With 350,000 Corollas finding homes each year, reports of the demise of the compact sedan may be slightly exaggerated. By bringing a number of updates to the 2017 Toyota Corolla, which is marking its 50th anniversary, the Japanese automaker is betting that there’s plenty of life left in this category.

First off, there's the expected (and already announced) Corolla 50th Anniversary Special Edition. Based off the popular SE model, this commemorative model gets a fetching exclusive exterior color known as Black Cherry Pearl, but you can also buy one of the 8,000 special editions in silver or white if you prefer. Inside are uniquely upholstered seats with Black Cherry piping and stitching, which the stitching echoed on the steering wheel and shift boot. There's also special badging on the exterior, interior, and even the floor mats. The Special Edition also adds in a 7-inch touch-screen with Entune and Scout GPS Link navigation, plus a 4.2-inch color multi-information display between the gauges. 

Safety to the forefront

So that's all good, but the real news is what happens to the rest of the Corolla lineup. This year, every single model, even the lowball L model, gets Toyota Safety Sense-P as standard equipment. So, for the base price of $19,365 -- including destination charges -- you get a pre-collision system that includes vehicle and pedestrian detection; lane departure alert with steering assist; automatic high beams; and high-speed active cruise control. That's in addition to the rest of the model's new standard equipment, which includes LED high and low beam headlights, a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) replacing last year's 4-speed automatic, a backup camera, air conditioning, power windows and doors, Bluetooth phone integration, and a heap of other features.  It's a great deal, even if it is $1,200 more than last year's base model.

In addition to the TSS-P package, all Corollas benefit from new front and rear end styling, with visual distinction between the L, LE, XLE and LE Eco models and the "sportier" SE, XSE and 50th Anniversary models. The same is true in the rear, with the different models getting distinct taillights. Inside the changes are more uniform, with all models getting an updated dash that includes more soft-touch surfaces, a better steering wheel, nicer gauge display and more. And, astute Toyota fans will note that the Corolla's trim levels have been renamed to better align it with the Toyota Camry, rather than a jillion different versions of S and LE.

Carryover engine

What isn't different is what motivates the Corolla. Under the hood is last year's 1.8-liter 4-cylinder connected to a CVT transmission; the lone exception is the SE 6MT, which offers a nice-shifting 6-speed manual transmission. But even with the stick the Corolla isn't particularly spirited. The engine drones its way to redline as it ambles up to speed, the CVT isn't super responsive when in D -- although it "shifts" quickly when you click the steering wheel-mounted paddles. The Corolla's suspension is obviously tuned for a comfortable ride instead of at-the-limit cornering. But so what? It's pretty quiet except at wide-open throttle, fuel economy is solid if not spectacular, and the leisurely acceleration means it's unlikely a novice driver -- such as teenagers -- will get in over their heads without quite a bit of advance planning.

Prices top out at about $24,000 for a fully loaded 2017 Toyota Corolla XSE, a price well below the loaded models of many of the Corolla's competition. It's a good deal for a very nicely equipped car. If you're looking for solid, reliable, basic transportation, the Corolla has been emblematic of those values for 50 years, and that doesn't look like it's going to change anytime soon.


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