Toyota Corolla: nice small cars from 1966 to now

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Rear wheel drive: the original Corollas

The rear wheel drive Toyota Corolla was first introduced in Japan for 1966; the 1968 Corolla came to the United States, replacing the barely-noticed Crown. The 1.1 liter (66 cubic inch) engine moved the Corolla to its 87 mph top speed fairly easily, given the unibody cars’s curb weight of just 1,637 pounds (the wagon added around 90 pounds). It was an efficient engine, providing 60 hp and 61.5 lb-ft of torque, helped out by a two-barrel carburetor (a smart investment at a time when small American cars had single-barrel carburetors). The engine had a four-speed synchronized manual transmission, again ahead of the typical American three-speed (though most cars had a four-speed on their sporty editions). The Corolla had a 90-inch wheelbase, very small for its time, but it was to have a great deal of company in the mid-1970s.

1969 toyota corolla

The 1970 was larger and had a slightly bigger 1.2 liter engine with 73 net horsepower which supported an optional automatic; it was the second best selling import car in 1970. The 1971 went up to a 1.6 liter engine, more in tune with American tastes; horsepower broke 100 (102 hp, gross, likely around 75 net), a psychological barrier for some Americans. The “5” in the new SR5 option stood for the five-speed manual transmission, a rarity on American roads. The car only weighed 1,566 pounds, so it would have been relatively quick for the class.

Buyers could choose between a fastback coupe and four-door sedan with a starting price of $1,830, a real bargain. It had the period-typical solid rear axle, with rear leaf-springs; the independent front suspension used struts. Brakes were drums all the way around, and the wheels were just 12 inches in diameter, six inches wide. The car was 153 inches long and 59 wide, with a 90-inch wheelbase. The interiors were of high quality but the bodies tended to rust out quickly.

The 1974 model kicked off the third generation, and the Corolla's best popularity to date; including the inexpensive Tercel model, the Corolla was the best-selling vehicle in the world from 1974 to 1977. The Tercel would later become a completely separate model, but even in the mid-1970s, it was not really a Corolla (the first Tercels ended up in the United States in 1980).

1976 corollas

The 1974 Corollas were available as sedans (two or four doors), wagons (four doors), hardtop (two-doors), all with the same basic drivetrain as before, except for the five-speed SR-5. They now had a catalytic converter and required unleaded fuel as a result. Two engines were available, the old 1.2 liter (now rated at 65 hp and 67 lb-ft), hooked up solely to the four-speed manual transmission; and a 1.6 liter (97 cubic inches), at 88 hp and 91 lb-ft, available with a two-speed (yes, two-speed) automatic (the Corolla wagon had a three-speed automatic), a four-speed manual, or a five-speed manual. All had front disc brakes with rear drums; the wheelbase of sedan and wagon alike was 91.9 inches; the track was 49.6 inches (front); and they measured 159 inches long (160.2 for the wagon) and 59.3 inches wide. The weight was roughly 1,800 pounds for the 1.2 liter, 1,900 pounds for the 1.6 liter, and 2,000 pounds for the wagon. Gas mileage was rated at 27 mpg for the coupe, and 24.8 mpg for the sedan, in both cases with the four-speed manual and 4.22:1 axle ratio; we have no reason for the variation in economy. The Deluxe sedan, with its two-speed automatic, was rated at just 20.8 mpg—about the same as the equivalent Subaru, Volkswagen, and Saab. The two-door, with its 3.91:1 axle, only got 18.8 mpg with the four-speed manual. The Corolla wagon, with its three-speed automatic, managed 21.1 mpg.

Toyota added a coupe and a two-door hatchback with a split folding rear seat in 1976. Their literature noted an increase in gas mileage for 1976, and boasted of their quality checks “from the power front disc brakes to the cigarette lighter” and standard features “like fully reclining front bucket seats, wall-to-wall carpeting, steel-belted radials, tinted glass, even an electric window defogger.” The 1977s had an updated grille.

Spotlight: 1978 Toyota Corolla

How did the 1978 Toyota Corolla compare against other cars? Car & Driver tested a bunch of “econoboxes” — the Datsun B-210, Honda Civic, Plymouth Horizon (Dodge Omni), Volkswagen Rabbit, Korean-made Ford Fiesta, and antiquated Chevrolet Chevette, with the Corolla the mix.

Fuel economy for all the cars was between 26 and 38 mpg (city), with the Civic taking the lead and the Corolla, surprisingly, having the worst city mileage; but it did beat the Horizon on the highway, edging it out by reaching just over 30 mpg. (This was not the Horizon’s best year; it had a specially made Volkswagen engine.) In comfort, the Rabbit and Horizon took the honors; the Corolla came in #4, well behind the Horizon and a bit behind the Chevette. The B-210 was dead last, by a good margin. The Volkswagen could afford to be relatively comfortable; it was by far the priciest car, costing over $5,500 to the corolla’s $4,800 or so. (The Horizon was slightly cheaper.) Front passenger space was just about the same for all the cars, with rear space differentiating the relatively large Chevette, Fiesta, and Horizon from the rest of the pack. The Corolla fell between Horizon and Rabbit.

Acceleration was surprisingly similar between all the cars; the fastest was, oddly, the Fiesta, doing an 18-second quarter mile. The slowest by a good margin was the B-210, coming close to 20 seconds. The Corolla hit 19 seconds, slightly faster than the Horizon and slightly behind the Rabbit. (Again, the 2.2 liter Horizon was in the future.) They were all similar in the slalom, but the Corolla ended up dead last; the Fiesta was first, followed closely by the Chevette and Rabbit. In skidpad road holding, the Horizon, Civic, and Rabbit all came in very close to each other; the B-210 was dead last, with the Corolla very close. Braking set the Corolla apart, in a bad way; it took 239 feet to stop from 70 mph, while the next worst, the Horizon, stopped in around 211 feet. The best, the Fiesta again, managed to stop in 205 feet.

The editors chose the Civic by a large margin, followed by the Rabbit and then the Fiesta; the Corolla came in well behidn the Chevette and Horizon, but well ahead of the Datsun B-210. The writing compared the Corolla’s driving experience to an old median American sedan; it had an “obedient” engine and “slick-shifting” five-speed, but “ponderous” handling which showed its “heavy” weight of 2,255 pounds. Mainly, the editors had issues with excessive body roll, understeering, and, mainly, its long stopping distance. They praised its fit and finish and design integrity, though.

The Corolla Custom cost $4,163, not including the $90 AM radio or $520 air conditioner. It produced 75 horsepower at 5800 rpm, and 83 pound-feet of torque at 3,800 rpm. The top speed, according to Car & Driver, was 95 mph; 0-60 came in 12.2 seconds and 0-80 came in 24.0 seconds, with a 19-second quarter mile at 73.2 mph. The front suspension used MacPherson struts and coil springs; the rear, a rigid axle with leaf springs. The tested Plymouth Horizon, incidentally, used the 1.7 liter modified Volkswagen engine, producing 75 horsepower and 90 pound-feet; it was 45 pounds lighter than the Corolla’s 2,255 lb, with a 99.2 inch wheelbase to Corolla’s 93.3. However, it only had a four-speed transmission. The base Horizon cost $3,804.

Other specs via C&D: Compression, 9.0:1. Aisin two-barrel carb. Pushrod engine, overhead valves, solid lifters (required tuning). 93.3 inch wheelbase, 51.2 inch front track. 165.2 x 62.4 x 54.5 length, width, height. 5.7 inches ground clearance. 55/45 weight ratio. 13.2-gallon tank, 3.7 quarts of oil, 8.2 quarts antifreeze. Recirculating ball steering, 31.8 foot turning circle. 9-inch front disc brakes, 9x1.6 rear drums, both power assisted. 4.5 x 13-inch steel wheels, four bolts, 165SR-13 tires inflated to 24 psi.

Last rear wheel drive cars

The next generation Corolla arrived for 1979, some dramatic changes—just about the last before a completely new design arrived. The leaf-springs were replaced by coil springs in the rear suspension; the wheelbase was lengthened a little to 94.5 inches; and a new engine debuted with 75 net horsepower, the same as the old model, but with greater responsiveness and efficiency.

The 1982 Corolla boasted one of the first four-speed automatics in a mass production car; but on the downside, the engine fell to 70 horsepower, as Toyota switched from a 1.8 liter to a new 1.6 liter four-cylinder. This engine, a single overhead cam design, boosted gas mileage by 12%, so the automatic could have 36 mpg city, 47 highway; the old three-speed autmoatic and four and five speed manuals were also available. Buyers still had eight body styles to choose from.

Another feature of the new models was rack and pinion steering, with power assistance on most models and a sports handling option on the SR-5s. This had stiffer springs and shocks, a different differential gear ratio to improve torque at the expense of highway mileage, a thicker rear sway bar, special fabric-trimmed seats, aluminum wheels with raised-white-letter radial tires, and a special steering wheel. Rear stabilizer bars were now standard on the SR-5s (but not available on any other models), while all trims had the front bars. The car continued with rear drums and front discs, but power brakes were standard.

Front wheel drive finally arrives

The world started switching to front wheel drive, driven by Fiat and SIMCA—though most people seem to think the first major front wheel drive car was the Volkswagen Rabbit/Golf/Jetta. Toyota was late to make the change, but when they did, it was big news. The 1984 Toyota Corolla, now boasting front wheel drive, had a new GT-S coupe version (dropped after 1991) with a 16-valve engine; and it had the now inevitable front wheel drive setup with a transverse-mount engine and MacPhersno struts. For 1984, the SR5 coupe and hatchback stayed rear wheel drive, but they moved over later.

1983 Sedan
1987 2007
Headroom, front 36.7 37.8 38.3 39.1
Headroom, rear 36.9 n/a 36.9 37.1
Legroom, front 42.1 42.1 42.4 41.3
Legroom, rear 29.1 n/a 32.0 35.4
Wheelbase 83.3 94.5 95.7 102.4
Length 170 166 166 178
Min weight 2,255 2,080 2,134 2,600

Faced with increasing sales, Toyota entered a joint venture with General Motors to create NUMMI, taking over a rather atrocious General Motors plant in California (I can vouch for this - they made my Camaro) and turned it into one of the highest quality plants in North America, at least partly due to an innovative system of implementing employee suggestions. The NUMMI plant built both the Corolla and the General Motors version, the Nova (later to be renamed Prizm).

The sporty FX was introduced in 1987, followed by the sixth generation in 1988. With sales still rising, Toyota opened a new facility in Canada which also produced Corollas. The quality of Toyota's new plants in North America was high enough to garner top (for its class) J.D. Power ratings in 1988, 1990, and 1992, and top ten ratings through 1994.

Engines 1966-69 1977 1983 1987 2003-07
Base horsepower 60 @ 6,000 75 70 @ 4,800 72 @ 5,200 130@6,000*
Base torque 61.5 @ 3,800 83 85 @ 2,800 86 @ 2,800 125@4,200

In 1993, the Corolla moved to its current compact size, garnering many awards. The Tercel was split off as a separate subcompact model to attract those who could no longer afford the increasingly upscale Corolla. A 1.6 liter engine was standard, with an optional 1.8 liter engine. A driver's side airbag was standard, and a passenger airbag was added in 1994.

By 1997, all Corollas sold in the United States were built in North America. The wagon was discontinued, but side-impact protection was increased.

In 1998, the current generation was created. Its distinguishing feature was a new 1.8 liter engine which produced about 120 hp, with (unlike Civic engines) torque to match. Yet, it achieved very good gas mileage and was quite quiet.

In 2000, the engine was given variable valve timing for better gas mileage and more power. It also reduced emissions, so that the Corolla could be certified by the EPA as a low emission vehicle.

2001 saw a minor facelift of the sheet metal, making the Corolla look even more like a Camry. In 2003, the Corolla was expanded and cosmetically modified in a periodic redesign.

In the thirty years since its introduction, Corolla has sold more cars worldwide than any other nameplate! (written in 1999)

For far more (and owner forums), see Corolland

2019-2020 Toyota Corolla: almost completely new, and about time

For years, Toyota rested contentedly, knowing its Camry and Corolla were selling well, largely based on reliability and habit. Reviewers were harsh in their criticism of the Corolla’s ride quality, noise, features, and acceleration, but the cars sold. Sure, Corollas had the same power ratings in 2018 as in 1998, but power isn’t everything, and neither is cornering.

2020 Toyota Corolla Hatchback

Mr. Toyoda was not happy with this state of affairs; years ago, engineers began working on a completely new global architecture, dubbed TNGA (you can guess how the acronym works out), which would be used for everything from the Yaris to the Sienna. Thus, the 2018 Corolla Hatchback debuted on a new platform; a year later, so did the 2019 Corolla sedans. They are more comfortable than the prior models, and handle better, too; they are wider, lower, and longer. More to the point, they have less weight and more torsional rigidity, for better ride, handling, and performance. To get there, they used more aluminum and high- and ultra-high strength steel.

corolla hatch

But that’s not where it all ends. After years of similar engines, including one completely new four-cylinder with the same power as the old one (but cheaper), Toyota added a long-stroke 2-liter engine with 13:1 compression; it has both direct and port injection for responsiveness. Buyers can still get the old engine, though.

The engines are hooked up to a new CVT, the K120, which is continuously variable transmission—and hooked up to a special launch gear, making it the only company to have a launch gear in a passenger-car CVT . That means that when drivers start out, the car uses gear drive, avoiding some sluggishness and inefficiency; once the car is moving, it moves to the belt drive. It also means that the Corolla has a wide transmission range (7.5) for good launches and highway economy. Since the CVT doesn't have to pull the car from a start, it can have smaller pulleys and belts.

Toyota shifter

Those who get the manual transmission can use the “smart” feature, of matching engine revs on downshifts without that heel-and-toe stuff; the new gearbox is 15 pounds lighter (88 pounds total) and shorter (by 0.94 inches) than the prior one.

Going back to the body: it’s an inch lower, over an inch wider, and 1.5 inches longer than the 2018 Corolla. The track and wheelbase were both increased, and the hood was dropped by two inches to help with visibility. The front overhang is 0.8 inches lower, but the rear overhang was stretched by 0.8 inches. The hatch is made from Toyota Super Olefin Polymer and Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (or ABS plastic); it has a 14° steeper angle. The whole thing weighs 2,998 pounds.

2019 corolla hatch

Numerous safety features are standard, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the sedan their top rating for every aspect of crashworthiness other than headlights; front crash prevention is rated as Superior, since all trims have pre-collision systems with pedestrian detection. As for the headlights, while dual-beam LEDs are standard, they are rated as being marginal on most trim levels, since they don’t have nearly enough reach. The XLE and XSE can get an optional Advanced Lighting package which brings the rating to Acceptable; this includes high beam assist, but still doesn't quite have the reach the car needs. On the lighter side, the headlights don't cause too much glare for other drivers. The Advanced Lighting package also has the headlamps move both vertically and, in turns, horizontally, based on speed and steering angle.

The front suspension still uses MacPherson struts, but the dimensions and spring rates were retuned, and sliding parts have lower friction for faster reactions (suspension friction was dropped by 40%). The old rear suspension was jettisoned for a higher-end multi-link design with a stabilizer bar. Toe-in was changed (by moving lower arms) for better higher-speed turns, and the dampers were moved forward to make room for cargo and to reduce low-frequency input.

  2018 (iM) 2019 (Hatch)
Wheelbase 102.4 103.9
Length 170.5 172
Width 69.3 70.5
Height 57.5 56.6

The interior has been modernized; the instrument panel has an inch-thinner upper surface, and the center console is nearly two inches wider, with (optional) wireless charging. The center screen was expanded from seven to eight inches and Entune 3.0 was added. It’s quieter, thanks partly to a quieter powertrain and partly to more sound insulation and aerodynamic changes. Stylists paired glossy and matte elements to make the interior more interesting, and took out unnecessary lettering to make it seem cleaner. Front doors can hold 24-ounce bottles and while rear doors can hold 16-ounce bottles.

The base model comes with many standard features, as a way to lower the price without actually lowering the price. All Corollas come with automatic climate control, a leather shift knob, paddle shifters for the CVT, an electronic parking brake, SmartKey, and front USB outlets. The XSE also has a seven-inch color driver’s gauge-cluster screen, dual-zone climate control, leather-and-fabric trim, heated front seats, and an eight-way power driver’s seat.

Entune 3 has Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa, and Siri Hands Free. The base Corolla comes with six speakers, WiFi (with subscription), audio and USB 2 ports with iPod control, and a customizable home screen. The Entune 3.0 Audio Plus system, standard on XSE and optional on SE CVT, and adds high-definition radio, weather and traffic, satellite radio, and remote phone access.

center stack

Entune 3.0 Audio Premium, optional on the XSE, has an 800-watt amp with eight JBL speakers, Clari-Fi, and dynamic voice recognition. The system uses horn tweeters at ear level, 6.7-inch door woofers, and wide-dispersion midrange speakers.  

Safety includes standard pre-collision detection, including pedestrian detection, to see a preceding vehicle or person, day or night (in the past, it was only during the day, and excluded bicyclists); it can alert the driver and, if needed, hit the brakes. Even the base model has radar-based cruise control with automatic stopping and a link to the turn signals. Other safety features include:

The Corolla Hatchback comes in Rival Blue, Blizzard Pearl, Silver Metallic, Midnight Black, Galactic Aqua Mica, Scarlet, and Oxide Bronze.

For more (and Corolla forums), see Corolland

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