The loss of eight horsepower — and the gain of two pound-feet of torque – compared to the more efficient LE Eco aren’t performance-altering characteristics, either.

Think then of this Corolla XSE as just a Corolla, as merely a Corolla, as only a Corolla, as perhaps the most prudent transportation-oriented purchase a North American car buyer can make this year.

Or as the most joyless way to spend $24,130 on a new car.


New to the Corolla lineup for the 2017 model year, the XSE trim level combines the “sportiness” of the SE and the “luxury” of the XLE. To the $21,765 SE, the $24,130 XSE adds a power driver’s seat, heated front seats, full Softex-trimmed seats, sunroof, proximity access, and navigation.

In between, for a $1,220 premium over the SE — and accompanied by a sunroof, navigation, proximity that otherwise cost $1,535 as part of the SE CVT’s premium package — you can get a Toyota Corolla SE with a manual transmission. It’s the one and only trim level in which Toyota still permits DIY shifting in the Corolla.

Of the roughly 31,000 new Corollas currently in stock at Toyota’s U.S. dealers, according to Cars.com, 1 percent are three-pedal cars.

All Corollas, regardless of trim, are now equipped with the same elevated standard of safety equipment, the SE/XSE’s larger rear disc brakes aside. Gone are the days when eight airbags and anti-lock brakes impress. Even the lowliest of Corollas include lane departure alert with steering assist, auto high beams, pre-collision with pedestrian detection, and radar cruise control.


Though undeniably a meaningful aspect of the Corolla owner’s daily grind, radar cruise control and all its high-tech cohorts play no role in turning the Corolla into a driver’s car.

Granted, there’s no expectation that the Corolla behave like a Toyota 86 (née Scion FR-S.) A rough ride, instant turn-in, and arrow-sharp throttle response doesn’t suit any mainstream car’s character.

But the Corolla runs so extremely far in the opposite direction that there’s nothing about its on-road repertoire worthy of compliment. Ride quality? Never busy, to be fair, but the Corolla’s structure can’t cope with the harsh impacts a Camry can shake off.

The steering is disconcertingly lacking in feel (and the steering wheel’s finish on the backside, right where the lower spoke meets the rim, is decidedly unfinished). Worsened by winter tires, there’s scarcely any grip to speak of, even on the XSE’s 215/45R17 rubber. And the 1.8-liter sounds rough when revved.

Combine that roughness with a throttle pedal that fights against further application and you have a car that simply does not want to accelerate.

132 horsepower, down from 140 in the LE Eco? It feels like about 100, and they’re not happy horses.

The continuously variable transmission doesn’t come across as the worst CVT application by any means, but how much blame does the pokey 1.8 deserve for distracting me from any CVT limitations?

Thankfully, despite freezing temperatures, winter tires, and largely urban driving, we averaged an impressive 32.2 miles per gallon over the course of a week.


Observed fuel economy is one of the 2017 Corolla’s redeeming qualities. The expansive rear seat is another. Blessed by an almost flat floor and loads of legroom, sliding in child seats was a breeze. For young families in search of inexpensive, spacious, safe transportation, a basic $19,425 Corolla L will surely stand out.

At $24,130, however, expectations rise. Space is good. Safety equipment is also good. The trunk, squared off with 13.0 cubic feet, is good, too. Material quality, however, is a disappointment, with hard plastics in the places both untouched and regularly caressed.

Straightforward climate controls are paired with chunky buttons for the seat heaters that were possibly inherited from the dashboard of a 90s Hino. Circular vents might be cool if they weren’t so out of place. The seats’ SofTex ranks amongst the most plasticky of faux leathers. The so-called “sport seats” don’t offer nearly enough thigh bolstering to merit the title.

Apart from the touchscreen and a generally quiet ambiance, there’s very little about this cabin that looks or feels like a class-leading interior from 2014, let alone 2017.


Much as the safe and reliable Corolla is automatically deemed the safe and reliable compact car choice, there remain numerous options for the Corolla’s intended.

Toyota’s own Yaris iA, a smaller but less costly option, is actually a fun-to-drive Mazda 2. The Corolla iM, which like the iA was formerly known as a Scion, is very much a Corolla, only less stodgy and more flexible and with superior rear suspension. With a CVT, the iM is priced at $20,415, decently equipped but lacking the Corolla’s full Safety Sense-P package.

Outside the Toyota portfolio, the traditional Corolla buyer will still seek a level of long-term security. The new Subaru Impreza builds on a Consumer Reports reputation of reliability with added style and more safety equipment. The latest Mazda 3 provides class-leading dynamics and, says CR, also offers above-average reliability. But the 3 lacks rear seat space and manifests excessive road noise.


In 2016, the United States produced 360,483 Toyota Corolla sedan buyers. It’s safe to say some of those buyers would have preferred a Corolla with superior handling, actual steering feel, more power, and greater interior quality. But the Corolla’s redeeming attributes — peerless reputation for reliability, vast rear quarters, impressive value quotient, abundant safety kit — were evidently considered more critical.

Thousands of other Corolla buyers don’t simply turn a blind eye to the car’s aforementioned faults. No, they don’t even see the very transgressions upon which I frown with furrowed brow.

The Corolla buyer and I want different things. Indeed, the Corolla and I want different things.

I want more of an interactive connection with the car, not less.

I want acceleration to be delivered happily, not begrudgingly.

I want to believe I paid $24,130 for a car that ought to cost $30,130 rather than suffer reminders of the pennies Toyota pinched.

I don’t want to be alerted by an incessant ding-ding-ding, even with lights and ignition and audio off, to tell me I’ve opened the driver’s door. And I don’t want to receive fewer ponies for my performance dollar.

The 2017 Toyota Corolla XSE therefore, cannot earn my love.

Respect, however, is an altogether different matter.

Toyota has yet again one-upped the Corolla’s game by adding Toyota Safety Sense-P across the lineup, by playing up the 50th anniversary of the world’s most popular nameplate, and by tinkering with the styling just enough to keep the Corolla fresh.

It’s the opposite of fun. But it works.

History suggests it’ll keep on working.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

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2 of 123 comments
  • Theoldguard Theoldguard on Jan 21, 2017

    My significant loved one has caught the Toyota bug and now buying anything else other than Toyota is poor judgement. I may be condemned to Toyota for life. Pity me. Her Camry drives like a subway car, and that's all it is expected to do. But it is reliable, or at least is reputed to be reliable. We'll see. Schadenfreude is bad. I thought both Dart and 200 deserved better. They should have put "Handling by Alfa Romeo" badges on them.

  • JohnTaurus JohnTaurus on Jan 22, 2017

    LOL at how Toyota trolls its own customers. You want a sport package, how about all show and even less go than the base model? I mean, every time I see a Corolla S (the older "sporty" model) SE or when I see this XSE, I can't help but think "now there is someone who knows nothing about cars. Poor guy/gal, s/he thinks s/he truly has a sporty compact." Its sad. But, if they put on blinders when car shopping and only take them off at the Toyota dealer, thats what they get. I mean, the only people who will buy a "sporty" Corolla have never heard of a compact that both looks AND FEELS/DRIVES sporty, they think all cars are boring and mind-numbing to drive. But, its reliable! Long lasting! A great value! That's why you'll need a new one in 3 years.

  • 3-On-The-Tree Lou_BCsame here I grew up on 2-stroke dirt bikes had a 1985 Yamaha IT200 2-strokes then a 1977 Suzuki GT750 2-stroke 750 streetike fast forward to 2002 as a young flight school Lieutenant I bought a 2002 suzuki Hayabusa 1300 up in Huntsville Alabama. Still have that bike.
  • Milton Rented one for about a month. Very solid EV. Not as fun as my Polestar, but for a go to family car, solid. Practical EV ownership is only made possible with a home charger.
  • J Love mine, but the steering wheel blocks dashboard a bit, can't see turn signals nor headlights icons. They could use the upper corners of the screen for the turn signals. Mileage is much lower than shown too, disappointing
  • Aja8888 NO!
  • OrpheusSail I once did. My first four cars were American made, and through an odd set of circumstances surrounding a divorce, I wound up with a '95 Nissan Maxima which was fourteen years old and had about 150,000 miles on it.It was drove better, had an amazing engine, and was more reliable than any of my American cars. This included a new '95 GMC pickup that went through five alternators in under two years while the dealership insisted that there was no underlying electrical problem while they tried to run the clock on the warranty.That was the end of 'buy American'. I've bought from Honda and VW since, and I'll consider just about anything except American now.