Test Drive: 2017 Toyota Corolla SE CVT

By Kevin Harrison

As most usually do, I look forward to the holiday season for the food, among other things. I am fortunate enough to have a mother and aunt who are skilled cooks. My Grenadian heritage often influences the meal with Caribbean themed side dishes often making an appearance on the dinner table. To boot, I usually have a bottle of hot sauce on hand next to my glass of red.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

But there are those who do. And there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with that. As Canadians we all have different cultural influences which shape our cultures and traditions.

For instance, a friend of mine who shall remain nameless seems to enjoy what I could call excessively bland food. I’m talking unseasoned chicken with no added sauces or condiments and boiled vegetables. That’s it. Coincidentally, she also does not care one wit about driving. To her, cars are appliances meant to get her from point A to point B and that the end of it.

In my mind, her preference for extraordinarily mild flavours and her non-chalant attitude towards driving are related. And guess what her preference is to drive? That’s right, a trusty Toyota Corolla.

But for 2017, Toyota has injected an update to keep the Corolla fresh and conspicuous – unlike adding ghost pepper hot sauce to your chicken.



The most notable changes are indeed found outside and a lot of it depends on which trim you choose. If you opt for the SE model, you’ll get a more aggressive front fascia which features LED daytime running lights independent of the headlight units along with a redesigned, more aggressive looking bumper. Rather familiar, but good looking 17-inch wheels are the biggest available and redesigned tail lights can be found which now feature red turn indicators and LED back up lights. If you opt for the CE or LE trims, you get a less aggressive front, facia, but still get LED daytime running lights housed within the headlight units and the tail light design with amber turn signals carry over from the pre-refesh.

In terms of style, this is the most aggressive a Corolla has ever looked, especially in my tester’s head turning Blue Crush Metallic paint. However, the recent redesigns of the Honda Civic, Chevrolet Cruze and Subaru Impreza still seem a bit more substantial.



Inside, the design largely stays the same which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you’re into a more conservative atmosphere. My loaded SE trim featuring the XSE package netted me safety features such as adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist and automatic high beams. This trim also gets you a sunroof, a leather interior with a nice feeling leather wrapped steering wheel and satellite radio. The infotainment unit is surrounded by nice gloss black trim and while the system is easy enough to use – functions and buttons are a tad on the smaller side.


The Corolla doesn’t feel vastly spacious inside and it could be because it is narrower than some of its competition measuring in with a width of 1,776 mm compared to the Mazda3 sedan’s 2,053 mm and the Honda Civic sedan’s 2,087 mm. My passenger, who admittedly prefers larger sedans, noted that she felt claustrophobic as soon as she got in. However, for the most part, the Corolla will still haul humans in an adequate fashion.

Cargo room a similarly adequate, however if you are looking for more, the Matrix has now been replaced with the Corolla iM, formally known as the Scion iM. You can read my impressions on it here.


Under the hood

Despite having an sportier seeming SE trim available, there’s only one engine to choose from and it’s a 1.8 litre naturally aspirated 4-cylinder which is good for 132 horsepower and 128 pound feet of torque. You can mate this to either a six-speed manual or a continuously variable transmission (CVT) depending on the trim and packaging you choose.

My tester came with the CVT. If you’ve ever read a review from one of us car nuts claiming to be experts, you’ll be fully aware that a CVT’s main job is to sip fuel while simultaneously sucking your soul. When they first came onto the scene, all were fairly horrid, but some manufacturers have done a decent job and refining them and/or giving them more traditional characteristics of a regular automatic. Unfortunately, the CVT featured in the Corolla had neither of these traits. It’s the same transmission that numbs the heart and the soul that I remembered from years ago.


This transmission, in my opinion, is like not seasoning your steak. It’s just boring, bland, and to be honest – a bit hateful.

If fuel economy is your number one priority, then its pros may outweigh its cons, however, I would take the six-speed without hesitation to get more out of the engine, and thus, get your soul back.


On the road

The above would seem to suggest that the Corolla doesn’t thrill on back roads and indeed, it does not. Very light steering and a suspension tuned more for comfort means the Corolla reaches its limits before you likely will. Still, around town it is comfortable and leisurely – especially in grocery store parking lots where parking is made easy.

That CVT does love to suck power, and let’s be honest, 132 horses aren’t going to blow any doors off any parked cars so don’t expect a particularly thrilling ride. This can make passing slower vehicle on the highway a bit of a noisy challenge, but the task can be completed with a bit of planning.


Fuel consumption

With the CVT, the SE trim (including the XSE package) is rating at 8.5 L/100 kms city and 6.5 L/100 kms highway. I managed to return 7.6 L/100 kms in real world mixed driving which isn’t too bad. However, if you want to do better, the Corolla can be had in LE Eco trim which gives it a CVT but official rating are markedly better at 7.8 L/100 kms city and 5.9 highway. If you opt for this model, again, don’t expect to win any drag races or indeed have any fun behind the wheel.



Which brings me to my original point. If it hasn’t been made clear, the Corolla just isn’t for me. I like adding habanero sauce to my chicken and chilies to my curries. I like flavourful dishes, and drinks and enjoy feeling emotion behind the wheel. Corolla drives clearly do not. They like the bland turkey dinners with no gravy and boiled potatoes.

And yet, I would highly recommend the Corolla. In fact, I often do over my favourate in the segment, the Mazda3. You can read here to find out why, but basically the Corolla is the perfect car for most people because most people consider driving a chore. They just want to get it over with and they want no headaches during the process. Well, the Corolla certainly won’t disappoint; it has decent looks, a decent interior, is impeccably reliable and efficient and gets you where you want to go safely and without a fuss. The Toyota Corolla is indeed the bland meal you’ve been craving.

So here you go, you soulless bland wonders of the world: your perfect car awaits.


Base Price: $16,390

Price As Tested: $26,928


  • More interesting exterior style
  • Straight forward interior
  • Good on gas
  • Comfortable around town


  • CVT isn’t refined
  • Not as spacious as its rivals
  • Lacks power
  • Lacks soul

Immediate Competition:

  • Chevrolet Cruze
  • Dodge Dart
  • Ford Focus
  • Honda Civic
  • Hyundai Elantra
  • Kia Forte
  • Mazda3
  • Mitsubishi Lancer
  • Nissan Sentra
  • Subaru Impreza
  • Volkswagen Jetta

Related Posts

No Comments Yet.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.