2018 Toyota Corolla SE Review

A dated design struggles against tough competition

Wade Thiel, Senior Staff Writer

Positives: Solid feeling on the road, plenty of space inside, high predicted reliability, safe.
Negatives: Dated design, uninspiring to drive, low rent interior materials, older infotainment system.
Bottom Line: The Corolla sells well because its reliable, but not much else. It's the car for the everyman who doesn't care much about the driving experience or technology. There are many other models out there that offer what the Corolla does and a whole lot more.
Toyota managed to sell 308,695 Corollas in the U.S. in 2017 despite the fact that this generation of the car has been around since 2013. The design is dated at this point, and it shows. The Mazda3, Hyundai Elantra, Chevy Cruze, and Honda Civic bury the Corolla when it comes to performance, tech, and style, but that doesn't mean the model is without merits. To really see how this car stacks up to the competition, we drove the Corolla SE for a week. Read on for the full review.

Driving Experience



If you want a car that’s thrilling to drive, don’t get a Corolla. The car isn’t fun to drive, but it is competent and solid-feeling on the road, and we get the feeling that most people considering a Corolla don’t care that much about having fun behind the wheel.

Ride Quality: The SE trim level is considered one of the sportier versions of the Corolla. This means bigger wheels and stiffer suspension. It also means a harsher ride. You feel bumps in this car.

Acceleration: The Corolla is not fast. It reaches 60 mph from a standstill in 9.5 seconds. The Hyundai Elantra, Honda Civic, Chevy Cruze, and Mazda3 are all faster.

Braking: The brake pedal is soft and pedal travel long. Also, the car takes longer to stop than its competitors.

Steering: The steering is on the heavier side and reasonably precise. It provides virtually no feedback from the road.

Handling: There’s a fair amount of body roll in the Corolla, but it’s not debilitating. Still, the car isn’t suited for a twisty road, and whipping down a freeway off-ramp doesn’t inspire much confidence.




Our tester came with the SE Premium Package that included an upgraded 7-inch infotainment system. Even Toyota’s upgraded infotainment is a bit behind the curve when compared to the competition. It won’t wow any technophiles but provides good features.

Infotainment System: The 7-inch touchscreen display is responsive, but the graphics look dated and the user interface could be more modern and easier to use. Also, it lacks many features other cars offer, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Controls: There are knobs for tuning and touch-based buttons on the dash to either side of the touchscreen. They work fine but we think physical buttons would be better for use on the go.




The Corolla looks pretty good, but its exterior styling writes a check its engine, transmission, and suspension can’t cash. The SE trim gets some sportier elements that other trim levels of the car don’t get, upping the drama a little.

Front: The low nose of the car and somewhat aggressive LED headlamps are one of the Corolla's best features. It presents an attractive face to the world.

Rear: The rear is a little more conservative, and the wraparound taillights are its most eye-catching features. It’s not a bad-looking rear, but it is a lot more boring than the front.

Profile: From the side, the car doesn’t look very special. It has a typical compact sedan shape, and the wheels look small even with the larger 17 inch alloys on the SE model.

Cabin: The interior is mostly made up of black plastic and rubber, but that said there are some faux leather and real leather touches that spruce things up a bit.




Another area where the Corolla is good but not excellent is comfort. There’s plenty of room in the cabin and Toyota did place better materials where you usually touch the car, like the steering wheel, but the car could use better seats.

Front Seats: The SofTex trimmed front seats look like they’d be comfortable but they lack lumbar support and could use more cushioning and bolstering. The materials feel a little cheap, too.

Rear Seats: The Corolla sports a class-leading rear seat legroom rating, but that’s the best thing about the back seats. The seats need a bit more cushioning and could use better material.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): On the road, the Corolla is mostly quiet. That said, if you stomp the accelerator, the engine buzzes loudly.

Visibility: A high point for the Corolla. You can see out the front, sides and rear of the car easily. Also, the backup camera makes navigating tight parking lots easy.

Climate: The automatic climate control worked well and was powerful and easy to use.




Safety is where the Corolla really shows its stuff. It’s one of the safer cars out there you can buy at this price point. It even comes with some advanced driver aids and safety features that you might not expect from an affordable compact sedan.

IIHS Rating: The IIHS awarded the Corolla a Top Safety Pick rating. The car just came up short of the top honors due to its headlights and ease of use for child seat anchors.

NHTSA Rating: The Corolla received a five star overall rating from the NHTSA.

Standard Tech: All trim levels of the Corolla come with Toyota’s Safety Sense and Star Safety System. Our tester came equipped with pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, dynamic radar cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams, vehicle stability control, traction control, ABS, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, and smart stop technology.

Optional Tech: There was no optional safety technology on our tester.




The Corolla also does pretty well when it comes to storage and cargo space. Unfortunately, all that room the Toyota gave to the rear seat passengers in leg room does eat into the cargo space.

Storage Space: There’s adequate room beneath the center arm rest, two cup holders, and a storage cubby in the center console.

Cargo Room: At 13 cubic feet, the Corolla manages to best the Mazda3 but is beat by the Honda Civic, Chevy Cruze, and Hyundai Elantra.

Fuel Economy



If you’re looking for a car that likes to sip gas, the Corolla deserves a spot on your list. That said, there are other cars in its segment that beat it in this category, including the Mazda3, Honda Civic, Chevy Cruze, and Hyundai Elantra.

Observed: 32.3 mpg.

Distance Driven: 264 miles.

Driving Factors: We drove over 200 miles on the highway with the cruise control set. The rest of the driving was in city traffic.




The six-speaker audio system that came with the SE Premium Package performed well. It provides good sound to all areas of the cabin. It’s not the best system out there and could use more bass, but otherwise is adequate for a car at this price point

Final Thoughts

The Corolla isn’t a bad car, but the competition has passed it by. Unfortunately, the Corolla gets beat in almost every category by the competition, and that means if you’re in the market for a compact sedan there are better options out there. However, if you value safety and reliability, like the Corolla’s styling, and don’t care much for spirited driving, this isn’t a bad choice. Toyota is due for a new design for the Corolla, so if you’re dying to own one, wait a year or two and there will likely be a much-improved model for sale.

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