Now is a great
time to be shopping for a small car, and as Americans increasingly trade in their bloated, fat, gas guzzling SUVs on smaller, sleeker, sexier cars, they're finding lots of exciting choices on the market. Recent months have seen rollouts of new-breed small cars like Nissan's Versa and Honda's Fit. Toyota scrapped their little Echo for the more worldly Yaris, while continuing to cater to young buyers with their economical Scion line. And Chrysler's been getting their fair share of good auto press with their utilitarian looking Dodge Calibers while Chevy is nailing its claim to some of America's cheapest entry level price points with its little Aveo.
The new breed of small car generally has good styling, better performance than the old school econoboxes, more features, and even much improved safety performance, with some of those new models getting 5-star NHTSA safety ratings all the way around.
of good choices out there for the small car buyer.
If I were buying a small car right now, I'd sure look at all those models, but I wouldn't limit myself to just the new kids on the block. It would be too easy to skip over some of the models that have been around the block a few gazillion times, but that are still around for the simple reason that they're GOOD
Case in point: Toyota Corolla.
Toyota Corolla isn't the glamorous newcomer to the auto showroom. Corollas have been sold in the United States for well over 30 years. They're also the car that truly justifies the faith that many drivers put in the Toyota name. Toyota's been dealing some gas guzzling land yachts of its own over the past few years, but it's the Corolla that's stayed tried and true to the Toyota reputation for dependable economy.
It is true that Corolla is priced a bit higher than some of the other models, but I recommend driving it for yourself and seeing whether you think it might be worth
paying a few extra ducats for a Corolla. Personally, I think it might be.
I think the car's track record for bulletproof dependability is worth paying something extra for. And when it comes to fuel economy and miserly-ness over at the gas pump, the Corolla actually gets better fuel economy
ratings than most of those "new breed" small cars (EPA 41 on the Corolla compared to 38-ish on most "new breed" small cars). Long-term total cost might well be lower on Corolla than on whatever "new breed" you might be looking at.
So, there you have it. That's the bottom line on where I stand with respect to Toyota Corollas: Great small car that's comfortable, safe, functional, reliable, and affordable over the long term. You can quit reading if you're just looking for the gist --- that's it. If you want more specifics about the Corolla, I'm happy to expand. Read on...
My Experience with the Toyota Corolla...
Corollas have been around since forever. I've owned two so far in my driving life: an '81 hatchback and a '90 sedan. Solid performers both of 'em, and I'd buy another Corolla in a heartbeat.
The 2006 Corolla that I'm driving today is a rental/loaner. I own a Scion xA, and when I bring it in for service, I get an overnight loaner via the Toyota Rent-A-Car counter that's part of my friendly local Toyota dealer's service department. Probably works the same for a lot of you folks who already deal with Toyota.
So, this time around, I had a choice between taking out a Corolla for $30 or a Camry for $38. So, I'm handed the keys to a 2006 Corolla CE with automatic trans, four doors, white exterior, gray interior. Has 7K and change showing on the odo --- nicely broken in.
Styling and Design: The Curbside Experience...
I think the Toyota Corolla is still an attractive vehicle, even though the current body style has been around for a couple years and is slated for a makeover by the 2008 model year.
For a small car, the Corolla looks pretty decent. I like it's straight-forward, no-nonsense approach, free of gimmicks and oddities. It's not a sexy car, not by any means, but its clean lines are right in line with those of cars like the Honda Civic or the Volkswagen Jetta, so it's definitely keeping up with the Joneses in the style department.
All Corollas these days are 4-door sedans. There's no body style options, though you do find some variations in the car's look as you check out the different trim packages, particularly with their sport packages, the S and XRS.
The CE that I've got as a rental is pretty bare-bones as far as Corollas go. It's got cloth seats, A/C, automatic, but exterior-wise, it's just plain jane sheet metal. 15-inch wheels with Goodyear tires are evidently standard equipment (Criminey! Does anybody even remember when small cars all did 13-inch wheels standard and you'd have to be driving a Cadillac or a Buick to get 15-inch wheels?) Times they sure do change....
Let's hop in and take 'er on the road...
Performance and Functionality: The Driving Experience...
For a small 4-banger, the Corolla's 1.8 litre 16-valve engine does quite well performance wise. Accelleration is more
than adequate. It's not a land rocket, but it's also a smaller, lighter car than some of those new 200-horsepower overachievers. As a result, the Corolla is not
left behind at the light and it's nimble and quick merging into highway-speed traffic. I don't run track tests when I drive a car, so I can't tell you exactly how fast this car does. I'll leave that to the enthusiast magazines, though I will mention that Consumer Guide said they tested an '06 Corolla LE with an automatic, and it did 9.7 seconds 0-60. Not too shabby. You won't outrun a Z4 (4.8 sec), but then, you won't have to make the Z4 payments either. I figure that any car that can get up to 60 in less than about 13-14 seconds is doing just fine
for real-world driving. Half that time adds to the fun side of the equation, but it's hardly a necessity.
I'm not quite as liberal minded when it comes to braking and turning. I demand
very quick response on braking and I like
very tight turning radiuses and general agile response in city driving conditions.
I thought the handling on this car felt very good. It was no slalom racer, but it's small enough and quick enough to be a competent city cruiser --- and I do mostly city and urban highway cruising on a daily routine, so it's in-town agility that I prize. I like to be able to zip through U-turns and to squeeze into spaces that the driver of a larger car wouldn't even think were spaces. Corolla gets me there. It can do a quick U within the space of a 2-lane road, providing there's at least a smidgen of shoulder for wiggle room --- try that
you Ford Excursion driving Mohicans! Y'all would be doing the 33-point turn thang all day. Braking is quick and responsive, which is just what you want if you're gonna be yakkin' on your cell phone instead of paying attention to the road.
From the driver's seat, everything is just about optimal for me. I like a clean, uncluttered dash, with great visibility and obvious functionality of everything within the driver's reach. There is a tach on the dash, which is clutter on an automatic, but that's the only real nonsense about it. (6.5K redline....no foolin'...)
I like the placement of every single control here, particularly the big dial-style climate control knobs. Easy to use and utterly functional. I love the placement of the shifter, and while I'm not crazy about the small size of the center console, it is fairly well designed and it does manage to have space for two drinks without placing in them in easy spill danger from a driver reaching for the shifter.
The basic stereo provides predictably basic functionality, AM-FM, 6 AM presets, 12 FM presets, single-disc CD player. No perks here, and not particularly good sound quality either, but hey, that's what after-market is for. As always, my advice is to get the cheapest stereo you can on a car (or none at all, if that's even a possibility any more), and then take the car to Car Toys or Circuit City the day after you get it and get a real
car stereo put in.
Comfort and Interior Features: The Passenger Experience...
At first glance, the Corolla CE interior is on the spartan side with plain-jane grey cloth seats and grey vinyl just about everywhere else.
For cheesy-looking seats though, they're fairly comfortable, at least for quick trips. I think I could deal with this for up to about 3 hours at a pop. I wouldn't really want to sit here for a coast-to-coast marathon drive, but for buzzing around town or even for short inter-city trips, like my ritual Houston-to-Austin run, I would be fine with this seat. It's firm with good lateral support, and although the plastic handles have kind of a clunky and coarse operation, they're big enough and easy enough to leverage that even an old lady with arthritis should have no problem adjusting the seats.
Toyota calls the Corolla a 5-passenger vehicle, and I really gotta get me some of whatever their ad guy is smoking, because there is just no way, no how that you're gonna squeeze three passengers into the back seat of a Corolla. Not unless you're talking mannequins for those trips down the HOV lane --- but not real people.
The trunk is surprisingly spacious for such a small car. It's got a bit more depth than I expected, and I could probably squeeze a good 7 cases of beer in there. Either that or maybe 1 big pullman suitcase, a duffel bag, and a smaller carry-on. (I'd rather have the beer.)
Safety Engineering: The Peace of Mind Factor...
Safety is a big concern for every buyer. Nobody wants to save money if the savings come at the price of endangering your passengers. You can do a ballpark assessment of a car's safety by looking at three things:
* features engineered for safety: look for things like anti-lock brakes, airbags (the more the better, driver, passenger, side), daytime running lights, frame features (cages, reinforcement bars, etc.), straps or clips for securing child seats
* impact test results: government test results can be found at: www.safercars.gov
* insurance loss figures: presumably, lower pay-outs reflect less damage and fewer injuries in accidents. Statistics can be found at: www.iihs.org
Ball-park estimating the Corolla, I feel like its one the safest small cars you can buy. In terms of features, its got the anti-lock brakes and front airbags standard, and it has an option for full-length side impact airbags. This might not be a bad add-on since the Corolla's one concern to me is that, while it got a 5-star front impact safety rating, it didn't get a perfect 5-star rating on side impacts (it has a 4-star rating). In Corolla's defense, even without
that side airbag, it's still performed better
on all impact tests than many of its competitors.
Looking at the NHTSA ratings, Corolla's rating of 5-star front and 4-star side is better than Mazda 3 or Chevy Cobalt (4-front, 3-side) and Nissan Sentra (4-front, 2-side). Corolla's safety ratings are good
though not perfect (the '07 Honda Fit and '07 Dodge Caliber did
get perfect 5-front, 5-side ratings).
The Corolla is a solid feeling car, and more important, I know that it's also a car with good safety features and good safety performance, and it's a car that I'd feel comfortable driving my kids in.
Costs and Value: The Affordability Factor...
People buy Corollas because of the value proposition. It's a car that delivers low total cost of ownership.
I'm not really sure what the 2006 Corolla would cost new, if you can even find one now --- probably a bit less than an '07. The 2007 models have been rolling onto lots for the last couple months, and when I walked down the row of new Corollas over at my local Toyota dealer, there wasn't an '06 to be seen.
The new '07 Corolla has a base MSRP of $14,205, and a base dealer invoice price of $13,139. Edmunds TMV price on a base Corolla is $13,801, and flipping through today's Houston Chronicle, I see ads from local dealers showing new 2007 Corolla CE as low as $13,500. At that price, you're talking the same dollar-level as I paid for my Scion xA, and the Corolla is a larger, more family-friendly kind of vehicle.
Yes, you can get a new Nissan Versa for at least $1K less than a Corolla, and a Yaris for a full $3K less, but I can also find small cars priced above the Corolla's price point. Compare as you will. Consider what you get for your buck. Deal as you can.
One of the biggest reasons to pick a Toyota Corolla over one of the slicker, sexier new hatchback models is fuel economy
. The Corolla is actually a lighter car than some of those new small cars, and its actually got a higher EPA rating. The differences aren't big, but they're there, and if you believe that cheap gas isn't coming back to stay, then this might be worth weighting a bit more heavily. At 41 mph highway, the Corolla outperforms the Honda Fit, the Dodge Caliber, or the Nissan Versa.
There is always a bit of a dice roll when it comes to predicting how dependable a given car will be. You can review the Consumer Reports
ratings. You can hang out by the office coffee machine and see what other people think. You can read J.D.Powers initial quality assessments. You could head over to mkaresh's web site, truedelta.com, and see if he's got some days-in-shop estimates. Do
take a look around and verify what you hear.
What I think you'll hear is what I've heard a million times, and what most Toyota drivers will tell you. Overall, Toyota's track record --- particularly on the Corolla --- is among the best in the auto industry. A problem can occur on any car though, and there is always a chance your experience may vary. But if you play the odds, you'll want to buy the Toyota Corolla.
Look at all the number, roll your own weightings.
I've always liked the Toyota Corolla and feel like anybody in the market for a small economy car should at least give it a look and weigh its features and price against any competing model. It does often cost more to get a Corolla than to buy a competing model, but the long-term dependability, solid safety performance, low maintenance cost, and low depreciation all team up to make it a very smart buy.
The 2006 Corolla continues to deliver on the classic Toyota value proposition. It's a decent car to drive.
Here are a few reviews of cars that I think are close enough in price and features to compete well against the Toyota Corolla.
* Honda Fit
* Scion xA
* Honda Civic