Sooner or later, sadly, cars will lose their sparkle and snarl.
It is as inevitable as the scowl on Big Don Trump’s face, I think.
Everyone seems to want appliance-like vehicles these days that they can steer with their knees while focusing on far more pressing matters – like the digital devices connected to their hands.
Heck, many of these low-effort, low-profile cars will already stop and briefly steer themselves if you get distracted by a really important celebrity tweet or a totally awesome Instagram.
Maybe in a year or two, we’ll even be able to fold these new-age vehicles up, knock the dust off them and store them in a closet.
Oh, boy. Rolling toasters.
Hey, at least Toyota appears to be on top of these significant trends with the 2017 Corolla SE compact, a stolid, reliable little sedan with all the sizzle of a church social.
Not that there was anything wrong with the purple Corolla I had recently, a reputable, high-quality compact priced at less than $25,000.
I just couldn’t remember what I was driving 30 seconds after I got out of it, often leaving me to stare slack-jawed and glassy-eyed at my key while I wandered the parking lot.
I may already be on Spacebook for all I know – probably with a dozen or so “likes.”
Actually, my Corolla looked fine. Like all Toyotas and Lexis, it featured a huge, protruding grille that kind of resembled a small snowplow, but was tolerable – and possibly useful if you live in the Northeast.
Nicely stylized, swept-back headlamps abutted a slightly raised hood and cut into short, unremarkable fenders.
Big doors, meanwhile, provided the main highlights of the Corolla’s mostly flat sides – helped some by 17-inch multi-spoke alloy wheels wrapped with 215/45 tires.
In back, conventional wrap-around tail lamps were overshadowed by a tastefully small lip-spoiler on the trunk.
While the exterior got treated to some tucks and tweaks, Toyota carried over the Corolla’s basic 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine from the last generation of sedan, rated at 132-horsepower.
Though the power is acceptable, the only automatic “transmission” available remains an irritating CVT.
Just don’t try to spur the Corolla hard into action.
Although pretty snappy when launched aggressively in sport mode, the engine quickly lapsed into moos and moans from the cursed CVT as the revs climbed.
You can avoid the noise by driving the Corolla like you had a cup of hot coffee between your legs, I found.
CVTs – continuously variable transmissions – generally keep engines in their peak power range, usually increasing fuel economy.
I’m not sure what Toyota accomplished with its CVT. Fuel economy is a decent 28 miles per gallon in town, about average for the compact-sedan segment.
The 0-to-60 “run” takes 9.5 seconds, according to Car and Driver, at least a second slower than similarly equipped Mazda 3, Honda Civic and Hyundai Elantra compacts.
Moreover, the Corolla’s suspension and platform just felt average.
The slightly pudgy 3,000-pound sedan turned into corners obediently, displaying some body lean and front-wheel-drive under steer.
It didn’t seem to be smiling much. Likewise, the steering felt thick and a bit lifeless.
Look, I don’t expect compacts to perform like sports sedans. But why can’t Toyota, with the top-selling Corolla, match the handling and dynamics of the Mazda 3 or Honda Civic?
Beats me. Maybe that’s a low priority in this segment of $20,000 to $25,000 cars.
Hey, the Corolla rides fine and doesn’t require much effort to keep it pointed in a straight line.
I have to admit, though, that I was a bit baffled by the black interior in my Corolla, which struck me as oddly utilitarian.
The flat plastic dashboard, for example, intersected with an upright mid-dash, forming a square frontal area dominated by an oversized center display.
That area included a traditional hooded instrument panel and a 7-inch touch-screen above a fairly narrow black plastic console.
At least all the climate and audio controls were buttons or knobs, which is a lot more than we can say about the Honda Civic.
Meanwhile, the Corolla’s door panels also were mostly black plastic, getting a bit of relief from slightly padded armrests.
The sedan’s black leather seats featured interesting purple piping on their edges, while leg- and head-room in back were good for a compact sedan.
In fact, if you’re looking for an innocuous, extremely reliable commuter-car, the Corolla might be your ride.
Just keep in mind that it is slower, gets worse fuel economy and is less interesting to drive than fierce competitors like the Honda Civic and Mazda 3.
Toyota can do better, but with more-profitable compact crossovers cutting deeply into the sales of sedans, the Corolla might just be good enough for now.