Test drove the Elantra, Mazda 3, Sonata, Fusion, and the Mazda 6 before going Corolla again. Eight months old and just hit 20K on the odometer for my '12 base model. The car has zero issues, and is a great commuter with occasional long trips. My other Corolla is a '03. As it should be the '12 is noticeably quieter, comes with ESC and ABS not on the '03. Its basically same engine, but '12 seems tuned for more power -- as the '03 would have noticeable power drop when using AC. Even with more power, regularly getting 33 to 35 average MPG on each tank full on the 2012.
The base model '12 has power windows standard - wasn't available on base model in '03.
I like the simplicity of the interior with a dash and center console that is uncluttered.
High value just can't be beaten -- low cost to drive & maintain.
If "fun to drive" is important, then get the manual transmission.
Still not a rocket, but more fun than auto.
Free maintenance by Toyota for the first 25K miles is a bonus.
10K oil change intervals with 0W20 synthetic oil.
The '12 base model stick shift does not come with cruise control.
If had cruise control, it would be the PERFECT small car for me.
Not a dealbreaker since its mainly a commuter car, but I do miss cruise on long trips.
Speakers are low grade -- just like in '03.
Not expecting HI-FI on a base model, but surely even marginally better speakers could be installed at the assembly plant to improve the enjoyability of this car.
Back seat legroom is fine for kids not so much for adults but is typical of small cars.