I recently bought this car. I've already had to replace the timing chain and catalytic converter. This car does have great gas mileage, 30 miles per gallon. It has comfy seats and is higher off the ground than other sedans of this era. However the paint is peeling off and the engine is horrible. If you want a commuter car that gets good gas mileage and don't mind having repairs this is the car for you.
I bought this car brand new off the lot and 12 years, and 250,000 miles later, still running like new! Very very minimal maintenance required for this car! i have barely done oil changes and only other repairs were replacing sway bar, a sensor that went at about 180k, and thats it! Even mechanics have told me that this is one of the best cars that toyota has put out and i very much believe that.
I bought the car new in 2002 and now have 98,000 miles on it. It required front brake pads due to squealing brakes at 25,000 miles and was done free. Have performed routine maintenance - battery 60,000 miles, tires 60,000 miles, brakes 85,000 miles. After the brakes at 85,000 there was a persistent squeal and the car needed 2 more trips back to the dealer. Was given a free loaner car for the 2 returns and it was handled very professionally. Other than that I routinely get 34-35 mpg with about 65% highway driving. The car is actually fun to drive and I am always the first "out of the blocks". Minimal road noise at cruising speed and very smooth highway manners.
Ten years ago I bought my 2003 Corolla LE brand new, and it has been rock solid in terms of reliability. In the ten years I've owned this car (115,000 miles) I have had only one repair that was not usual wear-and-tear (air conditioner went out). Everything else has stood the test of time. So I give this car a 5 in terms of value, build quality, and reliability. As for performance, comfort, and fun to drive, the Corolla is admittedly not top-of-the-line (you're not going to win races with this thing or feel like you're sitting in a recliner), and gas mileage by today's standards isn't spectacular. But, I trust this thing just as much today as I did the day I bought it and that says something.