I had the stripper model. 3 speed transmission, 33mpg hwy. The performance is fairly good, but I would steer away from the 3 speed trans. This car handles very nicely. I'm a nutzoid driver who makes the passengers eat the side windows when I take the curves. The ride is fairly quiet and fairly smooth. Reliability is already spoken for and that is, get your basic service, and it will survive a nuclear blast. Not to mention I rolled this car a few times on the fwy going 60, and it held up VERY well. Definitely a safe car to drive. I came out without a SCRATCH.
Smooth ride and handling ability. I have a mazda protege now and it takes corners better, but it's also a smaller car (go figure). Not to mention a HUGE trunk. Plenty of space for this 6'1" driver.
The seats! I'm hoping the 2003 corollas have better seats. There's barely any lower back support which can make 1 hour+ trips a bit uncomfortable if you're tall. Also, toyota finally phased out the 3 speed tranny which shifted too soon from 2nd to 3rd.
† Edmunds.com received the highest numerical score in the proprietary J.D. Power 2014 Third-Party Automotive Website Evaluation Study℠. Results based on responses from 3,381 responses, measuring 14 companies and measures third-party automotive website usefulness among new and used vehicle shoppers. Proprietary study results are based on experiences and perceptions of owners surveyed from January 2014. Your experiences may vary. Visit jdpower.com.