Competent and loaded with value, the 2003 Toyota Corolla arrives for its ninth curtain call since 1966 a little bit bigger, slightly more powerful and with an attractive new body and interior.But mainly, Corolla is back with the same qualities that have created an army of loyalists: a good car at a good price.Tales of Corolla durability are legion, and smug owners are quick to point out just how far their Corollas have traveled, especially in relation to how little they cost.This was one of the first Japanese cars to hit our shores in the '60s. Then, Corolla was tiny and minimalistic; but low cost, economical operation and impressive reliability created believers from the get-go. The gas-crunch of the '70s vaulted Corolla and other Japanese imports into the American mainstream.Corolla survives 37 years later, upgraded once again. For 2003, there's even the availability of a leather interior, which made the test Corolla feel somewhat akin to a baby Lexus. The body even has something of the windswept look of Toyota's luxury division. The cabin is surprisingly roomy and refined, showing lots of attention to detail, another Lexus trait.Still, Corolla is a conservative little sedan in appearance and behavior. There's not much about this car that you'd call flashy or sporty. The four-cylinder engine has been boosted 5 horsepower, to 130, which is plenty for normal urban driving but a bit light on propulsion for, say, the uphill trip to Flagstaff. Acceleration is adequate but just so.Under stress, the engine sets up a typical four-cylinder boom, which can get wearing if it goes on for too long, such as on long, steep upgrades.The test car was equipped with a four-speed automatic, which worked well but sapped too much of the small engine's strength. For those who can deal with stick shift, that's the way to go.Either way, gas mileage is excellent.Though Corolla may not be a very exciting car, it does have a close cousin that's set up for youthful travelers. A five-door hatchback with trendy styling, the Matrix (also sold as the Pontiac Vibe) is set up on Corolla's chassis and shares its drive train, although Matrix can be had with a 180-horsepower variation. The regular Corolla soldiers on with the single engine offering.The engine and transmission are all that carry over for Corolla. Body, interior, suspension and steering have been reworked to create a more sophisticated sedan. Everything looks and works well, and those who have enjoyed Corolla in the past should love the new car. And its new look and upscale aura should attract some new drivers as well.Corolla and the all-popular Honda Civic battle it out on the popularity scale along such solid craft as Ford Focus, Chrysler Neon, Mitsubishi Lancer, Subaru Impreza, Hyundai Elantra and Mazda Protege. The new Corolla feels more substantial and well-screwed-together than the competition. Its ride is firm and balanced, and its supple suspension nicely absorbs bumps and rough spots.On the freeway, Corolla is quiet and cruises well enough, but the ride is busy. The car feels as if it's darting around in its lane, never really settled. Around town, handling is good, and the power rack-and-pinion steering is responsive.The test car was an LE, the top model of three versions, which included such standard features as automatic, air-conditioning and full power accessories for $15,480. Add the leather package for $900; moon roof at $750; anti-lock brakes, $300, and side air bags, $250 (both of which are important safety features that should be standard); upgraded stereo, $140; floor and cargo mats, $132; plus the inevitable delivery cost, $485, and Corolla is still just over $18,000 for a fairly luxurious little car.One more thing: The entry level Corolla comes packed with standard features, including standard air-conditioning, for $13,370. And wonder of wonders, despite the new styling and upgrades, the 2003 is actually about $1,500 less than a comparable 2002.Any way you cut it, that's real value.
Cars.com Expert Reviews
|Jim Flammang||Cars.com National||May 7, 2003|
|Warren Brown||washingtonpost.com||July 14, 2002|
|Tom Strongman||KansasCity.com||July 13, 2002|
|Bob Golfen||AZCentral.com||June 22, 2002|
|Larry Printz||The Morning Call and Mcall.com||April 21, 2002|
|Mark Glover||The Sacramento Bee||April 19, 2002|
|Anita And Paul Lienert||The Detroit News||April 3, 2002|
|Alan Vonderhaar||Cincinnati.com||March 30, 2002|
|Royal Ford||Boston.com||March 24, 2002|
|Jim Mateja||chicagotribune.com||March 17, 2002|
|Matt Nauman||TheMercuryNews.com||March 1, 2002|
|Jason Stein||August 19, 2002|
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