Toyota Corolla

As for toys of the motorized variety, Toyota has brought out a limited-edition Corolla to commemorate the introduction of the nameplate in the U.S. 35 years ago, a car that bowed at $1,666 and was powered by a 1.1-liter, 60-horsepower 4-cylinder engine.

While that first Corolla, which failed to make much of a dent in the U.S. with sales of 7,247 units, helped launch the economy-car era, the commemorative model is targeted at performance rather than mileage enthusiasts.

Can't fault Toyota for that, considering Chevy never celebrated the 35th anniversary of its Vega, Ford its Pinto or American Motors its Gremlin, cars the domestic automakers thought would keep Corolla from gaining ground in the U.S.

Corolla prospered while Vega, Pinto, Gremlin--and American Motors--disappeared.

But we digress.

The '05 Corolla XRS looks more sporty than it acts. The limited-edition XRS offers a 170-h.p. version of the 1.8-liter, 130-h.p. 4-cylinder found in the rest of the Corolla lineup.

With a little more low-end torque, it moves from the light a bit quicker than its pure economy-car stablemates, but the only way you'll smoke the tires is by taking off on a bed of Kingsford briquets.

Still, the suspension has been sports tuned to provide better handling and less lean in corners. Large 16-inch radials also contribute to better handling than the rest of the Corolla line. But the focus is on lateral control, and there's considerable up and down movement on uneven roadways.

Despite the decorative plastic ground effects, deck-lid spoiler, body-colored side moldings and door handles, Toyota can't camouflage that this is an '05 rendition of what started life and continues as an economy car.

The 170-h.p. 4-cylinder delivers 26 m.p.g. city/34 m.p.g. highway teamed with a smooth shifting 6-speed manual that provides lively movement without sacrificing the car's original intent--excellent mileage.

A gripe, however. Slip in and turn the key and if you haven't first buckled the safety belts, the warning chimes are relentless. Of course, belting up is the first and best safeguard against injury, so we can't fault Toyota too much.

A worse annoyance is that when you put the shift lever in reverse, the chimes blare non-stop as you back up until you stop and move into first gear.

The chimes remind the motorist that people or objects might be lurking behind, but the chimes are so aggravating that rather than say, "Oops, gotta watch what's back there," you back up as fast as you can to switch gears and silence the demons.

Base price is $17,455.

Standard equipment includes anti-lock brakes, power door locks, windows and mirrors, air conditioning and AM/FM stereo with single CD changer and six speakers.

TEST DRIVE

2005 Toyota Corolla XRS sedan

Wheelbase: 102.4 inches

Length: 178.3 inches

Engine: 1.8-liter, 170-h.p., 16-valve 4-cylinder

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Fuel economy: 26 m.p.g. city/34 m.p.g. highway

Base price: $17,455

Price as tested: $18,881. Includes $200 for AM/FM stereo with six-disc in-dash CD player and eight speakers; $750 for power tilt/slide moonroof; $87 for carpeted floor mats; $319 for security system; and $70 for all-weather guard package with larger battery and alternator. Add $515 for freight.

Pluses: Higher-performance version of Corolla with peppier 4-cylinder teamed with 6-speed manual. Sportier looks with ground-effects package. Deck-lid spoiler. Fog lamps. Decent price and very good mileage.

Minuses: Warning chimes if you don't fasten the belts and blares even more when backing up until you stop and slip into first gear.