BY ANDY ENRIGHT
The Toyota Corolla was for a very long time something of an enigma. How could this car land the title of World's Best Selling Car whilst at the same time being thoroughly dull? The 1997 generation Corolla started to put a bit of substance behind the sales, but it wasn't until the Mk 10 model appeared in late 2001 that Toyota genuinely had a car to be proud of. With excellent build quality and a range of top-notch engines, the Corolla put up a worthy challenge to cars like the Ford Focus and the Honda Civic. With three and five door hatches, a saloon, a compact estate as well as Verso mini-MPV models, four trim levels and six engines to choose from, choice isn't a problem for Corolla buyers. Used car buyers benefit from Toyota's peerless reputation for reliability and a market that hasn't quite realised what a great car the Corolla is.
Models Covered: (3/4/5dr hatchback/saloon/estate/Verso mini-MPV 1.4, 1.6, 1.8 petrol, 2.0 diesel [T2, T3, T Spirit, T Sport])
It has long been a Toyota tactic to carpet bomb the market with Corolla variants and the Mk 10 car was no exception. Bar perhaps an open-topped roadster, Toyota seemed to blanket every possible corner of the family hatch sector possible with the Corolla from three-door hot hatch right up to five-door mini-MPV. What was different this time around was that the Corolla was a genuinely attractive car, a car which needed to appeal to both private buyers and the increasingly demanding corporate user-chooser. A new system of model designations was introduced when the car first appeared in late 2001. Out went the usual S, GS, SR and GLS trim levels a number of old Corollas had campaigned with and in came a ladder that went T2, T3, plush T Spirit and dynamic T Sport. Four petrol engines were offered starting with a 96bhp 1.4i, followed by a popular 110bhp 1.6-litre powerplant. Two 1.8-litre engines were offered, either in 'conventional' 133bhp guise or in manic 189bhp T Sport tune. A pair of D4-D diesel engines were also offered in either 90 or 110bhp form. Verso mini-MPVs hit the dealerships first, quickly followed by three and five door hatches with estates and saloons hot on their heels. Summer 2004 saw a major facelift brought to bear across the Corolla range. A 89bhp 1.4-litre D4-D diesel replaced the 2.0-litre D4-D engine with the same output and styling revisions served to freshen up the exterior. The larger teardrop shaped headlamps were the most prominent addition. The 189bhp T Sport model never really caught on in the face of competition from exciting alternatives like Honda's Civic TYPE-R and in 2005, Toyota introduced the 215bhp T Sport Compressor to try and redress the balance. The Corolla dynasty was ended early in 2007 by the arrival of the Auris family hatchback.
What You Get
Designed in France, this Corolla was created with European tastes very much in mind. Like its rival, the Fiat Stilo, the Toyota's styling does little to betray the parent company's nationality, instead opting for the sort of clean, global village look that many pundits would pigeonhole as Germanic. Not so. Yes, there's more than a hint of Audi A3 in the rear three-quarter view of the three-door variant and the interior is Teutonically dark: but then, such features were firmly in vogue at the time. Modern car design now transcends national borders, and the Corolla was prima facie evidence. Quality was the first area of improvement. Toyota quite unashamedly used the Volkswagen Golf as its quality benchmark and the cabin therefore features silicone-damped grab handles, soft-touch plastics on the fascia, enough rubber-lined recesses to put a twinkle in the eye of a back-bench Tory MP and doors that say thunk rather than ding when they close. Closer inspection shows little evidence of corner cutting. Although the steering wheel only adjusts for height, it's easy to obtain a comfortable driving position and the sheer ease and intuitiveness of all the minor controls is a testament to Toyota's understanding of how we interact with a car. The Verso mini-MPV variant is interesting, with the usual five seater slide/tilt/remove capability for the rear seats, although some will doubtless baulk at the rather strange 'broken back' styling previously seen on the Alfa 75. It also features a different fascia to the more mainstream models with a dash-mounted gearstick in the style of the Honda Stream. Predictably, it also includes a good deal more cubbyhole and stowage space.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
The Corolla forged a reputation for monotonous reliability and while drivers of old Corollas may well have hoped in vain for a broken timing chain or an electrical fire to interrupt the car's clockwork tedium, there's no such issue with this version. As long as the service records have been properly adhered to, it's difficult to imagine a more trouble-free car in its class - a testament to both Toyota and the workers at its Derbyshire factory.
(approx based on a 1.6 five-door T3) Although pitched a little above what you'd expect to fork out for Vauxhall or Ford spares, Toyota's parts pricing policy has come under the microscope of late with the result that many prices have been frozen or reduced. A clutch assembly will cost in the region of £130, whilst an exhaust is around £330. A new starter motor retails for around £150, although a replacement headlamp will be in the region of £200. Repair costs have been kept down with a consequent effect on insurance premiums.
On the Road
Body stiffness is massively superior to that of this car's baggily shopworn predecessor. Although the Corolla can't deliver the aggressive handling of a Ford Focus of this era, it nevertheless cosies up to the Golf and the Fiat Stilo in the go/stop/steer department. Somewhat disappointingly for such an otherwise clean-sheet design, the engines were lifted from the existing Toyota team sheet. A 97bhp 1.4-litre opens negotiations, followed by a 110bhp 1.6 and a 135bhp 1.8. For the first time in years, performance enthusiasts had a Corolla worthy of their wedge with the 187bhp 1.8-litre flagship T Sport version or the 215bhp T Sport Compressor which arrived later. Those looking for a decent diesel are well served by two variants of the 2.0-litre common rail, offering up either 90bhp or a perky 110bhp. The more powerful oil burner was upped to 120bhp with a 1.4-litre diesel taking over as the entry-level option. The T Sport is worth a look if you can't get along with a Civic Type-R and can't stretch to a Ford RS Focus. The five-door option also means it can double up as viable family transport. The 1.8-litre powerplant is smaller than the 2.0-litre engine fitted to the Civic and despite its flatter feel, it generates a higher specific output, breaching the 100bhp per litre mark that's such a benchmark for quality normally aspirated sports powerplants. Honda are slightly irked at being pipped to this by Toyota, but the fact remains that the Civic will hit 60mph in 6.8 seconds and the Corolla, well, it can't. A combined fuel consumption figure of 34mpg is some recompense, but you don't buy a car like this to watch the pennies. The later 215bhp Compressor model is quicker still but will be much harder to come by.
The Toyota Corolla is a car of which owners can be proud, if not overly excited. It was also quite an unusual range insofar as the 'halo model' designed to boost the range's image - the T Sport - is probably the least convincing of the lot. The best buy is definitely the more powerful diesel and quite possibly the unsung Verso mini-MPV variant. Whichever model you choose, expect matchless reliability and commonsense design. Excitement may be in short supply, but the Corolla more than makes up for a slight lack of charisma in other areas. It's a car that rewards you over time; a car that impresses you with small touches betraying a manic depth of engineering. If you know cars you'll appreciate quite what a solid used buy this Corolla represents.