OJAI, California – The Corolla turns 50 this year. And in honour of its half-century anniversary, the ubiquitous little sedan has just set a new standard, not just for the compact segment, but for every mainstream vehicle on the market.

It’s part of Toyota’s “democratization of safety” strategy, making technology available to every mainstream buyer.

It’s the bestselling car in history, with more than 43 million sold in over 150 countries around the world. But fierce competition is driving customer expectations ever higher – especially in this bread-and-butter segment where every dollar counts. There are a lot of good cars to choose from now; witness the meteoric rise of the Hyundai Elantra, which has surpassed the Corolla to become Canada’s number-two compact behind the Honda Civic.

Honda raised the bar considerably last year when it introduced its “Honda Sensing” suite of safety technology on the Civic, earning it the highest available collision safety rating from the US Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The radar- and camera-based tech package includes: collision-mitigation braking, lane-departure warning, forward collision warning, adaptive lane-keeping assist and road-departure mitigation. It was a precedent-setting move – offering a level of technology once seen only in the most luxurious vehicles, and even then only as an expensive option. But the Honda Sensing system is available on upper trim Civics starting at $23,123.

For buyers in this segment, economy and safety are the most important features. Next year, every single Corolla, from the base CE on upward, will come standard with the Toyota Safety Sense P (TSS-P) safety package with pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane-departure alert with steering assist, dynamic radar cruise control, and automatic high-beams.

According to Toyota, that’s approximately $2,500 worth of technology, packed into a car that’s only $300 more than last year’s model. It’s part of Toyota’s “democratization of safety” strategy, making technology available to every mainstream buyer. Their approach is to “enhance driver effectiveness” rather than replace it with autonomous technology.

The new Corollas also receive minor front fascia, head- and tail-lamp and interior upgrades, and more trim-specific enhancements, such as heated leather wrapped steering wheel, power moonroof, 4.2-inch TFT instrument cluster display, 17-inch alloys and LED lighting.

We drove the $19,390 Corolla CE CVT and $21,290 Corolla SE CVT on a drive loop through the foothills outside of Ojai, California. Thoroughly redone for 2017, it’s a pleasant little car, although the exterior sheet metal is a divisive design that some might find a bit jarring. While we weren’t compelled to flog it through the hairpins, the Corolla has decent handling and body roll is kept to a minimum. Steering is expectedly numb, though accurate enough.

The base CE is modestly upholstered in cloth – yet nicely-equipped with LED headlamps, Bluetooth, 6.1-inch display audio, 3.5-inch TFT instrument cluster display and steering wheel audio controls.

There’s no air, no backup camera, no navigation, and the seat adjustments are strictly do-it-yourself.

But for $16,290, with six-speed manual, you get a decent little car with a suite of standard safety technology that you’d pay extra for on a $50,000 European luxury sedan.

Pricing: 2017 Toyota Corolla

Corolla CE (manual): $16,290
Corolla CE (CVT): $19,390
Corolla LE (CVT): $20,490
Corolla LE ECO (CVT): $20,990
Corolla SE (manual): $20,305
Corolla SE (CVT): $21,290