I haven't driven a new Corolla in ages, but I'm very familiar with Toyota's little classic. My family has owned Corollas since 1984, and my wife and I have had two during that time, a 1985 (the first front wheel drive generation) and a 1992 LSX model we still own and drive today.
So I was very interested to see how the car has evolved, especially since I had recently spent time in the Mazda 3, a wonderful little sedan that goes head to head with the Corolla. Could Toyota's ageless sedan match up against Mazda's "zoom zoom" reputation.
Well, no. But there's more to it than "zoom zoom." First of all, my test Corolla was a low end CE trim model shackled with an automatic transmission, whereas my test 3 sedan featured a five speed stick and was about as loaded as it could get. And the cars feel completely different. Mazda really does add zip to the task of day to day driving, while Toyota seems happy to concentrate on providing a more basic ride that may not be as much fun, but which is bulletproof and will probably run until the sun goes nova.
It's kind of like the difference between a pair of fancy runners and a pair of comfy slippers: both have legitimate appeal, just in different ways.
The Corolla has matured over the years, growing up in a market that has grown with it. So where our '92 Corolla was near the top of the line for that generation, the near bottom 2007 CE I tested comes with everything that car had except variable intermittent windshield wipers (they're "merely" intermittent).
And it adds such niceties as power windows, an AM/FM/CD stereo and all the other evolutionary changes that cars have seen over the past decade and a half, from more refinement and increased horsepower and gas mileage to all the safety stuff to which we've become accustomed.
Though it's due for replacement soon, possibly next year, this is still a Corolla that would be easy to live with for the long term. It's built solidly, with doors that close with a nice "thunk" (though the trunk lid feels a tad thin), is comfortable and roomy, with a terrific greenhouse that lets you see all around you, and it doesn't guzzle a lot of gas.
Motivating the current Corolla is a 1.8 liter, double overhead cam four cylinder engine with intelligent variable valve timing. Toyota says it produces 126 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm and 122 lb. ft of torque @ 4,200. This doesn't sound like a lot, and it isn't when you look at some of the competition (my recent Mazda 3 tester sported 156/150 horses/torque) - but even saddled with the four speed slushbox this Corolla would run rings around our '92 with its five speed stick. So everything's relative.
And the engine is quiet and fuss-free - which is a good way to describe the entire driving experience. The new Corolla isolates you from the road much better than before, whether it's just less road noise or a smoother suspension that doesn't rattle you as much as its great-grandfather model did. Such is to be expected, of course, from a car company that wishes to remain profitable.
Two transmissions are available: a 5 speed stick and the four speed automatic of my tester. The slushbox shifts well, but (perhaps not surprisingly) there's no "sport" mode so if you're looking for any kind of driving enjoyment you'd best opt for the manual.
Handling is very good for this type of car. Our old Corolla has always felt really loose; turn its steering wheel hard and it'll deign to activate its rudder eventually and reluctantly. But the '07 is entirely different. The power-assisted rack and pinion steering is tight and efficient and the car goes where you point it, within the parameters of an economy sedan.