Few cars have a heritage as long as Toyotas popular compact. The Corolla has been on the U.S. market since 1966. More than 25 million units have been sold in 142 countries, and that makes the Corolla the best-selling passenger car of all time. Toyota dealers sold 245,023 eighth-generation Corollas in the United States during 2001, according to Automotive News. It has been Toyotas second-best seller behind only the midsize Camry.
Toyotas production goal for the redesigned 2003 model is a little more modest: 230,000 units. Changes for the popular, front-wheel-drive sedans next generation are moderate but meaningful. Engine output has increased by 5 horsepower, and a new, low-restriction catalytic converter is used in the exhaust system. The car is also a little larger than before. A new automatic transmission boasts fewer parts and reduced friction, which promises less than a 1-mpg fuel-economy penalty when compared with the manual-transmission model. Steering is claimed to be more responsive and linear, and braking is more precise. A higher hip point is supposed to ease entry into the vehicle, and the front seats have been moved farther apart.
Three versions of the Corolla are available: the value-priced CE, the upscale LE and the sporty S edition. Targeting a younger age group than before 25- to 34-year-olds rather than 35- to 44-year-olds the 2003 Corolla establishes a more emotional connection with a more diverse audience, says John Kramer, Toyotas corporate manager for distributors and public companies. Corollas are produced in California and Canada and went on sale in February 2002 as early 2003 models. Chevrolet used to offer a near-twin of the Corolla called the Prizm, but that was dropped after the 2002 model year.
Styling changes for the 2003 model are less than dramatic, despite increased dimensions. The Corolla rides a 102.4-inch wheelbase and measures 178.3 inches long overall some 5 inches longer than the prior generation. Each model is 66.9 inches wide and no more than 57.5 inches tall. Five-bolt wheels are new for U.S. models.
Special design touches for the sporty S sedan include smoked headlights, fog lights, color-keyed bodyside moldings, front and rear underbody spoilers, and side rocker panels. The S sedan also features special suspension tuning that consists of revalved shock absorbers and different spring rates. Options for the S model include a rear spoiler and aluminum-alloy wheels. All Corollas have 15-inch tires, but those on the LE and S models are slightly wider.
Five people fit inside the Corolla, with its cloth upholstery and 60/40-split rear seat. Cargo volume totals 13.6 cubic feet.
The new Corolla is better equipped than its predecessor. Standard equipment in the CE model includes air conditioning with a clean-air filter, power mirrors, a tilt steering column, intermittent wipers, a tachometer, an outside temperature gauge and a CD stereo system. The LE adds power windows and door locks, color-keyed power mirrors, a woodlike center instrument panel, remote keyless entry and vertical seat-height adjustment. A unique cloth interior goes into the sporty S sedan, which features a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a silhouette sport speedometer.
Under the Hood
A 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing (VVT-i) generates 130 hp. Either a five-speed-manual or a four-speed-automatic transmission can be installed. Some prior Corollas used a three-speed automatic, which is no longer available.
Seat-mounted side-impact airbags and antilock brakes are optional. Daytime running lights are standard on all models. The dual-stage front airbags have an extra-low deployment level for drivers who sit close to the steering wheel.
Despite conservative styling and comparatively high prices, the Corolla has long been one of the best subcompacts on the market. It delivers a satisfying blend of fuel economy, refinement and reliability. Although the 2003 shape may not set too many hearts afire, the new model builds upon Toyotas reputation for excellence. Toyota is targeting a younger group of buyers. The Corolla seems to impart a feeling of solidity and confidence that belies its compact size.
The Corollas performance may not stir many emotions either, and the extra 5 hp doesnt send the Corolla into a swifter league. But the 2003 model is adequate for ordinary driving. Acceleration is a trifle slow at start-up, but the automatic-transmission model quickly picks up the pace. Though the engine is a tad growly while accelerating, it quiets down nicely by the time it reaches highway speeds.
The Corolla maneuvers neatly in town and takes curves acceptably, but handling isnt quite as precise as that of some smaller cars. A smooth ride is still one of the benefits. The front seats have somewhat short bottoms, but they are comfortable and supportive. Toyotas claim that front occupants are farther apart appears to be accurate, and there is a greater sensation of roominess. Backseat legroom isnt quite as appealing as that up front unless the front seats are pushed forward. The big glove box is a welcome feature.