– Reliable and solidly built
– Low running costs
– Large interior
– Tall styling
– Higher price than before
– Base model low on features
The evergreen Toyota Corolla is undeniably one of the best-selling compact sedans in the region. It is reliable, refined and has good resale value, which are pretty much the only reasons most people buy this car. They do not look at the low power figures, or how ugly the profile of the car is, or how the wheels are too small for the body, but they do look at how economical it is to run, and how trouble-free the ownership experience will be. In short, Corolla buyers buy a car with the same verve that they reserve for shopping home appliances, like a shiny new washing machine. The shiny new 2006 Corolla is the same as the 2005 model, which itself was a facelift of the model that was introduced in 2002. These cars are all over the place so we had no trouble picking one up from a friend.
The current Corolla certainly is, in some aspects, a revelation in the small car market. Sure, the exterior build quality is, as usual, top notch, and the styling is, as usual, sleep-inducing. But the interior is the deal-clincher. It is unsurprisingly large inside, considering how tall the roof is. The seats are comfortable, but not supportive enough for spirited driving. Big air conditioning controls, straightforward stereo controls, a few cup holders and plenty of small storage spaces make for a conveniently-designed interior. The simple colourless radio, with optional CD player, is located high up so it is easy to reach while the three large round knobs for the heating and air conditioning system are located below. The handle for the parking brake is located on the left of the center console so there’s room for a small storage space on the right.
The doors have reasonably wide openings, which makes getting in and out easier. That’s the benefit of the relatively long wheelbase, which also means that the rear wheel wells do not protrude into the rear door as much as they do on some cars. It really doesn’t feel like a small car, and it doesn’t feel cheap, like some other compact cars. Big and tall people will find the accommodations a little cramped, but shorter people may find the Corolla fits them perfectly. There is a generous amount of front legroom and headroom and there is an uncharacteristically good amount of room in the back for two average-size adults. Although there are seat belts for a third rear-seat passenger, there’s definitely a shortage of space for the middle rear passenger. Materials used in the seats appear classy with nice fit and finish, for the most part, but some trim on the doors is cheap hard plastic. The doors shut with a pleasant thud thanks to liberal amounts of sound deadening material mounted inside the door panels. Take a look inside a Corolla with optional leather seating and you could easily imagine you’re looking inside a luxury car instead of a compact. The optional leather seats have a luxurious soft pleated finish. The luggage trunk is one of the biggest in this class, made possible by the high waistline of this disproportionately tall car.
The Toyota Corolla comes in a variety of configurations, so buyers can choose just how much they want to spend on accessories. Everything is optional on this car. It comes in two body styles–a four-door sedan and a five-door station wagon. There is a choice of either a 1.3-litre or a 1.8-litre four-cylinder 16-valve engine, and a choice of a five-speed manual or a basic four-speed automatic transmission. Two trim levels are available–XLi and high-level GLi. However, the wagon is only available in XLi trim.
The basic XLi comes standard with air conditioning, AM/FM/cassette stereo system, power steering and a manual gearbox. It also gets 185/70-R14 tyres, cloth interior and full wheel caps. Power windows, automatic gearbox and keyless entry are available as an optional package. The standard engine is the 1.3-litre 87 hp engine, while the 1.8-litre 126 hp engine is optional.
The upscale GLi trim gets the 1.8-litre engine mated to the automatic gearbox as standard, along with remote keyless entry, power windows and electric mirrors, along with 195/60-R15 tyres, simple alloy wheels, front airbags, foglights and a rear spoiler. Options include a leather interior and a moonroof. Other options that are available on both the XLi and GLi include sporty body kits, TV and DVD players, and more stylish 15″ alloy wheels.
The front-wheel-drive Toyota Corolla thrives on being smooth and easy to drive. In a typical urban setting, it fades into the background, allowing humble middle-class people to avoid garnering attention and let them focus on other daily aspects of their lives. It is hard to find faults with the basic functionality of this car. The GLi 1.8 only has a 145-horsepower four-cylinder engine so its acceleration performance is not scintillating, but wholly adequate. It is quick enough for overtaking manoeuvres and can effortlessly keep pace with traffic on the highway. The XLi 1.3 is slower still, but its buyers still seem content to trundle along in the slow lane on the highway, being overtaken by trucks. Mind you, once up to speed, it can cruise easily, but runs out of breath at anything above the legal limit. Both engines are quiet, however, and feels smooth and refined when cruising in top gear. Both motors have fairly linear power delivery, making for a more relaxed driving experience than any four-cylinder Honda or Peugeot. Fuel economy is expectedly very good. The electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission is a fairly smooth operator and more suitable for city driving. For those who want to do their own shifting, probably to save a smidgen more fuel, the fluidly-shifting five-speed manual inadvertently allows for more performance as the limited available power can be better utilized.
The suspension has been tuned to give a fairly smooth ride, which is helped by a relatively long wheelbase to iron out bumps. The suspension is soft and does a good job of soaking up road vibration. When driving at the limit, body roll is excessive and enough to make the car slide if the steering wheel is yanked left then right very quickly, such as in an emergency lane change. This situation is exasperated by the skinny tyres and the tall body. However, the car feels secure and stable at highway speeds, but starts vibrating at speeds beyond 140 kph. Braking performance is decent, but nothing to be proud of. ABS is optional on the lower models, but we’d recommend the typical buyer to spend the extra money for it, since not everyone trains for cadence braking at the limit.
The Toyota Corolla is the car to consider if you’re looking for a well-built and utterly reliable sub-compact sedan that blends in so well it’s almost non-existent. It is a little expensive nowadays compared to years past, but it still offers infinitely better value than basic yet expensive German compacts trying to pass themselves off as luxury cars. The Corolla boasts a high-quality interior, rides fairly well and is good for use as an economical daily commuter. It isn’t a sports sedan, so it will resist all attempts to treat it like one. What it does well is its job as a trouble-free appliance for a long time, and it will hold its value well when it is finally time to unceremoniously dump it for the new model. In short, the Corolla is arguably the best compact sedan for non-enthusiasts.