1996 Toyota Corolla or a Modern-Day Corolla…Which One was Class Competitive?

I know that this flies in the face of millions of content (notice I did not say satisfied) owners, and hundreds of thousands of owners that are added each year. Every time I see one on the road, especially one that was just bought, I think to myself, “did they purposely not research any other vehicle on the market”? Or “they must have just landed in this country from (pick your favourite place)”…or better yet, “they’ve given up on their hopes and dreams, and now they’ll be driving around in this piece of crap, counting the days until they die”.

Or something like that.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s try to figure out why they’re throwing away their hard-earned money now:

The reputation: For many years, they did build a very good, yet basic compact car…with General Motors at their joint NUMMI plant in California (the 1996 Toyota Corolla was the last of the seventh generation Corolla…save for a lighter engine, it was all downhill after that). Ever noticed a Geo/Chevrolet Prizm? Yep, same car. Different badging. Just don’t tell Consumer Reports…

They want good, basic transportation: The best cars in the world are the simplest…ones with as few moving parts as possible. The more base models have less stuff, but that’s less stuff to break down. Food for thought.

They’re completely clueless about cars: I know, I know…most people aren’t car enthusiasts. I get that. Given the number of car buddies that I have, the non-car people that I know easily outweighs them by at least a factor of 20 to 1. I have to constantly remind myself that whenever I talk to most people. Who get their car facts wrong. Almost every time.

These are all good reasons why, and the Toyota Corolla was at one time a great car (I would still recommend the car pictured above), but something happened along the way…Toyota stopped caring (re: stopped pumping more dollars into making it better), and the rest of the industry feverishly worked at coming out with some home runs, which most of them did. Ironically, they weren’t aiming for the Corolla…they were aiming for its chief rival, the Honda Civic. Another car that’s been left to die on the vine. Ok, maybe not “die on the vine”, but the latest redesign was a gamble that came up snake eyes. They thought that in today’s economy, people wanted decontented vehicles. Nevermind that those same people were coming out of their ginormous trucks and SUVs, and into cars by force, not choice. Those people wanted, and still want today, the same features that their more upscale previous vehicles had. Toyota and Honda did not get that memo…fortunately, everyone else did.

Ok, maybe Mitsubishi’s fax machine got jammed and didn’t get it either. Seriously, they don’t get it period. I predict that they’ll be gone from the States within five years. New engines (I’m looking at you Lancer), bringing over the Colt/Mirage, and the i series taking off are their best bets.

So, back to the offender in question…so why does is suck so bad nowadays? Let’s run down the list:

Four-speed automatic transmission: that’s right, the Toyota Corolla comes with a four-speed automatic transmission…in the world of six-speed automatic and manual transmissions, this one is woefully outdated. Extra gears means that the engine will turn over at a lower RPM, thus reducing wear and tear on it, and increasing the fuel economy. Who knew that a transmission could save you money?

Cheap interior materials: This is perhaps the biggest issue with the Corolla. While its competitors have soft-touch materials, double-stitched leather, and cushions in all the right places, the Corolla has materials that were on par…back in the late 90’s. Not a bad place to be…wait, yes, yes it is. 99% of these cars are daily drivers, used to commute to work and school…shouldn’t that time spent be enjoyable to the eye and to the touch?

Weak engine: Most competitors nowadays enjoy the latest technologies to squeeze the most horsepower and fuel economy out of them, as well as delivering a healthy dose of low-end torque. Morever, there are a plethora of engines available…gas (or petrol), diesel (VW Golf), or hybrids. Even the $34,000 Lexus Corolla…oops, I mean the HS250h is a hybrid. Granted, you’ll have to pay an extra 20 grand for the engine, some leather, and the Lexus badge, but…isn’t a “status symbol” really worth it? 132 hp doesn’t cut it nowadays…140 hp barely gets your foot in the door. Or in this case, barely gets you on the highway.

Fuel economy: Not only does it have a weak engine and outdated transmission…but, yeah, you guess it, it all adds up to substandard fuel economy. Officially, it rates at an EPA-estimated 27 city, 34 highway…but like everything else, you’ve got to hit the magic number just to be a contender. In this case, the magic number is 40. As in, 40 miles to the gallon on the highway. It is what sells cars. Why? Because fuel economy is what people care about the most. More is better.

Typical atrocious Toyota design: Looks are subjective, I will give you that…but come on, this doesn’t even have a face that a mother would love! More like, a mother would slap. I don’t understand what’s going in the design studios (or what they’re smoking), but the whole “Pokemon”-inspired styling has to go. Speaking of styling…

No major updates to the vehicle: This is the equivalent of slapping lipstick on a pig. Changing the front and rear fascias on a car is a quick, easy, and most of all, cheap way to freshen the look. Too bad that doesn’t extend to the interior, or the major mechanical components. Or really, anywhere else on the car. Also, it’s fugly, and continues to get that way over time…kinda like the cute nerdy girl in high school that’s all grown up and is now referred to as “Roller Pig”. Just like a moped, you don’t want to be caught riding around in it.

Having to pay for a digital clock: that’s right, you have to pay for a crappy digital clock that probably cost about 10 cents to make and install. Thank Gulf States Toyota for ripping you off…not to mention the other crap that they throw on there that you don’t want. Also, the radio washes out in the sun, especially if you’re wearing polarised sunglasses…which you should be wearing whilst the sun is out. Good luck trying to guess what the volume is, or what track your CD is on, or what radio station you’re trying to tune into…safety hazard much?

Crappy warranty: sure, now Toyota decides to save face in the midst of Acceleratorgate and throws in a pathetic 2/24K basic maintenance plan…which covers a few oil changes…and that’s about it. What about the basic bumper-to-bumper warranty. 3 years, or 36,000 miles? I’ll do that in 2 years. No thanks, Hyundai/Kia offers a better bumper-to-bumper warranty, powertrain warranty, and even a warranty on the tyres. When it comes to warranties, few in the game can match them.

Atrocious dealership experience: Toyota’s not going to win any J.D Power and Associate awards for Best Dealership Experience. In fact, some years ago, they assembled a department that was meant to address this very concern. What happened? The dealers scoffed at the idea of treating their customers like actual human beings, grateful that they chose to spend their hard-earned money with them. Apparently they think that they sell Bentleys or something…which by the way, you will get a better dealership experience at.

Subject to major recalls: As I stated in a previous article, it’s been subject to a lot of recalls, and major ones at that. Things that could endanger the lives of yourself, and more importantly, the lives of your passengers. They could be your friends, your family…your loved ones. Why would you put people that you love at risk?

In conclusion, there are better choices out there. Most are more sporty, some are more luxurious. Do yourself a favour and check them out. Test drive as many vehicles in its class as possible. You’ll be glad that you did.

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