Review: 2003 Toyota Corolla S

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyer's Guide

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. 
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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. SPECIFICATIONS 2002 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 PERFORMANCE 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

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