Entry-level economy cars are no longer the frugal penalty boxes that were short on amenities and long on cheap plastic, indifferent handling and lousy sound insulation. A recent week spent with a 2017 Toyota Corolla XLE in the Midwest demonstrated that these cars deliver terrific fuel economy, a decent ride and plenty of creature comforts all for $10,000 less than the average selling price of a new vehicle.

Toyota’s redesign of the Corolla, which is now about three years old, holds up well. It has sufficient sharp character lines, an interesting nose that’s not overdone, and an interior with plenty of soft touch surfaces, a tasteful cloth interior and perhaps as much room as the original Camry. That’s the funny thing about these compact cars: There has been a bit of mission creep as each successive model grows slightly in size. Look back several generations of the next class-up car, and you’ll see the current compacts are about the same size.

This generous cabin and fairly spacious trunk help ease the transition down to a compact if you’re a current midsize car owner who hasn’t been the market for a while and are surprised by the eye-popping MSRPs of a like-size replacement.

Also: See the 12 Kelley Blue Book Best Buys of 2017

Fuel economy star

The performance of the Corolla’s 132-horsepower 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine is best described as adequate for a car in this class. The continuously variable transmission contributes to the lackadaisical feel, allowing the engine to drone when pushed. But economy car buyers are perhaps less interested in 0-60 mph times than keeping up with traffic, which the Corolla is able to do in its own sweet time. The payoff here, however, is in fuel economy. While it is rated at 32 mpg combined, our stint of city and highway driving over the week netted more than 36 mpg, which is this vehicle’s highway rating. That’s nearly hybrid-like mileage without the expense of an auxiliary battery pack and electric motor.

Despite its entry-level status, the XLE has a large center touch screen with a high-def display. And while Toyota’s Entune infotainment system will use various apps such as Pandora and the like, it’s not equipped for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.

Still, for the $21,825 base price, you do get upscale features like a power moonroof, rear backup camera, Bluetooth, automatic climate control, heated front seats and an 8-way power adjust driver’s seat. Our test car had a few options like $209 body side moldings, $129 mudguards, $199 door sill enhancements and a $224 trunk carpet mat. With delivery, the final sticker was $23,451. In the case of the 2017 Toyota Corolla XLE, a little goes a long way.

See full review and pricing information for the 2017 Toyota Corolla or build and price your own to unlock its Fair Purchase Price, 5-Year Cost to Own, and more.


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