Review: 2003 Toyota Corolla S
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.
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