Though it hasn't undergone a significant redesign since the 2003 model year, the Corolla remains one of the best-selling cars in the U.S. What's so appealing about this compact? For starters, the Corolla gets exceptional gas mileage. It's also agile. Perhaps more important to buyers looking for inexpensive transportation is the Corolla's outstanding reliability. The Corolla's interior, however, is beginning to show its age.
Exterior & Styling
In the world of compact cars, styling is increasingly becoming more daring. Witness the futuristic front end of the Honda Civic and the brutish appearance of Dodge's Caliber. With its unmemorable looks, the Corolla has neither of these cars' bravado, which may or may not be a good thing, depending on your tastes. (The Corolla is due for a redesign in the next few years, and — if the redesign of Toyota's 2007 Camry is anything to go by — may get a more distinctive exterior then.) Regardless, closing the Corolla's doors yields a reassuring "thunk" that suggests a luxury — as opposed to an economy — car.
All models have standard 15-inch steel wheels, though LE models can have 15-inch alloy wheels and the Corolla S can have 15- or 16-inch alloy wheels. A spoiler is optional for the S.
Ride & Handling
Most of my time behind the wheel of the Corolla was spent on Chicago's streets and highways. With these roads' perpetual congestion, it didn't take long to discover how accomplished this car is in heavy traffic.
Though the taut suspension does little to filter out bumps and potholes, the Corolla is very maneuverable. The ride gets a bit choppy on the highway, with a lot of up and down suspension motions, but body roll is effectively controlled when cornering. Front and rear stabilizer bars are standard.
Going & Stopping
With the discontinuation of the high-output XRS, the sole engine for the 2007 Corolla is a 1.8-liter four-cylinder that makes 126 horsepower and 122 pounds-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard and a four-speed automatic is optional. EPA gas mileage estimates are 32/41 mpg (city/highway) for manual models; estimates drop to 30/38 with the automatic transmission.
While the Corolla's engine has significantly lower output when compared with much of the competition, it provides entirely acceptable performance on city and suburban roads. It's only on the highway that the engine's modest power ratings limit the Corolla's performance; the automatic-transmission Corolla I tested only had a minimal amount of power for quick passing. The smooth-shifting automatic kicks down quickly when called upon, but the act brings on a significant amount of engine noise as the four-cylinder ramps up the rpms.
Corollas have front-disc and rear-drum brakes that provide linear stopping performance. Antilock brakes are optional.
The driving position is a bit cramped for drivers more than 6 feet tall, but this is due more to lack of rearward adjustability in the driver's seat than to the cabin being excessively small. With the driver's seat adjusted as best as possible for someone tall, the steering wheel is a bit of a reach, and it doesn't telescope to make driving easier. The dashboard stereo controls are rather far away. While shorter drivers likely won't experience these issues, if you're taller you'll want to pay special attention to the cabin's ergonomics during your test drive.
The Corolla's dashboard plastic has nice-looking graining, and the controls are logically arranged. Most panels fit tightly together, and the top-level LE model has decent-looking imitation wood trim. The LE's cloth seats and cloth door-panel inserts look and feel dated when compared to newer competitors, and that's before you consider the Corolla's premium pricing in its segment.
Even though it would be nice if the front seats went back farther, their limited travel preserves some space for rear passengers, where legroom for the tall is limited but overall comfort is passable. I wouldn't want to be stuck back there for more than a few hours, though. Again, occupant size can largely influence comfort, and shorter passengers may find it entirely acceptable, even for long trips.
The Corolla received a Good overall rating in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's frontal-offset crash test. It earned an Acceptable overall rating in the IIHS' side-impact test when equipped with the optional side-impact airbags for the front seats and front and rear side curtain airbags. Without those $655 airbags, the Corolla's overall side-impact score drops to Poor, so you should consider them a necessity.
Other optional safety features include antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and an electronic stability system that's available for automatic-transmission S and LE models.
Cargo & Towing
The Corolla's 13.6-cubic-foot trunk is relatively large for a compact sedan, and it has a wide opening to ease access. Folding the standard 60/40-split rear seats is accomplished by using two smartly positioned knobs near the top of the trunk. The extended load floor isn't completely flat, however; there's a ledge between the folded seatbacks and the trunk floor.
Toyota says the Corolla can tow up to 1,500 pounds when properly equipped.
Air conditioning, a CD stereo, power-adjustable side mirrors and a temperature gauge are standard. The S models add rocker panels and front and rear underbody spoilers to the exterior and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, different gauges, power door locks and interior chrome trim. The top-level LE adds power windows, keyless entry and vibrant electroluminescent gauges that are easy to read. Cruise control, a moonroof and a JBL audio system with an in-dash six-CD changer are optional.
Corolla in the Market
The Corolla is evidence that — as long as the basics are there — strong sales aren't contingent on having the newest, snazziest model. Though its interior is behind the times even for an economy car, it's hard to argue with the Corolla's sales: More than 200,000 have been sold through September of 2006, and that's in the face of fresh competition in the form of the redesigned Honda Civic. That's an impressive accomplishment for an aging model, even one with the Corolla's exemplary reliability history.
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