I did my research. I test drove several cars that I was reading rave reviews about - the Ford Focus, the Chevy Cruze, the Hyundai Elantra, the Nissan Sentra (which was worth considering, although darn it no telescoping steering wheel) and others that didn't get the rave reviews like the Honda Civic, which was overpriced I thought and not too impressive... But I LOVED the Corolla S although you pay more for the S, and then I was almost in Camry territory (and same gas mileage believe it or not) but would have wanted the SE which is @5 more Gs than mine... but look at the Corolla. I love it. And I drove them all. gas mileage is AWESOME! get the sunroof for 400 more... I just trust TOYOTA.
I purchased this vehicle from a dealership in Colorado Springs a month ago and have already driven it over 2,000 miles. The interior is by no means luxurious, the electronics are simple, and the acceleration is about the same level as a Prius. Non of these things matter to me as I was looking for a dependable, economic and basically a car to get you from A to B. In this sense this car is about as good as it gets. The driving I do is probably tougher then most Americans as I live in the mountains of Colorado and frequently travel up to 12,000 feet and then back down to 7,000 feet in a matter of a few miles, along with constant hills to climb. Despite this I have averaged 34 total mpg. I have even driven from Denver to Moab and back multiple times since owning this vehicle and it drives great. Great car for a reliable A to B ride.
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.
For someone on a budget that wanted a "new" car, the Corolla fit the bill perfectly. The cost of ownership is extremely low. Almost zero maintenance required throughout its life. The interior is relatively spacious for such a small car. I don't find anything to feel "cheap" though almost everything is plastic. My interior is black so maybe that helps make it look more classy. The ride quality is superb. The cabin is QUIET and the car soaks up most large bumps. Mine is a 5-speed so maybe that helps with the fun factor. I also have the S model (black exterior) which really improves the car's appearance. I'm VERY happy with my purchase! Don't let these bad reviews put you off!!