SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyer's Guide
The Corolla name has been on small Toyotas for over 30 years. The cars that the name has been attached to have changed considerably in that time, and there is yet another generation of Corolla for 1998. It's slightly larger that the old one, a little more fuel-efficient, and considerably more powerful. It also has increased safety features and a cleaner exhaust. It was designed to be more car for less money.
The Corolla is Toyota's world car, but is not the same car worldwide. Different versions are now made for Asia, Europe, and America. All 1998 Corollas sold in the U.S. will be built in North America, either in Fremont, California or Ontario, Canada. Three trim levels are offered here, a value-oriented VE, mid-level CE, and a very well-equipped LE. A more rigid chassis structure and new, more fuel- efficient 1.8-liter engine are shared by all. The new Corolla is marginally larger inside and out, which means more interior space with no loss of maneuverability or ease of parking.
The new Corolla is designed to give compact car buyers everything they need and want, and more than expected for less money. The new engine certainly sweetens the deal at the budget end of the spectrum. Although the VE should appeal to those looking for Toyota quality for a reasonable price, the LE is expected to be the volume seller. So I arranged for a fully-equipped 1998 Toyota Corolla LE as a test car. It was a remarkably refined and comfortable small car. At the local press introduction, I had further seat time in a '98 Corolla equipped with the 5-speed manual gearbox. That one showed a sporty side that has been eclipsed in Corollas since the mid-1980s. Both had levels of refinement more commonly expected in larger sedans. The new Corolla is a very economical car, but is far from an "economy car" in comfort, especially in the LE model.
APPEARANCE: Toyota's Southern California design studio did a good job on the original concept, and the home office changed it very little. The new Corolla is more graceful and sculpted than last year's car. Not too rounded and not too angular, its styling is a subtle blend of curves and lines. The front and rear ends are particularly interesting. At the front, a small, smile-shaped opening protrudes between rounded triangular multireflector headlamps, with the real intake integrated into the body-colored bumper fascia. That's not unusual. The hood treatment is, with a distinct, high fender line and central bulge separated by crisply edged lines. The front treatment is echoed at the rear, where another two-part boundary separates the slightly ducktailed trunk lid from the rear panel. The total effect of the styling gives the 1998 Corolla lean look.
COMFORT: Welcome to the Camry, Jr. The 1998 Corolla has a completely new interior. A lower beltline and increased glass area improve visibility and make the interior seem more spacious. The LE has high-quality synthetic interior materials in cheerful colors. Both front and rear seats are comfortable, with reasonable head and leg room. Four medium-sized adults fit well. The rear seat folds with a 60/40 split, with releases in the trunk for convenience. The trunk is usefully-sized, with a very low liftover. Storage spaces abound, with a deep, covered console box and CD-swallowing closeable dashboard compartment in addition to the usual door pockets and glove box. The instrument panel is functionally designed, and the optional black-on- white gauges add a touch of character. Control placement is very logical. A fast-acting climate control system and AM/FM/single CD audio system make the Corolla LE a civilized sedan. Air conditioning, a tilt steering wheel, and power windows, mirrors, and door locks are all standard on the LE.
SAFETY: The 1998 Corolla has more safety equipment than most cars in its class. The new body structure has front and rear crumple zones and a safety cage around the passenger cabin. In addition to standard depowered dual frontal airbags, and front seatbelt pretensioners and force limiters, front side airbags are available. A rear-seat child restraint system is offered, as are antilock brakes. Daytime running lights are standard.
ROADABILITY: The new Toyota is a refined and civilized small car. Lexus-technology soundproofing and a well-tuned fully-independent suspension make it as quiet and smooth as many mid-sized sedans. Even though its suspension is calibrated for comfort and compliance, the '98 Corolla is nimble and enjoyable to drive.
PERFORMANCE: The new aluminum alloy twincam, 16-valve, 1.8- liter 4-cylinder engine has 120 horsepower, 15 more than last year's engine, and is 64 pounds lighter. The power increase does not come at the expense of fuel economy, which is improved by 10 percent. With the standard 5-speed manual gearbox, the new Corolla is a very entertaining drive. The 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic of the LE does decrease acceleration somewhat, but also decreases driver stress in traffic. With the automatic, the '98 Corolla is still quite quick for a small car. So equipped, the LE a very good all-around performer and very civilized commuter.
CONCLUSIONS: The new 1998 Toyota Corolla LE is a most refined small car, and the perfect smaller sibling to the Camry.
SPECIFICATIONS Base Price $ 15,598 Price As Tested $ 18,715 Engine Type dual overhead cam, 16-valve inline 4-cylinder Engine Size 1.8 liters / 109 cu. in. Horsepower 120 @ 5600 Torque (lb-ft) 122 @ 4400 Transmission 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 97.0 in. / 174.0 in. Curb Weight 2525 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 21 Fuel Capacity 13.2 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded regular, 87 octane Tires P185/65 SR14 Goodyear Integrity Brakes, front/rear vented disc / drum Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent MacPherson strut Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 28 / 36 / 30 0 to 60 mph 10.3 sec 1/4 mile (E.T.) 17.6 sec Coefficient of Drag (cd) 0.31 OPTIONS AND CHARGES CA / NY / MA emissions $ 63 All-Weather Guard Package: includes heavy-duty starter, rear window defogger, heater with rear heater ducts $ 80 Deluxe audio system $ 100 Antilock brakes $ 550 Driver & front passenger side airbags $ 250 Cruise control $ 290 Moonroof $ 735 Touring Package: includes aluminum alloy wheels, rear color-keyed mudguards, color-keyed rocker panel extensions, white-faced gauges $ 555 Carpeted floor mats $ 74 Destination charge $ 420