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2003 Toyota Corolla Road Test

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The last time I tested a Corolla, I was quite impressed with it.  Enough so that I recommended it to my son, who was looking for his first new car.  His criteria were for a car that got excellent gas mileage, was small, but, was exceptionally reliable and was easy on the environment. Performance didn’t matter as long as it was safe and adequate for normal day-to-day driving.  

All very practical concerns that would make a parent proud.  But my first reaction was “Whose son is this??” My first car was as powerful a girl magnet as I could afford, one that would win all the stop-light drag races I would instigate in order to satisfy my macho ego.  But, alas, my wife had more of an influence than I realized. Instead of following in my illustrious footsteps, my son decided to become a college professor and do research on the origins of life and how evolution works.  When I was growing up, my mother told me that when I become a parent, I would find out what it’s like to have a kid that does things his own way, and then I’ll see what I put her through. Okay, mom, you made your point.

Source: carcity.com.au/

This is the 9th generation of corolla, which has earned the title of all-time best selling car in the world with more than 25 million cars sold over the years in 142 countries around the world.  

If you are the type of person who is patriotic and refuse to buy anything that is not made in the USA, I have two things to tell you: First, The Corolla is made right here in the US of A, and Second, Toyota has performed a service for people who would only buy cars with American names.  BecauseToyotas have been so reliable, it has forced American manufacturers to improve the quality of their offerings, so you can be sure to get a reliable car no matter what you buy these days. Thank you, Toyota.

With the exception of the engine which is a carryover from last year with a few tweaks thrown in that bump the horsepower up by 5 ponies, the 2003 Corolla is from the wheels up. In fact, this is the first time that Toyota is using 5 bolt wheels instead of the traditional 4-bolt wheels found on most compact sedans.  

The new car is longer, taller and wider with more room all around, not to mention more usable storage areas everywhere you look.  The console glove box in downright huge for a car in the compact class. Split-folding rear seats are now standard across the board, exposing a good-sized pass through into the trunk.  

Thoughtful touches abound in the new Corolla, including two 12-volt power taps, one of which is inside the console glove compartment which is handy for powering your cellphone.  Other features include a standard outside temperature gauge, a clock with its own display that is NOT part of the radio dial, rear windows all the way down into the door, the list goes on and on.

Category:$13,000 – $20,000 Compact Sedan
Who should buy this car:A person who wants a small, economical, very reliable sedan that is also comfortable and peppy.
Comparable models in this class:Honda Civic, Saturn SL, Mazda Proteg, Dodge Neon, Ford Focus,Nissan Sentra, Hyundai Elantra, Mitsubishi Lancer,  Daewoo Nubira, and Suzuki Esteem.

The new Corolla is available in 3 models with prices that are actually reduced from last years offerings: The CE which is the price leader at $13,370, has more standard features than last year, the better equipped LE  comes in at $14,680 which is more than$1000 less than last years model comparably equipped, and the sporty S model at$14,515 which is $850 less than last year. All are available in either5-speed stick or Automatic.

Factory A/C is now standard equipment on all corollas and includes a clean air filter to keep air pollution from seeping into the car.  Other standard features on all models include power mirrors, power steering, tilt steering wheel, AM/FM/CD radio with 4 speakers, outside temperature gauge, tachometer, digital clock, 60/40 folding rear seat, and even color-keyed outside door handles.  Making all this formerly optional equipment standard, helped Toyota reduce the cost of the features.

As is usual with Toyota products, fit and finish is exceptional.  The body gap lines are extremely tight, paint is flawless and all the hardware, such as door handles, switches and levers,  feel like they belong on a more upscale car.

Sitting behind the wheel of the LE, I felt like I was sitting in a Camry or Avalon.  The driver’s seat was extremely comfortable and supportive. Manual seat adjustments were adequate for me to quickly find a suitable driving position.  For some drivers, a telescoping feature for the tilt steering column would have been welcome. Rear seat room was quite good and the seats were comfortable.  The wood-look dash inserts that are standard on the LE were of good quality and leather is available for the first time as a factory option. The instrument faces are white with green markings on the and white with red markings on the S.  The CE had more conventional black face gauges with white markings.

For 2003, the Corolla is both larger and heavier than the previous car giving it a more substantial feel on the road  The excellent Toyota 1.8liter 4-Cylinder engine was quiet and smooth, rarely letting itself be heard at anything less than half throttle.  The 4-speed automatic that was in our test car was smooth and refined with barely perceptible shifts at light or moderate throttle. Acceleration is about the same as last year with the extra 5horsepower being used to handle the extra weight.  Gas mileage is an excellent 32 mpg city and 40 mpg highway for the standard shift model with about 2 miles per gallon less for the automatic. Not at all bad for a car with this level of comfort and performance.

Toyota Corollas are world-renowned for their reliability and this new model shows every indication of continuing that reputation.  In this highly competitive small car market, Corolla’s competitors have tried to counter that reputation for reliability with extended warranties that go as high as 10 years, but people that I have talked to who buy Corollas tell me that they would rather have a   doesn’t break rather than a car that will get fixed for free.  

I told my son about this new Corolla and how much I liked it, but he said that his 2000 Corolla should last for at least 10 years with proper care and maintenance. 

I’m working on him.

How would I improve this car?

How does the Corolla fit your driving style? 

Conservative drivers will feel very comfortable and at home in this car.  Its smooth and quiet demeanor, as well as its substantial feel, will make you want to keep it for a long time.

Sporty drivers will like the nimble feel and more than adequate acceleration that this compact sedan provides.  The sport-tuned suspension on the S model would be more to your liking than the softer sprung CE and LE.

Fast drivers will be happier with a more sporty car like the Mitsubishi Lancer or Ford Focus, but you would be giving up an otherwise excellent small sedan.  This is probably the best, under $15,000 car I ever tested.

Specifications

Engine Type1.8-liter, 4-cylinder, in-line twin-cam, 16-valve EFI, aluminum alloy block and head
Horsepower130 @ 6000 RPM
Torque125 @ 4200 RPM
Fuel RecommendedRegular 87 Octane Unleaded.
Transmission (std.)

Transmission (opt.)

5-speed manual transaxle

4-Speed ECT Automatic

Tires – StandardAll-season steel-belted radial 185/65R15 (CE) 195/65R15 (S, LE)
Overall Length178.3″
Wheelbase102.4″
Width66.9″
Steering turns3.36 Lock to Lock
Turning Diameter35.2 ft Curb to Curb
Curb Weight
 CE SLE
Std2,5022,5242,524
Auto2,568  2,5902,590
Fuel Tank13.2 Gallons
Miles Per GallonEPA city 32, hwy 40 (Manual), city 30, hwy 38 (Automatic)
Acceleration 0 to 609.5 Seconds
Base Sticker Price

(Includes destination charges)

CE SLE
$13,370$14,515$14,680

2003 Toyota Corolla

Standard Equipment for the CE Includes…

The S Has All the CE Features Plus…

The LE Has All the CE Features Plus…

Major Available Options

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Author

Charles Ofria

Automotive Expert

Charles Ofria was an automotive journalist who was active in the automotive industry for over 40 years. During the '70s, he was owner-operator of Ofria Automotive, a thriving auto repair shop in Brooklyn, NY. During that time he became involved with auto mechanic training when he set up courses to help prepare mechanics to take the then new A.S.E. (Automotive Service Excellence) mechanic certification exams.

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