2003 New Car Review:Toyota Corolla S



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SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyer's Guide

THE AUTO PAGE By JOHN HEILIG

SPECIFICATIONS

MODEL: Toyota Corolla S ENGINE: 1.8-liter DOHC four HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 130 hp @ 6,000 rpm/125 lb-ft @ 4,200 rpm TRANSMISSION: Five-speed manual WHEELBASE: 102.4 in. LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 178.3 x 66.9 x 57.7 in. STICKER PRICE: $18,020

I don't know why I'm so impressed with the new Toyota Corolla. Like all Toyotas, and by extension all Corollas, of the past, the Corolla is well-built, solid, and offers decent performance.

No longer a twin to the now-gone Geo Prizm, the Corolla stands on its own as well it should. And while I often questioned the "opinions" that the Corolla was better built than the Prizm (I thought they were equal in quality), the new Corolla is a solid winner.

I first drove the Corolla earlier in the year when it was paired with the Matrix, with which it shares a platform. You should be informed that I'm a sport utility junkie. I think the pairing of "sport" and "utility" is great. Usually.

But compared side-by-side, the Matrix I drove at the introduction wasn't as solid as the Corolla. There were rattles in the Matrix, that time, that weren't there in the Corolla. Granted, I have since driven a Matrix that fared better, but I still feel the Corolla is a better vehicle. And it has utility as well.

For example, the Matrix qualifies as what GM Chairman Bob Lutz calls a crossover vehicle. Let's face it, crossover vehicles are station wagons. I defy anyone to separate a Ford Focus Wagon from the Matrix (or similar-sized vehicle) in a crowd. The two are similar in size and function.

The Corolla, on the other hand, doesn't masquerade as anything but a four-door sedan. And it's larger than before. With 90.3 cubic feet of interior space, the Corolla now qualifies as a compact car, not a subcompact. You won't think you're in a Lexus LS, but you will appreciate the room, both in front and back.

The Corolla is built on a 102.4-inch wheelbase platform and is 178.3 inches in overall length. The trunk, which we made good use of during our test, is 13.6 cubic feet, larger than some "full-size" sedans. And the feel inside is of a larger vehicle.

Our Corolla came powered by a 1.8-liter double overhead cam inline four that is rated at 130 horsepower. The engine drove the front wheels through a five-speed manual gearbox. I was impressed that I was able to "chirp" the tires on acceleration, usually when I didn't really want to. The engine has plenty of power and torque (125 pound-feet) to handle any situation.

There was one instance where I entered an Interstate and had an 18-wheeler bearing down on me. I would have wanted a little more power at this point, but I also would have been able to extract better performance and get better take-off if I was in a lower gear, so I'll take at least half the blame. The truck never did get that close, but it's a classic test for acceleration.

One day at the hardware store the car received its greatest compliment. A workman who was involved with putting an extension on the building told me how impressed he was with the way the car looked. He also must have known something about the way the Corolla drove, because he commented positively on this as well. It isn't very often that people make unsolicited comments about cars at the lower end of the price spectrum, but that's the kind of car the Corolla is.

Our tester came with a bottom line of $18,020, which evolved from a base price of $14,515

• A delivery charge of $485 • Plus these options:

• An all weather guard package ($70) • Anti-lock brakes ($300) • Driver and passenger side airbags ($250) • AM/FM/CD combination with ix speakers ($40; • Tilt and slide moon-roof with day and night inner mirror ($750) • Sport Plus package that included a rear spoiler, P195/65R15 tires, and aluminum wheels ($825) • Power windows and keyless entry ($605) • Five-piece carpet/cargo mat set ($132) • Cargo net ($48)

Depending upon how important you feel some of these accessories are, it would be easy to get the price of the Corolla under $17,000, and that's a great bargain.

Maybe that's why I'm so impressed with the new Corolla.

© 2002 The Auto Page Syndicate

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