Few cars have a heritage as long as Toyota's popular Corolla compact sedan, which dates back to 1966 and was last redesigned for the 2003 model year. A higher hip point was supposed to ease entry.
A high-performance XRS edition joined the 2005 lineup. Three other versions remain available: the value-priced CE, the upscale LE and the sporty S. Vehicle Stability Control is optional on LE and S models with an automatic transmission. Other than re-rated engine output using new Society of Automotive Engineers testing standards, little has changed for the 2006 model year.
The Corolla rides a 102.4-inch wheelbase and measures 178.3 inches long. Special touches for the sporty S version include smoked headlights, fog lamps, front and rear underbody spoilers, and side rocker panels.
All Corollas except the XRS have 15-inch tires. Performance tires ride 16-inch alloy wheels on the XRS, which has a half-inch lower ride height. Its sport-tuned suspension includes higher-rate springs and shocks, as well as a front strut tower brace developed by Yamaha.
Up to five occupants fit inside the Corolla, which features a 60/40-split, folding rear seat in all models but the XRS. Cargo volume totals 13.6 cubic feet.
Standard CE equipment includes air conditioning, power mirrors, a tilt steering column, intermittent wipers and a CD stereo. The LE adds power windows and locks, remote keyless entry and driver's seat height adjustment. A unique cloth interior goes into the sporty S sedan, which features a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Optitron gauges complement the bolstered front seats in the XRS.
Under the Hood
In CE, S and LE Corollas, a 1.8-liter four-cylinder generates 126 horsepower. Either a five-speed-manual or four-speed-automatic transmission can be installed. The XRS is equipped with a 164-hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder that teams only with a six-speed-manual gearbox.
Seat-mounted side-impact airbags and side curtain-type airbags are optional. Antilock brakes are optional on all trims but the XRS, where they are standard.
Despite its conservative styling and comparatively high price, the Corolla has long been one of the best compacts on the market. It delivers a satisfying blend of fuel economy, refinement and reliability. Riding smoothly, Corollas feel solid and inspire confidence.
Performance might not stir many emotions, but this sedan is adequate for ordinary driving. Acceleration is a trifle slow from a start, but the automatic-transmission model quickly picks up the pace. The engine growls a tad while accelerating, but it quiets at highway speeds.
Even though the Corolla maneuvers neatly in town and takes curves acceptably, handling isn't quite as precise as that of some other small cars. The front seats are comfortable and supportive. Backseat legroom isn't quite as appealing.
Spirited performance makes the XRS unlike the typical Corolla. Acceleration is confident and the manual gearbox shifts easily, though clutch action makes it a bit difficult to achieve smooth takeoffs. The ride is less gentle than a regular Corolla's, but it's not nearly as harsh as expected; the suspension is sufficiently compliant.