The 2013 Toyota Corolla continues the solid reputation of all Corollas, first sold in America in 1968. The front-drive compact Corolla is arguably the world's top-selling car.
Corolla rivals have come and gone, but they currently include the Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, Honda Civic and Mazda 3.
A sporty Corolla has been offered on and off during the past decade with a larger, more powerful four-cylinder. But it's never fit the Corolla's economy car image and thus has never sold very well. It's gone for 2013.
The refined 2013 Corolla likely will be the last version of the latest generation of Corollas. A larger, redesigned 2014 model with a longer wheelbase and more room is scheduled to arrive this summer. It will carry over the current model's 1.8-liter, 132-horsepower engine four-cylinder, but may also offer that engine with more power. It will also offer a manual or new CVT automatic transmission with artificial shift points that will make the CVT feel like a conventional automatic.
The 2013 Corolla comes with a dated four-speed automatic transmission, which caused my test Corolla's engine to rev a lot above 60 mph, although the engine remained smooth and provided adequate 65-75 m.p.h. passing. But I kept wishing it had at leave a five- or six-speed automatic to lower engine revs. A five-speed manual transmission, which wasn't available for testing, also is offered.
There's actually little fuel economy difference between the transmissions. Economy is an estimated 27 miles per gallon city and 34 highway with the manual, against 26 and 34 highway with the automatic. All are pretty good numbers for a non-hybrid or diesel-engine car.
Good news: As with all Corollas I've driven in the past, including an elegant-looking, low-mileage black 1999 model I owned, actual economy has always been a little better than the government-rated figures.
Most Corolla buyers are interested in no-fuss Point A to Point B driving, so the automatic transmission is the way to go with the Corolla. Although dated, it shifts crisply and has a manual-shift feature.
The Corolla has looked rather stodgy during the last decade, although it has looked better after being revamped for 2009. It became slicker-although still rather chunky-and was larger, with more cabin and cargo space. It also got a redesigned chassis and suspension, besides more safety features.
Safety items on the current Corolla include six air bags. A rigid body structure contributes to a feeling of solidity.
If you look hard, the 2013 Corolla can be recognized mainly by its chrome-accented grille. It comes in base $16,230-$17,060 "L" form, with the mid-range LE version at $18,180. I tested the sporty $18,230-$19,060 Corolla "S" version.
Options packages offer features once only found on more expensive cars, as more buyers shift to smaller models with upscale features. The latest Corolla has upgraded display audio for the S and LE versions that includes a touch screen, aux/USB ports and Bluetooth streaming audio.
You can get a Corolla with automatic climate control, a navigation system and a power driver's seat. Also available are a power sunroof with shade, display audio with navigation and Entune, Sirius XM satellite radio and HD radio with iTimes tagging.
My test "S" version is the only Corolla that's somewhat fun to drive. It had front sport seats that provided decent lateral support, metallic-style interior trim, analog sport instrumentation, leather-wrapped wheel, spoilers, side rocker panels and a chrome trip exhaust outlet. My test "S" also had cruise control and wider wheels and lower-profile tires for sharper handling. But the race-style TRD 18-inch silver 5-spoke wheel upgrade wheels cost a whopping $1,999.
With desirable extras, the bottom-line price of my $19,060 test Corolla thus was $23,187, including a $795 delivery charge.
The Corolla has nice electric power steering-light around town for easy parking and such, but tighter at highway speeds for better control. Handling of all models is secure, and, as with past Corollas, the ride is smooth-long a strong point of this car. The anti-lock brakes worked well with an easily modulated pedal.
The relatively quiet interior is user-friendly, with large climate controls, sensible sound system controls, power outlets and easily read gauges, although the 140 m.p.h. speedometer marking seems rather ridiculous. There's a lot of hard plastic, but it looks practical, not cheap.
There are a good number of storage areas, including a dual glovebox, deep console bin and door pockets. A tall passenger behind the driver will want more legroom, but the rear seat will accommodate three adults. Rear windows roll all the way down.
The moderate-size trunk has a wide opening, although its lid has no interior pull-down feature. The 60/40 split rear seatbacks flip forward and sit flat to significantly increase cargo room. Their releases are inside the trunk to prevent thieves from gaining easy access to the trunk.
The hood is held up with a prop rod instead of a hydraulic strut, and most fluid filler areas can be easily reached, although one is almost buried behind the engine.
You really can't go wrong with a Corolla, if looking for a sound, sensible car. It will last many years with decent maintenance, and resale value is good. Many folks don't ask for anything more.