Sometimes, you just want to keep it simple.You want basic automotive transportation that is easy on the eyes and will run forever with few problems between now and that far-distant day when you trade it in.The 2003 Toyota Corolla is all that -- and more.Toyota touts Corolla as "the world's all-time best-selling passenger car with more than 25 million units sold in 142 countries." Those numbers are what sports-minded people call career statistics, pning 35 years in Corolla's case -- plenty of time to get it exactly right.The new version of Toyota's extraordinarily popular compact -- the ninth generation, for crying out loud -- gets more upgrades than the most reckless Vegas high roller. Best of all, it's hard to believe you can get so much passenger car for so comparatively little money.The '03 Corolla lineup starts with the base CE with a manual gearbox, starting at a mere $13,370, and runs up to my test model -- a Corolla LE with an automatic transmission starting at $15,480. The Corolla S is the model in the middle, sportier-looking and starting as low as $14,515.The entire model lineup gives buyers the option of automatic or manual transmissions. All are mated to the one engine choice, a 130-horsepower in-line-4 with twin cams. Although that might not sound like a lot of muscle, be advised that the engine performs way above the normal expectations of a 130-horsepower motor. Variable-valve timing certainly helped.The performance level of the tested Corolla was rock-solid, and the engine, while lacking tire-rubber-stripping torque, never put me in a stressful situation. That was true in all conditions the area's roads have to offer.What else is better about the new Corolla? Just about everything.It's longer, wider and taller. The styling is more aerodynamic, which Toyota engineers said translates to a significant improvement in the car's ability to slice through the air.Inside, there is actually room for people front and back, a surprising amount of the latter given the compact classification of the Corolla.The list of standard amenities has been lengthened compared with the previous-generation Corolla, with even the base CE coming with air conditioning and a compact-disc player. My test LE model was a veritable luxury Corolla, dressed up with extras that included anti-lock brakes, cruise control and a tilt/slide moonroof. The extras brought the bottom line up to a still-reasonable $17,687.The LE also can be equipped with optional leather surfaces, a stylish touch when matched with the LE's standard interior wood trim.Veteran auto shoppers are likely to blink hard at the comparatively tiny fuel tank capacity of 13.2 gallons. That's explained by two other numbers -- 29 miles per gallon in city driving and 38 mpg on the highway. Not too many vehicles on the road today boast those exceptional fuel-economy numbers.Trunk capacity was surprisingly s pacious, officially coming in at 13.6 cubic feet -- only about one cubic less than what I've been getting on some new full-size sedans.An impressive list of safety features is highlighted by dual-stage air bags in the front. Anti-lock brakes are a $300 option, and driver/passenger side air bags can be added on for another $250.With the average price of an American motor vehicle now easily topping $20,000, Corolla buyers are likely to hear it from snobby consumers that their choice amounts to a cheap car. Cheap in price, maybe. Certainly not in quality.Auto wish lists are dominated by $70,000 Mercedes models and Corvettes with crippling insurance payments. But the Toyota Corolla appeals to the practical side in you.If you were asked to recommend a nice, safe, economical car for your first driving child or your elderly parent who seldom puts 50 miles on the odometer in a week, you would be hard pressed to keep the word, "Corolla" from leaving your lips. Given what comes with the newest-generation Corolla, such a recommendation would be as good as gold.Toyota Corolla at a glanceMake/model: 2003 Toyota Corolla LE.Vehicle type: Midsize, five-passenger, front-drive sedan.Base price: $15,480 (as tested, $17,687).Engine: 1.8-liter in-line-4 with 130 horsepower at 6,000 revolutions per minute and 125 foot-pounds of torque at 4,200 rpm.EPA fuel economy: 29 miles per gallon city; 38 mpg highway.Transmission: Four-speed automatic with overdrive.Steering: Power rack and pinion.Brakes: Power front-wheel discs with optional anti-lock.Suspension type: Four-wheel independent with front and rear stabilizer bars.Interior volume: 90.3 cubic feet.Trunk volume: 13.6 cubic feet.Fuel tank: 13.2 gallons.Curb weight: 2,590 pounds.Front track: 58.3 inches.Rear track: 57.5 inches.Height: 57.7 inches.Length: 178.3 inches.Wheelbase: 102.4 inches.Width: 66.9 inches.Tires: P195/65R15 radials.Assembly point: Fremont.
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|Larry Printz||The Morning Call and Mcall.com||April 21, 2002|
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