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Second-Hand: Toyota Corolla

It's been said that Toyota created the upscale Lexus brand to reward all the Corolla owners for their loyalty and persistent penny-pinching over the years.

Published March 15, 2008
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<p>It's been said that Toyota created the upscale Lexus brand to reward all the Corolla owners for their loyalty and persistent penny-pinching over the years.</p><p>Lexus returned the favour in 2002 by giving the Corolla some lessons in poise and panache, not to mention how to wear a door with uniform gaps all the way around.</p><p>Introduced as the ninth generation of the Corolla since 1966, it filled out in every dimension, particularly in height, to broaden its appeal.</p><p>Hard to imagine its allure was ever in danger of waning. With some 32 million copies sold to date, the Corolla has been the world's best-selling automobile since the wheel clinched the Best Innovation award in 3500 BC. </p><p><strong>Configuration</strong></p><p>Toyota redesigned its front-drive economy car as  a seven-eighths-scale Camry, which dictated a conservative four-door profile. It arrived early in 2002 as a 2003 model – which suggests some '03 models are already six years old, not five.</p><p>Fresh styling was accompanied by a whopping 13.7 cm increase in the wheelbase and 11 cm in overall length compared to the outgoing model. That translated into a big improvement in interior space.</p><p>White-faced instruments, high-mounted audio system and ventilation controls, and multiple storage cubbies set off the handsome cockpit. Fit and finish were said to be Lexus quality, though some owners questioned that boast.</p><p>"The interior dashboard is flooded with annoying buzzes and rattles," blogged the owner of a '03 model. </p><p>Some owners found the seats a little uncomfortable (the bottom seat cushion was short for those long of leg) and the seat's orientation to the steering wheel was slightly odd.</p><p>"Steering wheel too far forward when seat adjusted properly for leg length," noted one. Another wrote that a telescopic wheel was sorely needed.</p><p>At least the back seat was commodious and usefully shaped for up to three passengers.</p><p>The Corolla was powered by a chain-driven DOHC 1.8 L four-cylinder that was carried over from the old model. It received some important updates, however, including a redesigned intake manifold and a larger-diameter throttle body to assist Toyota's intelligent variable intake-valve timing (VVT-i) system.</p><p>The changes were good for five additional horsepower, for a total of 130, plus a broader torque band with 125 lb.-ft. of grunt available at 4000 rpm.</p><p>Buyers could choose between a five-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmission. Engineers dropped the final drive ratio to help the little motor deal with the 90 kg weight gain over the old model.</p><p>That weight gain was put to good use: the 2003 Corolla had a beefier body structure to absorb impacts better. All models came with dual-stage airbags up front along with belt pretensioners. Side airbags were optional, as were anti-lock brakes.</p><p>For 2005 the Corolla got an imperceptible facelift and optional curtain side airbags. The big news was the addition of the XRS sedan to the lineup, with a high-revving 170-hp 1.8 L engine, six-speed manual transmission, sport suspension and 16-inch wheels. </p><p>As with its cousin, the Matrix XRS wagon, Toyota had lifted the drivetrain from the Celica GTS, although 10 hp was lost during the transplant. The boy-racer model was dropped in 2007.</p><p>The ninth generation Corolla was retired in February to make way for the all-new 2009 model.</p><p><strong>On the road</strong></p><p>True to its mission as the Lexus of econoboxes, the Corolla acquitted itself on the commuter circuit with aplomb. </p><p>"The Corolla is a smooth and quiet ride," reader Kevin Leung wrote to us. "During idle you can barely hear the engine sound, something more associated with luxury cars." </p><p>A five-speed-equipped model could sprint to 96 km/h in 8.2 seconds, making it the zippiest `box in a field of 10 economy sedans tested by a major magazine (add almost a full second for the automatic).</p><p>Braking was less than exemplary, requiring a longish 63 metres to stop from a speed of 112 km/h. Grip was mediocre as well, generating 0.74 g on a circular skidpad.</p><p>"Fair warning from a car enthusiast standpoint, this car is about as exciting to drive as a washing machine," read one blog.</p><p>The rare XRS trimmed a full second off the acceleration time, while the performance tires brought a different character to the car.</p><p>Run-of-the-mill Corollas won big kudos for their fuel-sipping habits. </p><p>With numbers like 7.1 and 5.6 L/100 km, the Corolla rivalled the miniscule Yaris for a spot on the government's list of the most fuel-efficient cars.</p><p><strong>What owners reported</strong></p><p>The Toyota Corolla got to be the best-selling car in history not because it was good-looking (for many years it wasn't) or because it was a populist icon like the VW Beetle.</p><p>It came to rule the world because it started every time you turned the key.</p><p>Added to that dependability were dollops of style, comfort, utility, economy and a brazen dash of luxury for 2003.</p><p>Like your faithful, outlaw beer fridge humming in the basement, the Corolla rarely needed service, owners told us. </p><p>Beyond the gripes about errant rattles – sometimes traced to the upper suspension mount, which is cured with insulating material – drivers pointed out a few concerns regarding loose weatherstripping, fussy door locks and short-lived wheel bearings.</p><p>Some disliked the "cheap" original-equipment tires and replaced them with premium rubber at the first opportunity.</p><p>That's it. </p><p>World domination doesn't get any easier than this.</p><p><em>We would like to know about your ownership experience with these models: Dodge Durango, Subaru Impreza and Jaguar S-Type. Email: <a href="mailto:toljagic@ca.inter.net">toljagic@ca.inter.net</a>.</em></p><p> </p>