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Toyota Corolla

The new Corolla is a much larger car than any of its predecessors, giving it more road presence. The body is also stronger than before, meaning fewer rattles and squeaks - not that the Corolla was ever known for this. Finally, the look is also more polished than before, allowing the new car to slip through the air with minimal wind noise. In short, it is almost up to Lexus-like quality, the generally accepted standard within the industry.

The engine is similar to last year's 1.8-litre model in that it benefits from variable valve timing with intelligence over a 40-degree window. This technology spreads the 130 horsepower and 125 lb-ft of torque over a broader range, and while reducing both emissions and fuel consumption. In practice this motor is a willing and lively little worker that loves to rev to its redline, and without getting too noisy. Indeed, it is a tactile little mill that works particularly well with the 5-speed manual gearbox. The ratios complement the engine, the shifter has a connect feel and the clutch is nice and light, with a bite point in the right spot. For those that go with the 4-speed automatic, you give up little. The power is still strong, and you need a stopwatch to verify the difference in performance.

The euphoria over the choice of tire was short lived. Toyota had put the Pirelli's on for the winter. That said, the tires that come with the Corolla are a decent set of 195/65R15 Goodyears. The same cannot be said of the decision to make anti-lock brakes optional on the Sport model. I will never understand why cost considerations are placed before basic safety. Simply stated, it flies in the face of common sense. Bickering aside, the front disc/rear drum design has the desired effect bringing short stops that are fairly easily modulated.

The one spot you get the sense Toyota sharpened their pencil is with some of the materials. Compared to the previous model, they do not seem as rich. Where the Corolla does not suffer is in the ride department, primarily because if its expanded size. Sure it rides on a fairly basic set of MacPherson struts up front and a twist beam in back, but the calibration damps out body motion effectively without bringing the least harsh. Understeer is, likewise, equally benign, only showing up as you encroach on the limits. In short, a job well done, as was ably demonstrated through the pylons.

Price as Tested: $19,650

Tire Tally
Performance: 3.5
Ride/handling: 3.5
Interior: 3
Touchy/feely/cargo: 3
Safety: 3.5
Bang for buck: 4.5

Immediate competition
Honda Civic, Nissan Sentra, Mazda ProtegÔø‡, Ford Focus, Chrysler Neon

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