Toyota Corolla sedan in fresh format moves upscale in scope
Date Posted: 5/10/2005
KONA, Hawaii -- The Kohala Highway, a narrow coastal road leading to the port city of Kona on the big island of Hawaii, runs dead-eye straight for ten miles through a vast field of hardened black lava that once flowed down from the towering Mauna Kea volcano.
All traffic, confined to a single lane in each direction with only sporadic zones for passing, often will back up for miles behind some sluggish truck or a sightseer's convertible.
On a recent run down the Kohala Highway, however, luck left a sufficient gap in on-coming traffic so we could tromp the throttle and scoot around a slow-moving cargo van.
Although the sedan we steered carries but a modest engine, it does not impede our dash down the passing lane. In fact, it leaps around the van and sends us quickly on our way to Kona.
At maximum legal speed on the Kohala Highway, our car hunkers against the blacktop. It feels rock-solid and substantial, smooth in suspension and surprisingly quiet.
From the vantage of the driver's seat, the cockpit seems spacious despite physical dimensions that sort the sedan in the subcompact class.
Also, it carries preferred interior ingredients, from legible black-on-white analog gauges in the vivid instrument cluster to a pair of comfortable bolstered bucket seats in the front row, power controls for windows and door locks and exterior mirrors, a sophisticated stereo sound package in the dash and touches of simulated walnut wood lining console and doors.
A badge in the hub of the steering wheel reflects the logo of Toyota, which also appears on sedans like the mid-size Camry and big-size Avalon. Further, the tone and style of the interior design and appointments in our car evokes images of these larger Toyotas yet the subcompact scale leads us conclusively to Toyota's small sedan label -- Corolla.
This particular Corolla in deluxe LE trim and bearing the model-year designation of 2003 represents an entirely new design for a venerable Toyota nameplate.
Launched in Japan in 1966, Corolla reached the United States two years later. In the Seventies it led the small-car field for affordable but dependable transportation.
Successive new generational designs in the 1980s and '90s improved with each incremental step to the point with the eighth version rolling out in 1998 that Corolla became the best-selling passenger car in history -- now with more than 25 million units sold in 142 countries.
Although Toyota markets Corolla around the world, for North America a special version skewed toward American tastes was developed, beginning in 1993.
Designs for the American Corolla came out of Toyota's California design center in Newport Beach, with assembly occurring at a California plant in Fremont that Toyota operates in a joint venture with General Motors, and at Toyota's Canadian factory in Cambridge, Ontario.
The designs of 1998 improved Corolla in virtually every aspect, from the overall size of the package and performance of a new engine to on-board safety features and a more comfortable passenger compartment.
Now, though, Corolla's fresh designs of 2003 -- the ninth generation for this series -- demonstrate that a sedan of small scale can still feel substantial while packing the equipment of a larger vehicle and keeping the price chart within the realm of affordability.
Structure for this new Corolla stretches longer and higher and wider, which makes the resultant vehicle not only look larger but produces more room in the passenger compartment for as many as five riders.
Exterior styling appears shapely and contemporary but also athletic, even muscular.
From the forward base of the canted windshield to the trailing bottom of the rear window, the superstructure above Corolla's beltline stretches for nine inches longer than the previous edition. This forges a sleek new profile that enhances the car's aerodynamic ability to slip through still air, with a coefficient of drag paring from 0.310 to 0.296.
Since this version of Corolla is larger and heavier than its predecessor, it also feels more solid and substantial when set in motion.
The unitized structure is more rigid and strong now, which creates a more solid system for attaching suspension components, so Corolla's overall ride characteristics improve and set up a more agile platform.
Suspension components draw from MacPherson struts up front and rear torsion beams.
Power rack and pinion steering functions smoothly and feels accurate, reacting quickly on cue from driver to move front wheels.
Brakes, with front discs and rear drums, may be linked to an optional anti-lock system for evenly controlled stops.
It acts lively too.
The four-cylinder powerplant, composed of lightweight aluminum, displaces 1.8 liters and packs dual cams on top plus Toyota's valve wizardry, labeled VVTL-i for variable valve timing and lift with intelligence.
It generates up to 130 hp at 6000 rpm, an improvement of five power points over the previous Corolla's 1.8-liter four. Torque climbs to 125 lb-ft at 4200 rpm, with more pep in the mid-range of gears used for stop-and-go city driving.
It also earns impressive fuel economy numbers -- up to 41 mpg for highway driving with the manual shifter, or 39 mpg with an automatic four-speed transmission.
Corolla's new engine drops into all three of the trim levels: Entry-level CE, sporty S and deluxe LE.
Transmissions include the standard five-speed manual for all trims, an optional automatic three-speed for Corolla CE and a four-speed automatic on S and LE.
Even the base CE Corolla provides significant content. The list of standards ranges from power mirrors to a tilting steering wheel, remote releases for trunk and hood and fuel door, intermittent wipers, a tachometer in the instrument cluster, the rear seatback split in segments and foldable, and a stereo system with CD deck and four speakers.
Corolla S applies more goods, such as air conditioning, power door locks plus smoked headlamps, an underbody spoiler front and rear, side rocker panels, foglamps, leather-wrapped steering wheel and a sport tachometer.
But Corolla LE has it all, including power windows and door locks, remote keyless entry and wood-like appliques.
| Vehicle Specifications:
| 2003 TOYOTA COROLLA Specs
||Subcompact 4-door sedan
| Model Options:
||Subcompact 4-door sedan
| Overall Length:
| Engine Size:
||DOHC 1.8-L I4
S / LE: opt. ABS/EBD
||2 (front) + opt. 2 (side)
| Gas Mileage:
||M/5: 32/41 mpg
A/3: 29/33 mpg
A/4: 30/39 mpg
||$ 12,568 to $ 16,000