The thought of driving a diesel in sub-zero temperatures – or more accurately the thought of starting one – is not too thrilling a prospect. Thatwas my first thought when the new front-wheel-drive, diesel-powered Toyota Corolla was offered as a test car.

Diesels, with their ultra-high compression ratios (about 22:1 compared to about 8.5:1 for a gasoline engine) and low volatile fuel (the same stuff used in home oil burners), are not the most ideal starting powerplants. If everything doesn’t come off in sequence – the battery giving the starter a strong kick, the compression heating the air in the cylinder and the injector squirting the proper mist of fuel at the right time

Keeping a diesel car in a heated garage goes a long way in aiding starting.Starting can also be helped by an electric plug-in oil or water heater attached to the engine block. But most of the time cars are left sitting outside to fend for themselves, so it was with a certain amount of reluctance I picked up the Corolla from J.H. Bennett, Inc., 2300 Hanover Ave., Allentown,during one of our super cold spells.

Diesel engines, of course, have made tremendous gains in starting over the last couple of years, the most notable innovation is the fast-fire glowplug, asimple device that resembles the heating element of an electric stove which heats up a charge in a pre-combustion chamber so ignition will come off much faster and smoother. However, years ago, the glowplug had to heat up the charge for about five minutes which meant sitting in a cold car, not going anywhere, waiting for the glowplug to do its job before turning over the starter.

Several years ago, the ”two-minute” glowplug was a big deal which meant that no matter how cold the temperature, the wait would never be more than twominutes. (In warm weather, the wait was only seconds.) In the new diesels, though, you only have a couple of seconds wait even in the coldest of weather.

Even though I was reluctant about the Corolla diesel, I must admit it had the fastest glowplug heat-up I have ever seen. The test car was parked outsideone night when the temperature fell to 10 degrees below zero. The wait for theglowplugs (indicated by a light on the dash that goes out when they finish their job) was only three seconds. And then the engine kicked right over and kept on running. Also aiding the starting process was a very large battery.

Okay, so the Corolla started in cold weather. What else does it have to offer? For one thing, it probably is the best styled Corolla of all times. Corolla always had a reputation as being a good, dependable, little car but itwas never an inspiring car to look at. This year there is evidence that Toyotaused the wind tunnel to come up with the Corolla’s aerodynamic design. The sloped hood, molded front bumper grille and hood, thin roofline and high rear deck lid of the car was designed to direct the flow of air over and around thecar in the fastest way which was confirmed by a .34 coefficient of drag, a figure closer to that of a sports car than a five-door liftback.

The new front-wheel-drive Corolla also is the roomiest of all Corollas. With an EPA index of 105 cubic feet (85 passenger compartment and 20 trunk) the car falls right into the middle of the compact class (100-110 cubic feet).Front seat room is good. Back seat leg room, however, does get quite tight when the two front seats are extended all of the way back.

The interior of the test car was done up in that heavy Japanese vinyl, the sort of material that leaves a little to be desired in extremely hot or cold weather, but it wears forever. It is a much better choice of material for families with small children than cloth material. The kids can drop their Big Macs, spill their Slurpies or grind in their Binney & Smiths to their hearts content without any permanent, and very little temporary, damage.

The front-wheel Corolla suspension eatures MacPherson struts with offset coil springs and dual link struts with gas-filled shocks and stabilizer bar inthe rear. Variable ratio rack and pinion steering is standard on diesel models. For some reason Toyota decided to also offer a conventional front engine/rear drive model in the Corolla line.

Although the five-door liftback is listed as a compact, its dimensions are closer to that of a sub-compact with a wheelbase of 95.7 inches, length of 166.3 inches, width of 64.4 inches, height of 52.8 inches and curb weight of 2,275 pounds.

The four-cylinder diesel used in the Corolla also is new from Toyota. It has a displacement of 112-cubic-inches (1.8 liter or 1839cc) rated at 56 horsepower at 4,500 rpm and 76 foot pounds of torque at 3,000 rpm. Now, 56 horses doesn’t sound all that awesome but it is adequate for a car weighing less than 2,300 pounds. The standard, five-speed manual transmission (a three-speed automatic is available as an option) makes the most of the power and, with its two overdrive gears, produces very good fuel mileage.

The test car averaged 46 miles per gallon over Lehigh Valley highways. In addition to the cold temperatures, it was driven over ice, through snow and slush and under more ideal conditions mileage should be even better. The EPA estimates are 43 mpg city/59 mpg highway for the five-speed and 38 mpg/49 mpg for the three-speed automatic. The one drawback with a diesel these days is the high price of diesel fuel. At one time it was much cheaper than gasoline but now it is more expensive. And there are some real rip-off stations sellingdiesel fuel. I some at one station that had the outrageous price of $1.439 pergallon and this was a self-service station. I didn’t notice the price until I was almost finished pumping. I assumed (sometimes a dangerous thing to do) that since the prices listed for its gasolines (unleaded regular and premium and leaded regular) were reasonable, so was the diesel fuel. So, take my advice and look at the numbers before you start pumping. At the time diesel fuel at other stations sold for a low of $1.229 a gallon to an average of about $1.30 per gallon. Diesel fuel prices are tied in with the price of home heating oil, therefor, if it is a cold winter you’re going to pay more for diesel fuel as the price of home heating fuel goes up.

Base price for the diesel five-door liftback is $7,298. Final price on the test car was $9,076.90 including $250 handling and freight charge, and such options as air conditioning, $630; AM-FM multiplex radio $190; power steering,rear window wiper, $95, and undercoating, $119.95.