Toyota's ninth-generation Corolla is proof that size and price are not what determines the value of a vehicle. Not only is this compact sedan taller, wider and longer than the previous model, but it drives with an uncommon feeling of poise and power, especially considering its price. There are three models Q CE, S and LE Q and base prices start at $13,370 and top out at $15,480, with $485 added for delivery. The S model has added spoilers, light-faced gauges and a sporty personality. In terms of value per dollar, the Corolla easily outclasses most of the vehicles in the compact segment.

The car driven for this review was a CE whose only options were cruise control, power locks and floor mats. Standard equipment included power outside mirrors, air conditioning with an air filter, tachometer, interval wipers, wind-up windows, cloth seats and an AM/FM/CD player with four speakers. It may seem like a stripped-down model, but it had almost everything you need except a high price.

The first Corolla debuted in 1966, and 25 million have been sold since. The 2003 is a huge advancement over the original car, which achieved a worldwide reputation as reliable transportation that didn't cost much. Today's car is light-years ahead of the original, of course, yet it embodies the same philosophy by offering its buyer a vehicle whose value exceeds the bottom line.

First off, the 2003 has an interior that offers almost as much room as a midsize sedan. Its interior measurements are just barely smaller than the Camry in all but one area: rear-seat legroom, as one would expect for a car whose 102.4-inch wheelbase is nearly five inches less than the Camry. With a taller roofline and a more upright seating position, the cabin is deceptively spacious. The trunk is sizable and the back seat folds down for hauling large objects.

Out on the road, the Corolla feels remarkably tight and solid, a quality that Toyota has intentionally engineered into its vehicles in recent years. Technology first developed for Lexus, Toyota's American luxury division, is finding its way into entry-level cars. Wind and road noise have been very well muted. The coefficient of drag is 0.29, and that helps fuel economy as well as noise reduction. Maximum engine revs at full throttle is the only time the car gets even the slightest bit noisy. The double-overhead-cam, 1.8-liter engine uses variable valve timing to broaden its powerband and give it nice throttle response at both low and high engine speeds. Consequently, it moves the vehicle with elan, even with the automatic transmission that was on the test vehicle. The EPA fuel economy rating is 29 miles per gallon in the city and 38 on the highway.

Even though this is a relatively inexpensive car, the cabin doesn't reflect its price. The instrument panel looks well-crafted and carefully thought out. The gauge package has simple elegance, and the controls for the heating-cooling and audio systems are large enough to gri p easily and glide with precision when you use them. The pattern of the cloth upholstery could be improved, but the seats themselves offer excellent support without being too soft or too hard. The seats have a higher hip point, meaning the passengers don't sit quite so close to the floor. That makes getting in and out easier for all ages. Leg- and headroom in the front is excellent, within fractions of a midsize car. The back seat is a little tighter, but easily big enough for adults.

The test car was a CE with automatic transmission. Options included cruise control, power locks and floor mats, while air conditioning and an AM/FM/CD stereo were standard. Its base price was $14,170, and the sticker price was $15,402.

Three years or 36,000 miles.

Point: Corollas have been built since 1966, and in that time the vehicle has evolved from basic transportation into a very solid, quiet and tight sedan that drives like a bigger, m re expensive vehicle. It has excellent power, the fit and finish are first-rate and the cabin is almost as spacious as the larger Camry. Counterpoint: I might prefer a different pattern for the cloth upholstery, and engine noise is a bit intrusive at full throttle.

Engine: 1.8-liter, 130-hp 4-cyl.
Transmission: automatic Front-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 102.4 inches
Curb weight: 2,568 lbs.
Base price: $14,170
As driven: $15,402
Mpg rating: 29 city, 38 hwy.
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