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Toyota's venerable Corolla has gone through many changes since it was first introduced in 1968. Over the course of its long life, the Corolla has appeared as a hatchback, coupe, wagon and sedan. The world has seen enough people fall in love with this car to make it the best-selling nameplate in the history of automobiles.
Now, while that's neat and all, we're sure that what's really important to you and your wallet is whether this modern Corolla still has what it takes to stomp out its competitors. In short, it doesn't.
Dating to 1998, the current Corolla faces stiff competition from the Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Mazda Protege and Nissan Sentra, all of which have been substantially redesigned or newly introduced since this particular Toyota was fresh out of the blocks. And they are all more satisfying cars, both in terms of comparable feature content as well as driving experience.
To help fend them off until the next redesign, the Corolla comes equipped with a zippy, smooth-revving 1.8-liter four-cylinder aluminum engine that cranks out 125 horsepower, thanks to a variable valve timing and lift system that Toyota calls VVT-i. VVT-i employs continuously variable intake valve timing to provide greater engine performance, better fuel economy and reduced pollution over a wide rev range. When equipped with a manual transmission, this car pulls strongly. Automatic gearboxes are available, too, including a technologically advanced (not!) three-speed unit on base models.
Three trim levels are available on the 2002 Corolla: the base CE, better-equipped LE and sporty S. The S model includes "sporty" trim such as body-colored rocker panels and door handles, foglights, fake leather-wrapped steering wheel and a tachometer with outside temperature display. Step up to the LE to get power mirrors, a 60/40 split folding rear bench and a tilting steering wheel.
Our biggest gripe with the Corolla is minimal legroom for both the driver and passengers and the horribly uncomfortable seats. Center stack ergonomics also aren't up to standards in the class, and the soft suspension keels over in turns, making the tires howl in pain. But the ride is smooth, the cabin is quiet at speed, side airbags are an unusual option for the class, and the parts used in the car's construction exude quality; a good thing, since many of the interior trim pieces are shared throughout the Toyota lineup.
Few competitors can match Toyota's run-forever reputation and high levels of build quality. But with several superior cars competing for slices of the econo-sedan pie, Toyota has its work cut out for it in 2002.
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