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.