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Well into its fourth decade of production, the compact Toyota Corolla is the best-selling nameplate in automotive history. And with good reason: This is the quintessential economy car. It's small, inexpensive, fuel-efficient and reliable. Put gas in it, give it the occasional oil change and it will provide dependable transportation well past the 100,000-mile mark. That's why it's typical for more than 200,000 Americans, from high schoolers to retirees, to buy Corollas every year.
Since its 1968 introduction in the U.S., the Toyota Corolla has come in a variety of body styles, including a sedan, coupe, hatchback and wagon. More recently however, it has only been available as a sedan. It is also more expensive than earlier models, but still provides most of the usual benefits of Corolla ownership, along with a substantially more refined driving experience. The latest Corolla boasts significant increases in fuel economy and rear passenger room, and also has more distinctive styling. Although rivals have sportier designs and more entertaining driving dynamics, a Corolla nonetheless makes an excellent choice for those seeking a comfortable, reliable and economical compact car.
Used Toyota Corolla Models
The previous (10th-generation) Toyota Corolla was produced from 2009 through 2013. It was essentially the same size as the one before it, except it was a little wider, which created additional hip- and shoulder room. Styling changes were subtle; it was a little more aggressive looking than in years past but still readily identifiable as a Corolla. Key changes included the availability of a sporty XRS model with a more powerful engine and a tuned suspension, as well as the debut of a navigation system.
Trim levels initially consisted of base, LE, S, XLE and XRS. Base Corollas had full power accessories, keyless entry, air-conditioning and a CD player with auxiliary audio jack. The LE added 16-inch alloy wheels, heated mirrors, cruise control, Bluetooth phone and an upgraded stereo with iPod connectivity. The S provided a sporty look with foglights, body styling accents, upgraded cloth upholstery and metallic interior trim. The XRS actually improved performance via a bigger engine, 17-inch alloy wheels, and sport-tuned suspension and steering systems. Major options included a sunroof, a navigation system, satellite radio and Bluetooth streaming audio.
A 1.8-liter inline-four cylinder engine with 132 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque powered all but the XRS. A five-speed manual transmission was standard on them, but most were fitted with an optional four-speed automatic. The XRS came with a 2.4-liter four good for 158 hp and 162 lb-ft mated to a five-speed manual, with a five-speed automatic as optional.
Note that the XRS and XLE were sold for just 2009 and '10. Other notable changes during this generation included the debut of standard stability control for 2010, while 2013 brought an available touchscreen audio system as well as Special Edition versions of the LE and S trims. The latter featured unique colors and added luxuries such as leather upholstery and heated seats.
In reviews, we noted that (apart from the relatively rare XRS model), the Corolla's smooth engine provided just adequate performance, while its fuel economy ratings trailed newer rivals. Handling was similarly uninspiring, although the ride was commendably smooth and quiet. The XRS, on the other hand was fairly entertaining thanks to its energetic engine and sharper handling. This generation of the Corolla, like those before and after, aimed to please the average consumer with a combination of smooth performance, simple controls, ample passenger room and a long-standing reputation of anvil-like reliability.
The ninth-generation Toyota Corolla was produced from 2003-'08 and came in CE, S, LE and XRS trim levels. The CE was a basic economy car but came with essentials like air-conditioning, a height-adjustable driver seat and a CD player. The Corolla S offered a few more conveniences, while adding a lower body kit, rear spoiler and smoked headlamps for a faux sport sedan look. The LE did away with the sporty add-ons in favor of a more upscale feel -- it was the one to get if you wanted simulated wood interior trim. Finally, there was the XRS, the only truly sporty member of the Toyota Corolla family. In addition to all the cosmetic touches from the S model, the XRS had a more powerful engine, a firmer suspension, four-wheel disc brakes and alloy wheels.
For power, the CE, S and LE had a 1.8-liter four-cylinder rated for 126 hp. This doesn't sound like a lot, but the ninth-generation Corolla got around well for a car in this class, providing solid highway acceleration. The XRS, which was only produced for 2004 and '05, had a higher-revving 1.8-liter four good for 164 hp. Acceleration was definitely quicker, but many consumers would probably find the engine's peaky power delivery annoying in everyday traffic. Additionally, the XRS was only available with a manual transmission, whereas other Corollas could be equipped with a manual or automatic.
Changes to the ninth-generation Corolla were few but potentially significant for used-car shoppers. Notably, side curtain airbags, stability control and a JBL audio system were all newly available for the 2005 model year. In reviews at the time, we noted that this Corolla offered a smooth and quiet ride but uninspiring handling. There was nothing flashy about the cabin's design, but materials quality was very high for this class of car. There was ample room in the backseat, but the driving position was awkward.
The eighth-generation Toyota Corolla was sold from 1998-2002. Besides being a good choice from a reliability and fuel economy standpoint, this Corolla is an excellent used-car buy if safety is a priority -- it was the first low-priced compact sedan to offer side airbags as an option back in 1998. All Corollas from this era were sedans, and all had a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine. Acceleration was solid, though we'd advise you to avoid base models equipped with the archaic three-speed automatic transmission (either VE or CE, depending on the model year). Ride comfort and materials quality were also strengths; a cramped backseat was the major negative.
The seventh generation covers the years 1993-'97. Similar in size and personality to its successor, this Corolla was powered by a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. Horsepower output was anywhere from 100 to 115, depending on the model year and emissions equipment. Dual front airbags were standard in all years except 1993. A wagon version was available from 1993-'96.
Sixth-generation Corollas sold from 1988-'92 were much smaller and boxier, although the lineup was considerably more varied. In addition to the plain-Jane sedan, there was a sporty GTS coupe with a high-revving four-cylinder rated for as much as 130 hp (an impressive number at the time). An all-wheel-drive "All-Trac" wagon was also available.
One thing to keep in mind if you're shopping for a used Toyota Corolla sedan built before 2003 is that GM sold an identical model called the Prizm under the Chevrolet and Geo brands, so it's worthwhile to include this car in your search as well.
If you are looking for newer years, visit our new Toyota Corolla page.
For more on past Toyota Corolla models, view our Toyota Corolla history page.