Okay, I’ll admit it. As a car enthusiast, the Toyota Corolla isn’t high on my list when it comes to the lust factor.
The thrills this car delivers are the sort that non-enthusiasts (that is, most people) look for in a car. It’s fuel-efficient, well-built and doesn’t have extravagant or wild styling that will make you look foolish two years from now.
For 2001, this pinnacle of automotive sanity gets a freshening, although only Corolla diehards will notice.
Lights go round. In the rear, new lenses lend the car a resemblance to the pricey Lexus GS 300/400. Up front, new round, multi-reflector headlamp lenses bookend a new chrome-trimmed grille that calls to mind the Toyota Camry. A new front fascia and body-colored side molding complete the redo.
Inside, the freshening is even more minor, with new seat fabrics and revised climate controls.
O.K., so this won’t be enough to make the top-selling cars in this segment from Ford and Chevrolet tremble in fear. But it does update rather old styling — this car was last redesigned in 1993.
There are three trim levels, CE, LE and a more sporting S model. All come with the same power plant — a 1.8-liter, 16-valve, double-overhead-cam, all-aluminum engine with variable-intake-valve timing. It’s certified as a low-emission vehicle, yet produces 125 horsepower and 125 foot-pounds of torque.
Power is fed through a standard five-speed manual transmission. A three-speed automatic transmission is optional on the CE, a four-speed on the S and LE.
Power is peaky, yet adequate for zipping around town. It’s not bountiful off the line, but seems better once it’s up to speed. The car feels light on its feet and is quite tossable. But, like any front-driver, understeer comes on when pushing through corners, and the car telegraphs its limitations clearly. The steering is somewhat light, yet quick.
Braking is courtesy of front disc/rear drum brakes, with anti-lock an option on the S and LE models. The brakes proved very effective — there wasn’t much fade as they warmed up.
The ride was quiet and comfortable for a small car. Firm kicks came through the fully independent suspension, but for the most part, bumps were well-smothered. The was wind noise at 65 mph and road noise was abundant over concrete surfaces. But the overall feeling one gets from this car is one of refinement. This definitely has the fine-car feel that most Toyotas possess.
The interior was trimmed nicely for the price. Although some vinyl was apparent on the LE-level trim, the interior plastics were textured nicely, if a bit hard. The seats were comfortable, although long-legged drivers will find the driving position tighter than the smaller Toyota Echo. Ditto the rear seat space. The low seating position gives this car an older feel than its competitors, such as the Ford Focus or the Echo, which has a more upright seating stance. However, the Corolla has a more upscale and substantial feel than e ither of them.
Trunk space was good, although gooseneck hinges take up space. The rear seat folds and has trunk-mounted releases. Storage on the interior is good, thanks to the center console with box and two large cupholders. The doors have large map pockets.
The test car was equipped lavishly for a small vehicle: aluminum wheels, a rear spoiler, power windows, locks and mirrors, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, an acceptable AM/FM-CD stereo, a tilt steering wheel, anti-lock brakes, side-impact air bags, cruise control, intermittent wipers, rear defogger, outside temperature gauge and map lights. Other options include a power sunroof, mud guards and an all-weather package that includes a heavy-duty defogger, starter and rear-seat heat ducts.
Safety is always an issue in smaller cars, and Toyota hasn’t ignored it. In addition to the features you’d expect, the Corolla has three-point safety belts in all positions as well as optional side-impact air bags, rare in this price class.
Other features of note include hood hold-down hooks, daytime running lights, front seat belt force pretensioners, and seat belt height adjusters. This will help you survive an accident. A temporary spare tire is standard.
Fuel economy is this car’s forte. The test vehicle yielded 26 mpg in a mix of city and highway driving.
With new competition and OPEC alternately flexing and relaxing its oil output muscles again, this car certainly needed a bit of help to stay in the game. But with Toyota’s legendary reliability, substantial build quality and a nice ride, the Corolla — which recently became the most popular selling car of all time in total production — still will satisfy the sensible folk for whom driving is a way to get from here to there, not a pleasure.
>> 2001 Toyota Corolla
Engine: 1.8-liter 16-valve, double overhead cam four-cylinder
Transmissions: 5-speed manual, three- or four-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 97 inches
Length: 174 inches
Width: 66.7 inches
Curb weight: 2,520 pounds
Cargo volume: 12.1 cubic feet
Base price, base model: $12,568
EPA rating: 30 mpg city, 39 mpg highway
Test mileage: 26 mpg
Fuel type: Regular