2005 Toyota Corolla

AdChoices

2003 Toyota Corolla

This 2003 review is representative of model years 2003 to 2008.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 8

Bottom Line:

World's best-selling car grows and becomes more refined.
Pros:
  • Strategically revamped
  • Economical
  • Lively
Cons:
  • Awkward styling
  • "S" trim not very sporty
  • seat should move back more

Quick—what's the top-selling car of all time? The Ford Model T? Volkswagen Beetle? Guess again. It's the Toyota Corolla.

That shouldn't be surprising, because Toyota has an enormous worldwide sales network and the Corolla has been an affordable "run-forever" car since its introduction in Japan in 1966. The car made its U.S. debut two years later, largely as an alternative to the popular but very dated Volkswagen Beetle. More than 25 million Corollas have been sold in 142 countries.

Awkward Body Shape
It's too bad that, while significantly improved, the new Corolla sedan has an awkward appearance. That's because it's been made 3.2 inches taller and is virtually no wider. It thus looks like a shrunken midsize car, with an especially awkward appearance from the side and rear. Park it alongside the last generation, nicely proportioned Corolla and you'll see what I mean.

The Corolla never has been bought for its looks, but the car's styling always has been acceptable and the last generation actually looked elegant with black paint and silver alloy wheels.

The Lexus styling touches on the 2003 Corolla just make it look dowdier. If you want to send a photograph of your new Corolla to relatives, get down on a knee and snap a front, three-quarter shot of the car. That's the one Toyota features in press releases for the new model.

Always Improved
Looks aside, the Corolla is sure to remain popular because this ninth-generation model is an improvement over the 1998-2002 version. One of the Corolla's appeals is that the new generation model always has been a significant improvement over the previous generation.

More than ever, Toyota must improve the Corolla because it is one of the automaker's entry-level cars getting more competition from South Korea's Hyundai and Kia, which offer less expensive models with more equipment. They also have a longer warranty to partly offset Toyota's shining reputation for reliability and resale value.

Larger, Sportier and Roomier
Toyota thus has made its new Corolla larger, a little sportier and slightly roomier than its conservative predecessors, and added equipment and a more refined interior. It's emphasizing the new Corolla S, which is the sportiest of the three new Corolla trims, in initial marketing—although the automaker's slick new Matrix and low-priced but odd-looking Echo models officially are its "youth" cars.

Despite the sporty pitch, the 2003 Corolla remains mostly conservative because excessive sportiness would put off older buyers. Toyota just says the car "addresses concerns of current owners" and "reaches out to younger buyers with a strong new identity."

The $14,515-$15,315 S trim falls between the $13,370-$14,170 "value driven" CE entry trim and the top-line $14,680-$15,480 LE.

The low price for each trim shows it has a standard, slick 5-speed manual transmission, while the high price for each means it has an efficient 4-speed automatic.

However, the S is pretty much a bust as a sporty car. For instance, it has the same 1.8-liter 130-horsepower 4-cylinder engine as other Corollas and no special tires or sport suspension. Rather, there are only cosmetic items, including side rocker panels, front/rear underbody spoiler, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and "sport" speedometer and tachometer.

Longer and Roomier
However, the new Corolla does have five more horsepower than its predecessor—although no more torque. The car is 4.3 inches longer, with a wheelbase up 5.4 inches to 102.4 inches.

High Fuel Economy
The new model is about 100 pounds heavier and thus there isn't much difference in performance. The sophisticated-but-small engine needs lots of revs for the best acceleration. But performance is lively and fuel economy—always a prime Corolla virtue—is high: an estimated 30-32 in the city and 36-40 on highways.

This is another Corolla that should be cheap to run just about forever. And Toyota's revered name should ensure above-average resale value for owners who don't keep the car for a very long time.

Decent Handling
The variable-assist power steering is precise, but feels a little heavy. This is no sports sedan, but handling is decent with a revised suspension. The brake pedal has a nice feel, and stopping distances are fine.

However, despite the longer wheelbase, the new Corolla doesn't ride all that much better than its predecessor. But that's okay because the last-generation Corolla had an unusually comfortable ride for a small car.

Better Equipped
Corollas never had a lot of standard equipment, but the new car does better in that regard. For example, the CE has standard air conditioning, AM/FM/CD, power mirrors, a tilt steering wheel, a rear window defroster, intermittent wipers, a tachometer and a 60/40 split-folding rear seat to enlarge the cargo area.

The LE adds items such as power windows and door locks and remote keyless entry. But a sunroof and leather upholstery are optional for this model.

The S really should have a standard rear spoiler, but it's tucked in an $825 Sport Plus package that also contains aluminum alloy wheels.

Key Options
Key options for all Corollas are anti-lock brakes, cruise control and front side airbags.

New seats offer better support, and the dashboard is cleanly designed. But the driver's seat still doesn't slide back far enough for a 6-footer with long legs; that's a surprise, considering the appreciably longer wheelbase.

A big windshield and high roof give the interior an airy feeling. There are a fair number of small, but handy, storage areas up front, and rear windows slide down all the way.

Large Trunk
The large trunk has a wide opening, but its lid's manual hinges eat into cargo space. The pass-through opening from the trunk to the rear-seat area is only moderately large, and the split rear seatbacks should sit flatter after being flipped forward to increase cargo space.

The Corolla long has been a very refined small car that offers comforts of larger ones, and the new model's increased size provides it with a more substantial feel. In short, another winner.

advertisement

Search local listings

powered by:

Recently Viewed Cars

View favorites
BB03 - 4/20/2014 5:05:42 PM