With a history that dates back to the 1960s, the Corolla is officially the world's favorite car. It surpassed the Volkswagen Beetle as the best-selling automotive nameplate of all time in 1997. Clearly, Toyota has been doing something right.
Small and dependable but largely anonymous, the Corolla easily blends into the background wherever it happens to be. While it lacks distinctiveness, the little Toyota does what it was designed to do -- provide basic transportation inexpensively, comfortably and with minimum drama -- better than just about anything else. You don't buy a Corolla because it excites you or expresses your personality, you buy it because it gets the job done.
The ninth-generation of the venerable compact debuted for the 2003 model year. While a new trim level was added for 2005, the car was otherwise essentially unchanged.
The 2003 Corolla was available in three trim levels: base CE, upscale LE and sporty S. The 2005 model added the top-of-the-line, high-performance XRS variant.
CE Corollas came equipped with 15-inch wheels, power mirrors, a tilt steering column, air conditioning, a clear-air filter, a tachometer, an outside temperature display, intermittent windshield wipers and a CD stereo. Upgrading to LE trim added remote keyless entry, vertical seat-height adjustment, body-color side mirrors, power door locks and windows and faux wood interior highlights. The S trim included unique cloth upholstery, smoked headlights, front and rear spoilers, side skirts, a restyled tachometer and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
The new-for-2005 XRS Corolla brought a real sense of sportiness to the line. It included an upgraded, more powerful engine, 16-inch wheels, a lowered suspension, a Yamaha-sourced front strut tower brace, bolstered front seats and futuristic-looking Optitron gauges.
Like so many modern vehicles, the ninth-generation Corolla was larger and heavier than its predecessor. Compared to the eighth-generation car, the redesigned Corolla was about 5 inches longer, 0.5 inch wider and 3 inches taller. Its base curb weight was approximately 90 pounds greater.
The car measured 178.3 inches in length, 66.9 inches in width and 57.5 inches in height. Its wheelbase was 102.4 inches, with 58.3-inch front and 57.5-inch rear tracks. The Corolla's curb weight was a rather light 2,502 pounds. Its trunk offered 13.6 cubic feet of cargo space, which was about average for its class. The 2003 and 2005 models shared precisely the same dimensions.
Except for the 2005 XRS, all 2003 and 2005 Corolla models were powered by the same engine. A 1.8-liter inline-four, it produced 130 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 125 foot-pounds of torque at 4,200 rpm. The dual-overhead-cam, 16-valve engine featured Toyota's VVT-i variable-valve-timing system for improved efficiency and better throttle response. Power was sent to the road via a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission.
The XFR boasted a performance-tuned version of the same inline-four. It put out a considerably greater 170 horsepower at a very high 7,600 rpm. Its torque output of 127 foot-pounds at 4,400 rpm was only marginally better than the standard engine's, though. Considering how high in the rev range peak horsepower arrived, the Corolla XFR required an aggressive right foot to get the most out of its engine. Keeping with its high-performance character, it shipped exclusively with a quick-shifting six-speed manual transmission.
Outstanding fuel economy was among the Corolla's top selling points. The automatic-equipped 2003 car was EPA-rated at 25 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway. With the manual, those number rose slightly to 28-36. The 2005 Corolla received a 25-36 rating with the automatic and a 28-37 rating with the manual transmission. Finally, the sporty 2005 XLS turned in a 22-31 rating.
Affordability was paramount to the Corolla's success. While it wasn't the least-expensive option in its class, many buyers gravitated to its appealing combination of fair price, competitive features and Toyota reliability. When new, the 2003 model started at $13,570 and the 2005 at $13,780. According to Kelley Blue Book, as of 2014, a nicely maintained 2003 Corolla is worth between $4,777 and $5,250. A slightly fresher 2005 model should set you back from $6,175 to $6,700.
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