Background: Corolla's 1998 redesign has Toyota's most venerable nameplate fresh and ready for battle. Corolla has been around longer than any other Toyota nameplate in the United States The four-door Corolla resembles a scaled down version of Toyota's mid-size Camry, the best-selling car in the United States in the 1997 model year. Corolla was introduced in the United States back in 1968. Currently, both the five-seat Corolla and its automotive twin, the Chevrolet Prizm, are assembled in Freemont, Calif. at the New United Motor Manufacturing (NUMMI) facility jointly operated by Toyota and General Motors. Toyota also has a second Corolla plant in Ontario, Canada. In 1997, 218,461 Corollas were sold, making it the ninth most popular passenger car in America. Corolla's name is a reference to a flower's outer portion.
New for 1998: The 1998 model year represents the front-wheel-drive Corolla's eighth generation. Interior room increases, exterior styling gets freshened and a new in-line, four-cylinder engine now delivers 120 horsepower, 10 more than last year.
Trim levels: Three trim levels include the VE, CE and upscale LE. We test drove a white Corolla CE.
Safety equipment: Corolla offers optional front side airbags, one of the few compact-sized vehicles to do so. Dual front air bags, five-mile-an-hour bumpers, front and rear crumple zones, child safety rear door locks and daytime running lights are standard. Anti-lock brakes are optional in all three trim levels. Traction control is not offered.
Price: Our test drive Corolla CE with automatic transmission included a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $14,588. With options including cruise control, rear-window defogger, power windows and locks and $420 destination charge, the bottom line added up to $16,092. The lowest-price Corolla, a VE five-speed, starts at $11,908. A top-of-the-line LE with automatic transmission checks in at $15,598.
Standard equipment: Being an entry-level sedan, Corolla has a limited number of standard features, and a healthy variety of options, especially in the entry-level VE. Five-speed manual transmission, power steering, reclining front cloth bucket seats, power rack-and-pinion steering and visor mirrors come standard in all three trim levels.
Optional Equipment: Four-speed automatic transmission is optional in CE and LE trim levels while three-speed automatic is available in VE. Air conditioning, digital clock and rear-window defogger, optional in VE, come standard in CE and LE trim levels. Cruise control and built-in rear child restraint seat are not available in VE, but optional in CE and LE. A power package (windows and locks) are not available in VE, optional in CE but come standard in LE. A power sunroof is optional only in the top-of-the-line LE.
Engine: An all new four-cylinder, dual overhead cam engine powers all three Corolla trim levels. It's the only engine Corolla offers. This new engine weighs 64 pounds less than last year's engine, but horsepower actually increases to 120. An aluminum cylinder block and a reduced number of parts in the cylinder head helped lighten the engine. Last year, Corolla offered two four-cylinder powertrains; a 100 horsepower, 1.6 liter engine and 1.8, 105 horsepower engine. The new 1.8, 16-valve engine features direct ignition, improving timing by eliminating the distributor and delivering power output from the ignition coil directly to the four cylinders.
Interior: Interior appointments now are more Camry-like than ever before. The ventilation's system now features three convenient rotary dials for monitoring fan speed, temperature and direction. The stereo sits above temperature controls. A digital clock, separate from the stereo frequency display, situates in the middle of the dashboard between a large rear-window defogger button and hazard light button. Dual cupholders, which accommodate large beverage cups and juice boxes retracts from the dashboard. But using the ashtray and lighter is virtually impossible with the dual cup holders pulled out. Headlights activate from the turn signal stalk while windshield wipers operate from a right-hand side stalk. The eighth-edition Corolla adds more storage compartments too. Two dashboard storage bins with pull-down front doors situate on both sides of the steering column. The floor-mounted transmission and hand-operated parking brake fit between the front bucket seats. Both fuel and trunk release levers are left of the driver's seat bottom. Pack rats will enjoy a huge glove box, three times larger than last year.
Seating comfort: Front headroom increases this year while back headroom is decent. Front bucket seats now have a full-length bar underneath, making it easier to slide cloth seats forward and back. In back, a single cup holder retracts from between the front bucket seats. Two full-size adults fit most comfortably in back; but three's a crowd and back legroom is tight with front seats moved back. Corolla CE and LE trim levels include 60/40 rear folding seats.
Dimensions: Wheelbase: 97.0 inches Overall length: 174.0 inches Overall width: 66.7 inches Overall height: 54.5 inches Curb weight: 2,414 pounds
Trunk: Long pull tabs, found in the trunk, release the 60/40 split fold down back-seat rests. The exterior keyhole is positioned left of center. The trunk's opening width, now wider by 8.4 inches, makes loading and unloading groceries onto the 12.1 cubic-foot area a bit easier. A temporary spare houses in a well under the flat-floored trunk.
Exterior: Corolla's exterior resembles that of a scaled down Camry, Toyota's popular mid-size sedan and the most popular car sold in the United States in 1997. It's a conservative look that has proved popular with the buying public. The radio antenna manually retracts vertically from the roof gutter near the driver's door. While its wheelbase (distance between front and rear axle) remains unchanged from last year, exterior dimensions increase by two inches. Fourteen-inch tires come standard in all editions while aluminum wheels are available only in LE Corollas. Exterior colors include: Ruby Pearl, Sandrift Metallic, Light Copper Mica, Mystic Teal Pearl and Super White.
Economy: When coupled with automatic transmission, Corolla averages a very respectable 28 miles per gallon city and 36 mpg highway. When combined with manual transmission figures bump up to 31 mpg city and 38 mpg highway. Corolla's tank holds 13.2 gallons of unleaded fuel.
Final thoughts: Corolla has been on the road longer than most compact-sized competitors. First arriving here in 1968, Toyota's compact sedan built a rock-solid reputation as a reliable, well built and inexpensive means of transportation. This eighth-generation version continues down that same road. When traveling at highway speeds, the cabin is relatively free of wind or engine noise thanks to noise-absorbing materials, a Toyota trademark. Currently, Corolla is marketed as a four-door sedan with its upgraded 120 horsepower engine. Honda's compact Civic offers coupe and hatchback versions in addition to a sedan. Civic also offers three different four-cylinder engines ranging in horsepower from 106 to 127. The Ford Escort sedan's four-cylinder engine delivers 110 horsepower, but it's ZX2 coupe delivers 130 horsepower with a sportier suspension.