2006 Toyota Corolla
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Some folks still think that the Ford Model T or original Volkswagen Beetle holds the title of the world's top-selling car, but the Toyota Corolla surpassed both those autos long ago with production of more than 25 million units.
Sold throughout the world, the compact Corolla was introduced in 1966 and arrived in America two years later. It was cheap, durable, functional, used little gasoline and had a far more modern design than the old Beetle. Americans soon took to it.
Stronger competition from South Korean automakers Hyundai and Kia caused the Corolla's U.S. sales to slip to 231,848 cars last year from 240,203 in 2004, although the Corolla is still holding its own.
The current $14,005-$17,780 Corolla is the ninth generation model, introduced for 2003. It is longer, taller and wider than the eighth-generation car, with more equipment and an upgraded interior.
Shrunken Lexus Look
The small 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine from the last-generation Corolla is retained, but it's sophisticated, with dual overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder and variable valve timing for better responsiveness. It comes in standard 126-horsepower form, with a 164-horsepower version in a fairly new XRS hot rod trim level.
The engine is moderately noisy during full acceleration. And the car only has an available 4-speed automatic transmission, instead of a more modern 5-speed unit, that lowers economy to 30 mpg city and 38 highway. Still, the automatic is responsive and those still are respectable figures. The car isn't much faster with the 5-speed manual.
Tiring in City
The XRS needs race-car-style high engine speeds (7400 rpm) to develop the extra power and consequently performs best on long, clear roads, which often are difficult to find in crowded urban areas.
Special XRS Features
The Corolla never was meant to be a hot rod, so the XRS seems out of place in the Corolla line, which contains a CE entry version, sportier midrange S and top-line luxury LE.
All have a split-folding back seat to enlarge the cargo area—except the XRS, which has a rear cross brace to stiffen its body structure.
All Corollas are solidly built, although some Corolla buyers have complained to this writer about a squeaky suspension after a few years of ownership. The annoying noise can be eliminated by periodic lubrication of supposedly "lubricated-for-life" suspension components.
The S adds power door locks, a leather-wrapped wheel, two extra speakers, a sport tachometer and color-keyed body side moldings, mirrors, rocker panels, a front spoiler and a rear underbody spoiler. The LE adds power windows, remote keyless enty and wood-like interior trim.
Key Safety Extras
As always, the Corolla has a long options list. Offered for the S, LE and XRS is a power tilt-and-slide sunroof, and the LE can be equipped with leather upholstery. Numerous option packages have wide price ranges.
Even those with long arms will find that sound system controls call for a long reach because they're set high on the dashboard. But all other controls are easily reached, including the large, but rather notchy, climate controls.
The trunk has a low, wide opening, although its lid has space-eating manual hinges. The split rear seatbacks don't sit flat enough when flipped forward to enlarge the cargo area.
It's often hard to find a low-mileage used Corolla because many owners keep the car a long time because it runs reliably for years with little maintenance. It's even better than the old, iconic Volkswagen Beetle in that regard.