For more than half of a century, the Toyota Corolla has been a dominant force in the compact car world, but can the 2021 model beat out its 2017 namesake?
The Corolla has been a perennial all-star for more than 50 years and continues its tradition of measured innovation in 2021. The question is though, is it really all that much better than a lightly used 2017 Corolla. Why 2017? Well in 2017, Toyota debuted a host of new features and technology on the compact car that makes it the best balance of features vs pricing of used Corollas in the past 5 years. Perhaps the thousands you’ll save on a second hand Corolla makes that the better value proposition. Today we’re diving deep into both of these distinct cars and finding out which you should spend your hard-earned money on. Here at Cars For Sale, we love helping you get a killer deal regardless of whether they’re in new or used condition, so today is all about the most bang for your buck.
Before we get too deep into the weeds, let’s discuss pricing on each of these options so it’s clear from the start what kind of money we’re talking about. A brand new base 2021 Toyota Corolla goes for $20,025 and prices steadily rise from there till they reach nearly $30,000 in the SE Apex trim. All trim levels come standard with a CVT automatic transmission, but higher levels from the SE and above can be optioned with a 6-speed manual. Power comes from either a 1.8L 4-cylinder making 139 horsepower or a 2.0L 4-cylinder making 169 horsepower.
Taking a quick look at the market shows that most used 2017 Corollas will set you back somewhere between $8,500 on the low end and nearly $20,000 on the high end. Since the spectrum is incredibly wide, we’re going to use the average of current cars available which is $13,500. At the time of construction, Toyota used the same 1.8L engine (then rated at 132 horsepower) to power every Corolla that came off the line, aside from the LE Eco which used an upgraded valvetrain in the same engine to produce 140 horsepower. Similar to the 2021 variant, the 2017 Corolla was available with a CVT as standard with a 6-speed manual available for the SE model. Both cars are economical options with the 2017 version getting a combined 30-34 mpg depending on configuration and the 2021 improving that number to 34 mpg.
While the 2021 Corolla has yet to receive its safety ratings, the 2020 model was both an IIHS top safety pick and earned a 5-star crash test rating from the NHTSA. The 2017 Corolla also earned both honors. So, when it comes to safety, these cars are both par for the course.
2017 Toyota Corolla – pressroom.toyota.com | Shop Toyota Corolla on Carsforsale.com
While Toyota seems capable of making a fun, fast, and truly athletic compact car for today’s market, they still haven’t imbued the Corolla with such personality. Regardless of which year model you choose from, they’re both pretty uninspiring behind the wheel. There’s something to be said of the small changes between the two though.
In 2017, the CVT-equipped Corolla seems to stagger acceleration a bit to mimic gear changes that are of course, non-existent. In 2021, that nonsense is gone. The CVT is much more smooth and stops trying to be something that it’s not. The addition of the 2.0L 4-cylinder is good, but it’s like swapping a morphine drip for ibuprofen behind the wheel. You’re more conscious but overall things are still pretty dull. The only thing that seems to jar you to attention is the rough ride of the SE and SE Apex edition in 2021 that feels tougher than it needs to be for a car of this kind.
This isn’t to say that these aren’t good cars overall, but if you’re a passionate driver who enjoys carving corners, responsive throttle response, and an engaging platform, neither of these is going to satisfy you. Nevertheless, most Corolla shoppers are going to be happy with its composed handling when far from the limit and predictable powerband. Both models also have adaptive cruise control which is a major feature not found on most vehicles in this price range.
This is one area where these two cars start to diverge on different paths. For 2017, the Corolla saw no major revisions inside the cabin, but it didn’t really need them. This thing kind of looks like a Lexus from the driver seat. The seating is comfortable and in the SE and XSE firmer bolstered units can be had. Rear legroom is outstanding, but the headroom could be improved. A longer telescoping feature would be nice for taller drivers, but overall the layout and comfort are very good.
The new car improves on each of these dynamics handily. Headroom in the back is better (still not optimal), but without giving up legroom. The feeling of the seats and touch materials is improved dramatically. While the layout is perhaps a bit less driver-focused, it’s much more modern and most will enjoy that. Overall, everything inside the new Corolla is updated and improved to the point that if you sit in each of these cars you’ll almost surely regret getting the older one, that is unless you’re getting a huge price break in your situation.
For 2017, the Corolla came in 7 distinct trim levels, 3 of which (LE Eco, SE 50th Anniversary, and XSE) didn’t make it to 2021. Again, all came with the same motor and some could be optioned with the manual transmission, so let’s focus on other important details. 2017 was the first year for the entire Corolla range to get the 7-inch touchscreen and it’s excellent. It responds quickly and menus are laid out where you’d expect them to be. There are nice features that pair well with your phone, but no Android Auto or Apple CarPlay here. Perhaps the most important thing about the 2017 model is that it features a bevy of safety technologies like lane keep assist and automatic braking that are invaluable to many searching for a used car like this.
The new Corolla improves on all of these technologies with new features like adaptive headlights that turn into corners with you, automatic high-beams, and road sign assist. In addition, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are now standard features on all trim levels. While the infotainment system hasn’t seen a massive upgrade in size or other features, it is even snappier and looks much more advanced than the older car.
2021 Toyota Corolla – toyota.com | Shop 2021 Toyota Corolla on Carsforsale.com
This is a difficult one to pick and ultimately it’s going to come down to money. While the latest Corolla is the best one ever, is it so much better that we’d spend $8,000-$13,000 more on it over a similarly equipped used model? In a word, no. But that answer changes when we start to close the price gap to below $5,000.
In truth, the new Corolla offers a totally updated design both inside and out, as well as more safety features, better economy, and more technology that won’t be as outdated in 5 years compared to a used model. For that reason, we’d pick the new 2021 Toyota Corolla over the used 2017 model.