Wednesday, December 11, 2013

2003 Toyota Corolla LE

The Really Important Stuff
Engine 1.8 L I4
Transmission 4-Speed Automatic
Power 130 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque 125 ft-lbs @ 4200 rpm
Fuel Economy City/Highway 25/34
Curb Weight 2590 lbs
Base Price When New $14,680
Market Value (Excellent Condition, 100K miles) $5,184

If you are looking for a cheap car with few frills and no refinement, the E120 Toyota Corolla may be your cup of tea. It isn't mine.

This compact sedan seems to have the pretensions of being an upscale car: Sleek modern styling and a cabin plastered with faux wood trim and plush fabrics. But the illusion dissipates the moment you turn the key in the ignition. The engine starts with a quiet clatter. As the car accelerates, the quiet clatter becomes a much louder clatter. Acceleration is underwhelming until about 4000 rpm where the torque finally kicks in. This is slightly unfortunate because by 3500 rpm your eardrums will have already shattered.

The accelerator pedal is another issue. It takes a noticeable amount of effort to start it moving along its unusually short travel, but offers little resistance once "unstuck" (For the physicists among my readers: there is a clear difference between its static and dynamic friction). Because of this, speed regulation is a bit of a chore. In fact, so is steering. Control is direct and precise, but this comes at the expense of weight. There is a bit of power assist, but not as much as most people are accustomed to in modern cars.

When it comes time to slow down, your foot will go halfway to the floor before you feel anything at all. After that the brakes respond quite smoothly, but there is no excuse for such a massive control dead-zone.

Despite the problems, there are some compelling reasons you might want this car. First, it is incredibly cheap. When you purchase an E120 Corolla, you are getting a car that looks decent inside and out for very little money.  Additionally, it handles competently, and has acceptable acceleration and braking for a car in its class.  The build quality is excellent, and I can guarantee it will rarely need repairs if you treat it right.  On my example the only thing that ever went wrong is a hubcap that fell off.   To top it off, the gas mileage is amazing at 32 city, 38 highway (my own figures).  On the other hand, this is not an exciting car, and doesn't feel unique in any way.   You may also be turned off by the ride, which is noisy and bumpy at any speed.  This is undoubtedly influenced by the presence of torsion beam rear suspension, which reveals the Corolla’s true identity as a low-budget ride.  I would recommend this car to anyone who doesn't mind the lack of refinement and wants a small practical car that will probably last forever.


  • Handles well
  • Cheap to own 


  • "Sticky" accelerator pedal
  • Rough engine
  • Rough ride

The Bottom Line:  Decent family sedan on a budget

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