- The Washington Times - Friday, August 16, 2002

Toyota's popular compact-entry Corolla has been redesigned for 2003 and released to showrooms this year.

Not only is Corolla Toyota's best-selling car historically, it is also the world's best-selling nameplate. Its reasonable price, excellent fuel economy and remarkable durability have contributed heavily to its showroom success.

Corolla grows with each generation. The 2003 edition is no exception. It has gained inches in all directions. Roughly 4 inches longer and taller than the past generation and about half an inch wider, the new Corolla is decidedly larger. This is good news for passengers, who have more leg, head, hip and elbow room. Despite the size, Corolla's mass has increased by only about 50 pounds good news for fuel economy.

Still available in the entry-level CE, up-level LE and sporty S trim, Corolla continues to offer a fair amount of flexibility in price and amenities. The Corolla provided for this evaluation was an S version, with its leather-wrapped steering wheel/shift knob and exterior aero trim.

The 2003 Corolla is more sophisticated-looking than previous generations the styling more thoughtful, less elementary. Of course some of this additional curb appeal can be attributed to its increased size, but the lines are more elegant this time around, too.

All trim levels use the same 1.8-liter in-line four-cylinder engine carried over from last year. While peak torque remains at 125 foot-pounds, horsepower has increased from 125 to 130. These numbers wouldn't promise anything special in most sedans weighing nearly 2,500 pounds, but when equipped with the manual five-speed transmission, as my test Corolla was, acceleration feels surprisingly snappy. Although the five-speed Corolla seems quick, it takes nearly 10 seconds to reach 60 mph from a standstill. However, snicking through the gears and listening to the engine whine is so much fun, you probably won't realize that reaching 60 mph takes about as long as in a Mercury Grand Marquis.

The clutch has a good feel and the shifter slides through its gates smoothly. Fuel economy is solid, with an Environmental Protection Agency rating of 32 miles per gallon in the city and 40 on the highway.

Corolla's gain in length has been accompanied by a more-than-5-inch increase in its wheelbase. The extra space between the front and rear wheels helps the four-wheel independent suspension smooth out the ride. In addition to the improved ride quality, the new Corolla feels better-connected to the road. It's an equation, however, favoring ride over handling. It feels stable enough in the turns but is certainly no sports car. And although the S trim level would seem to indicate a sportier suspension, it is no different than that of the LE. Enhancements to the steering system have increased control and response. Braking is good. Unfortunately, anti-lock brakes remain a $300 option.

If one generalization can be made of the interior, it's that the quality of the materials and workmanship seem better than in the previous Corolla. The fit and finish is much improved. Otherwise, although changes have been made, it is still a user-friendly cockpit with sensibly placed controls.

The seats have been refined for better cushioning and support. All five seating positions have shoulder and lap belts. The doors open widely enough for easy access to both the front and rear. The trunk is about right for this size automobile, and the lift-over is bumper height.

The Corolla S has a base price of $14,515. This is not inexpensive for the compact arena. Some of its standard features include dual front air bags, dual remote outboard mirrors, fog lamps, daytime running lights, air conditioning, power door locks, four-speaker AM/FM stereo/CD player, tilt steering wheel and 60/40 split rear seat. Side-impact air bags are a $250 option, and adding power windows and a remote keyless entry will set you back $605. The delivery charge is $525.

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