Some people still think the top-selling car of all time is the Ford Model T or Volkswagen Beetle. Nope, it's the Toyota Corolla
, the latest version of which has gone on sale as an early 2003 model. Corolla
production has been staggering. More than 25 million have been sold in 142 countries since the car was launched in Japan in 1966--and in America two years later. The new Corolla
is the ninth-generation model. Corolla
s are popular because they've always been affordable and have the reputation of being low-maintenance "run-forever'' gas-sipping cars. I've seen ancient Corolla
s zipping along at 75 mph, with almost no paint left and seemingly held together with bailing wire.
never was sexy. But it connected with many young motorists because it had functional styling and was generally fun to drive because it was light and nimble. Every new-generation Corolla
has been better than its predecessor. A large percentage of Corolla
s are sold in America. But the Corolla
has lots more small-car competition here from outfits such as South Korea's Hyundai and Kia, which offer cheaper models with more equipment--and a longer warranty to offset the Corolla
's reliability reputation.
has been losing coveted young buyers to such rivals, so Toyota
has made the 2003 model a little sportier than its conservative predecessors and given it added equipment and a more refined interior. It's emphasizing the S model, which is the sportiest of the three Corolla
models, in initial marketing. However, the solid new car remains mostly conservative because too much sportiness would confuse older buyers. Toyota
says the car "addresses concerns of current owners'' and "reaches out to younger buyers with a strong new identity.''
The $14,515-$15,315 S model falls between the $13,370-$14,170 "value driven'' CE entry model and the top-line $14,680-$15,480 LE. The low price for each model shows it has a slick, standard five-speed manual transmission, while the high price for each means it has an efficient four-speed automatic. There's nothing seriously sporty about the S model. For example, it has the same 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine as other Corolla
s and no special tires or sport suspension.
There's just cosmetic items, such as side rocker panels, front/rear underbody spoiler, leather-wrapped steering wheel and "sport'' speedometer and tachometer. The roomier model is slightly more powerful than its predecessor. It's 4.3 inches longer, with a wheelbase up 5.4 inches to 102.4 inches. But the car also is 3.2 inches taller and virtually no wider, and that gives it an offbeat shape, compared with the last generation (1998-2002) Corolla
. It looks somewhat like a shrunken Chevrolet Malibu with a few styling touches from Toyota
's upscale Lexus division cars.
The 130-horsepower engine has five more horsepower, but no more torque, than the 2002 model. The new Corolla
is about 100 pounds heavier, and thus there isn't much difference in performance. The sophisticated-but-small motor needs lots of revs to provide the best acceleration. However, performance is lively and fuel economy is very high both in the city and on highways. This is yet another Corolla
that will be cheap to run just about forever.
And the magical Toyota
name should ensure above-average resale if you're not the type of person who keeps a car for a long time. The precise variable-assist steering feels a bit heavy, but that's better than steering with excessive power assist. Handling is good with a revised suspension, and the brake pedal has a nice feel. Despite the longer wheelbase, the new model doesn't ride all that much more smoothly than its predecessor, but that's OK because the last Corolla
had an unusually comfortable ride for a small car. Corolla
s never had a lot of standard equipment, but the new Corolla
does better in that regard. For instance, the CE has standard air conditioning, AM/FM/CD, power mirrors, tilt steering wheel, rear defogger, intermittent wipers, tachometer and 60/40 split-folding rear seat to enlarge the cargo area. The LE adds such items as power windows and door locks and remote keyless entry, but you pay extra for a sunroof and leather upholstery. The S really should have a standard rear spoiler, but it's in a $825 Sport Plus package that also contains aluminum alloy wheels. Anti-lock brakes, cruise control and front side air bags are optional for all Corolla
The dashboard is cleanly designed, and new seats offer better support. However, the driver's seat should slide back more for those with long legs. The interior is generally roomy, although leg room is tight for a tall person behind a tall driver who moves his seat back enough to get comfortable. I expected more room with the increased wheelbase.
The huge windshield and high roof give the interior a nice open feeling. There are a good number of small, but handy, storage areas up front, and rear windows roll down all the way. The trunk is large with a wide opening, but manual hinges eat into cargo space. The pass-through opening from the trunk to the rear seat area is only moderately large, and the split rear seatbacks should sit flatter when flipped forward to increase cargo space. The latest Corolla
offers many comforts of a larger car in a refined small package, and that should make it more appealing than ever.
2002 TOYOTA COROLLA
Revamped. Roomier. More power. Very economical. Refined.
"Sporty" S model not very sporty. Offbeat styling. Driver's seat needs to move back more.