Review: 2003 Toyota Corolla S
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS
Toyota has recently introduced the ninth generation of its ever
popular Corolla sedan. Does it differ from earlier Corollas? Sure.
It's not so small anymore. Although it's still a compact size, easy to
maneuver in an urban environment, the 2003 Corolla is built on an
all-new platform that is a touch over four inches longer, with five
and a half inches added in wheelbase. The width is only fractionally
changed, but the roofline has been raised three inches. This
translates directly to more passenger space. Toyotas have long been
known for good fit and finish, and the '03 Corolla is no exception
there. It's even better - new production standards ensure that
interior panel fit is to Lexus standards. Wheel size is now 15 inches,
up from 14. The engine has been developed a bit more, adding
horsepower and reducing exhaust emissions, with no real gas
mileage penalty. As before, a five-speed manual transmission is
standard, but all models now have a four-speed automatic optional.
The old three-speed has been discontinued.
But, at heart, the new Corolla is a Corolla - more stylish and
more refined, but of the same solid, functional character that has
given the name its reputation. The model lineup is as before, with
the entry-level CE, luxury-oriented (yes, leather is an option) LE,
and sporty S, with special interior and exterior trim. I've been
driving a Corolla S for the past week, and have been impressed by
its refinement. And, it combines a fun-to-drive character and good
fuel economy with that refinement, a great combination.
APPEARANCE: There is enough styling continuity so that the
2003 Corolla is definably a Corolla, but it is noticeably larger and
more substantial without being too big. The angular contours are
familiar from the last version, but the windshield and rear window
are more raked, with their bottoms moved towards the ends of the
car. This gives the new Corolla a sportier, less formal look. There is
also a more than passing resemblance to the newest Camry in shape
- call it the contemporary Toyota family look. The S gets the sport
``aero kit'' treatment, with twin chin spoilers in front, side sills, and
a rear underside spoiler standard. A small rear wing is optional, as
are alloy wheels.
COMFORT: The longer wheelbase, enlarged passenger cabin and
raised roof are not just styling exercises. They pay off in noticeably
increased interior space. The basic design is simple. Even in a dark
color, it looks roomy and light. Each model has its own unique
interior trim. The S gets front sport seats, a dark-on-light
instrument cluster including a tachometer, and leather trim on the
tilt-adjustable steering wheel and shift lever. The front seats are
above the class average in comfort, with the driver's cushion
adjustable for height. The extra size is most noticeable in the rear
seat. The Corolla is a sedan, and Toyota assumes that the rear seat
will be used to transport real people. The previous-generation
Corolla had a good rear seat for its size, but the new one is even
better. It could be a bit cramped with three people back there, but
two should be fine, as long as they are under six feet. There is
plenty of trunk space.
SAFETY: The 2003 Corolla has dual stage front airbags, three-
point safety belts with automatic locking retractors for all seating
positions, and daytime running lights. Antilock brakes and side
airbags are available.
ROADABILITY: The new Corolla's refinement shows on the road.
It's grown up. In no way does it feel like an entry-level economy
car. The new platform uses MacPherson struts in front, like its
predecessor, but the rear struts of the previous-generation Corolla
have been exchanged for a semi-independent torsion beam axle.
This is not the step backwards it might seem. Toe-control bushings
increase stability, and rebound springs in the rear shock absorbers
increase roll stiffness, decreasing body roll in corners and improving
handling without adding harshness. A longer wheelbase and
excellent matching of spring and shock absorber rates gives the new
Corolla ride comfort unexpected from a small sedan, and make it
fun to toss through corners.
PERFORMANCE: The twincam, 16-valve aluminum alloy 1.8 liter
four-cylinder engine in the 2003 Corolla is a development of that
found in last year's car. Enhancements to the intake system increase
horsepower by five to 130 at 6,000 rpm. Torque stays at 125 lb-ft,
now at 4,200 rpm, but low speed response, never a problem with
torquey Toyota engines, is even better than before. Toyota's
``VVT-i'' variable valve timing system helps increase the torque
spread, and to lower emissions levels. The standard five-speed
manual transmission helps give a sporty driving experience and
excellent fuel economy, with well over 30 mpg easily attainable in
everyday, real-world driving. The engine is strong enough that the
available four-speed automatic should have little detrimental effect
on performance or economy.
CONCLUSIONS: Any way you take it, the new Corolla is solid,
functional, and frugal with fuel. It's fun, too, and provides an
entertaining driving experience.
2003 Toyota Corolla S
Base Price $ 14,515
Price As Tested $ 17,962
Engine Type dual overhead cam 16 valve aluminum
alloy inline 4-cylinder
Engine Size 1.8 liters / 109 cu. in.
Horsepower 130 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 125 @ 4200 rpm
Transmission 5-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length 102.4 in. / 178.3 in.
Curb Weight 2,524 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 20.2
Fuel Capacity 13.2 gal.
Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires P195/65 SR15 Goodyear Integrity
Brakes, front/rear vented disc / drum, antilock optional
Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut /
semi-independent torsion beam axle
Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
city / highway / observed 32 / 40 / 33
0 to 60 mph 8.7 sec (est)
OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Anti lock brake system $ 300
Driver and front passenger side airbags $ 250
Deluxe 4-speaker AM/FM/cassette/CD audio system $ 100
Tilt & slide moonroof with day & night inside mirror $ 750
Sport Plus package - includes: rear spoiler, P195/65 tires
on aluminum alloy wheels $ 825
Power windows and keyless entry $ 605
5-piece carpet & cargo mat set $ 132