NEW YORK, March 19 — I first experienced radar-assisted cruise control in a US$70,000 (RM310,625) Mercedes in 2001. Slowing automatically to keep from hitting the car ahead felt like a magic trick. In 2009, I was told to drive a new US$50,000 Volvo into the back of a “parked car” (really, an inflatable mock-up). Every fibre of my body wanted to stomp on the brake pedal. Instead, the car did it for me. Automatic braking is mind-bending the first time.
Both of these technologies are standard equipment on 2017 Toyota Corollas, which start at US$19,385. So is lane-keeping assist, which nudges the car back between the road stripes if you wander. Automatic high-beam headlamps, too.
Huzzah for technology trickle-down!
Several mainstream automotive brands now offer valuable safety technology once exclusive to premium makes. Often, they are option packages or part of higher trim levels. Toyota is putting Toyota Safety Sense, or TSS, on many of its passenger cars as standard equipment.
This, as Martha Stewart would say, is a good thing. Just make sure you understand which TSS you are getting.
The tested Corolla sedan gets TSS-P, which provides automatic braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and automatic high beams. Buyers wanting the more practical Corolla iM hatchback get TSS-C, which lacks radar cruise control and the pedestrian detection part of the auto-braking system.
There is more legalese in Toyota’s TSS literature than O’s in a box of Froot Loops, but here is what to expect: Auto braking (called a precollision system by Toyota) operates at 7 to 110mph. When detecting cars, it can reduce the speed by up to 25mph. Pedestrian detection works from 7 to 50mph reducing speed by up to 19mph.
In general, the adaptive cruise control works from 25 to 110mph. The biggest surprise in these numbers is that a Corolla can actually go that fast.
This technology is not the grade found in premium brands. For now, Corolla’s adaptive cruise control doesn’t keep pace in stop-and-go traffic, but it should reduce dented fenders, bumpers and skulls.
That is a good start and will probably help to sell this car, which rides on an architecture that is about 10 years old.
But other than the high tech, the Corolla as an automobile is basic transportation. It runs with a 1.8-litre 4-cylinder engine that delivers 132 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. The Eco model has 8 additional horsepower.
The transmission is continuously variable with steering wheel paddle shifters that provide surprisingly crisp simulated gearshifts. There is also a sport mode, but don’t fall for that promise.
The safety technology may calm the spirit, but Corolla’s driving dynamics will not stir the soul. It accelerates and stops just fine for a budget car. Drivers may often be making small course corrections when cruising. There is little road feel and the tires and suspension don’t handle bumps in a calming way. The continuously variable transmission has the elastic feeling common to continuously variable transmissions. For engaging handling or refinement in this size, go with the Honda Civic, Chevy Cruze, Hyundai Elantra or Mazda 3.
On average, the Environmental Protection Agency rates Corolla’s fuel economy average at 32mpg. That is about what I saw.
The cabin looks fine for a modestly priced car. There is a lot of hard plastic to rub elbows with and the hide on the seats is clearly synthetic but it’s probably durable for the long haul. That is the point of a Corolla. At US$23,545 as tested, the XSE model has automatic climate control and heated seats. A backup camera is standard equipment (that is something the luxury brands could learn from), and the controls are straightforward down to the basic touch-screen interface. No Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, if that is a deal breaker.
There is room for two full-size adults in back, three if they are skinny. The trunk has the space of some midsize sedans. A folding split back seat lets long boxes of Ikea furniture ride along.
In the looks department, Corolla has a pleasant enough profile, with a crisp shoulder line near the rear pillar. The scowl of the redesigned front end resembles Darth Vader’s mask. You half expect to hear the sound of a respirator.
Automobile enthusiasts often sneer at the appliance that is Corolla. But some people simply need the luxury of a car, not a prestige automobile. There are many single parents who require affordable wheels with a three-year warranty. That is the kind of security used cars don’t offer. Plus, there is peace of mind in the electronic nannies.
The auto braking and lane keeping features aren’t a license to text and drive. It is important for drivers to remain engaged since it takes only a few seconds of distraction for things to go seriously wrong. It would be helpful to outfit all vehicles with safety tech like TSS-P for unexpected moments. Toyota has made lifesaving features affordable. Now, how about adding some life to Corolla’s personality? — The New York Times