Not very excited by cars? Just looking for a comfortable, economical sedan with long-term durability? The 2011 compact Toyota Corolla might be for you.
It's hard to go wrong with the front-drive Corolla, which in various forms over the years has outsold the Ford Model T and rear-engine Volkswagen Beetle.
The Corolla arrived as a $1,700 two-door rear-drive model with 60 horsepower in 1968. More than 30 million have been sold worldwide.
The 2009 Corolla was slightly revised, and the 2011 model has freshened front and rear styling, along with interior design updates.
Changes were made to the front and rear bumpers, grille, headlights, trunk lid and taillights. But the Corolla still looks rather chunky and not as elegant as the late 1990s Corolla, although it's more refined and feels more substantial.
Interior improvements include a driving position and front seats tailored to a wider range of driver heights, although tall drivers still may wish their seat moved back farther.
Four to five tall adults fit. Attention to exhaust system routing provides a nearly flat rear floor to make it more accommodating for the center passenger, although the Corolla is most comfortable for only four adults.
Gauges can be quickly read, and most controls are within convenient reach. Climate controls are especially large.
There are a variety of cabin storage areas, including a storage bin above the glove compartment and door pockets that can hold 20-ounce bottles. The covered front console bin is quite small, but a fold-down rear-seat center armrest has an integral drink holder.
The Corolla comes in three trim levels. The base model lists at $15,600 with a five-speed manual transmission and $16,400 with a four-speed automatic. The $17,300 mid-range LE comes only with the automatic and the sportier top-line S costs $17,470 with a manual and $18,300 with the automatic.
I tested an S with the automatic. I can't recall driving a Toyota-supplied media test Corolla with a manual transmission. In any case, the Corolla usually is ordered with the automatic.
While responsive, the automatic is a four-speed unit, when the car really should have aat least a five-speed automatic. The automatic has an easily used manual-shift feature, but most Corolla drivers probably ignore it.
Estimated fuel economy is good: 28 mpg in the city and 31 on highways with the manual and 26 and 34 with the automatic. Only 87-octane fuel is needed, and the gas tank holds 13.2 gallons.
The Corolla now comes only with a 1.8-liter, 132-horsepower four-cylinder engine. It's sophisticated, with dual overhead camshafts, 16 valves and dual variable valve timing.
Toyota says the previous Corolla's larger, higher-horsepower four-cylinder has been dropped. That's just as well because it never made much sense for this economy car.
Acceleration in town is lively because the Corolla only weighs 2,734 to 2,800 pounds, although 65-75 mph acceleration on highways is average.
The base model is moderately equipped. It has color-keyed outside door handles to avoid a cheap look, decent analog instrumentation, manually adjustable front seats, air conditioning, AM/FM/CD sound system with four speakers, tilt/telescopic wheel, folding power mirrors and a multi-information display with outside temperature, instant and average fuel economy and average speed and travel distance. Power windows are optional.
There also are 60/40 split fold-down rear seatbacks, which sit flat to significantly enlarge the decent-sized cargo area, which has a low, wide opening but a lid with no interior pull-down area.
The LE adds cruise control, six speakers and power windows, power heated outside mirrors and power door locks with remote keyless entry-which most folks expect as standard in a car today.
The quiet interior of the S adds front sport seats, steering wheel with metallic accents and audio controls, easily read analog sport instrumentation and metallic-style interior trim.
Outside are sport side rocker panels, a color-keyed rear spoiler that doesn't have a tacked-on look and a chromed-tip exhaust.
The S has a slight handling edge with lower-profile 55-series tires on 16-inch wheels, versus standard 65-series tires on 15-inch wheels for other Corolla models.
Standard safety items for all include vehicle stability and traction control systems, driver and front passenger seat-mounted side air bags and front and rear side-curtain air bags.
Option packages contain items including a power tilt/slide sunroof with a sunshade, various audio-related upgrades and hands-free phone capability.
My test car's electric power steering was accurate, and road manners were acceptable. Corollas long have been praised for having a smooth ride, and the 2011 model is no exception, even with the S model's wider tires. The brake pedal had a linear feel, and stopping distances were no problem with the anti-lock brakes-standard for all Corollas.
There's no Hyundai-style 100,000-mile warranty, although the Corolla has a standard 36,000-mile warranty. Actually, it has proven to be so "bulletproof" that it could easily carry a 100,000-mile warranty without causing Toyota many warranty claims.