Compact car; Built in Canada
  • 4-door sedan
  • transverse front-engine/front-wheel drive
Good condition price range: $4,700 – $10,000*

2003 Toyota Corolla

2004 Toyota Corolla

2005 Toyota Corolla

Toyota Corolla interior

  • Fuel economy
  • Acceleration (mild with automatic)
  • Rear-seat room

Not as refined as it could be, the Corolla nevertheless offers fine value for the money. Toyota’s reputation for reliability qualifies this sedan for Recommended status. Honda Civic, Ford Focus, and Volkswagen Jetta sedans promise more driving spice, but no more utility.


Toyota redesigned its long-lived front-drive subcompact sedan for 2003, continuing its tradition as a conservative four-door, versus the company’s new-age Echo and hybrid-powered Prius. Fresh styling for 2003 was accompanied by an increase of 5.4 inches in wheelbase, and 4.3 inches in overall length, compared to the 1998-2002 version.

Corolla lent its underskin platform to the Toyota Matrix, a new wagon that also aimed toward younger buyers. Toyota first introduced a Corolla way back in the late 1960s.

A 1.8-liter four-cylinder returned as the sole Corolla engine, having gained 5 horsepower. Either a manual transmission or a four-speed automatic could be installed. Antilock braking and front side airbags were optional. Curtain side airbags were unavailable.

Air conditioning, a tilt steering wheel, split folding rear seat, power mirrors, and a CD player were standard. CE, S, and top-rung LE trim levels were offered. The sportier S sedan had aero body trim, fog lamps, and a leather-covered steering wheel and shift knob. Exclusive to the LE was optional leather upholstery.

Rivals included the Ford Focus, Honda Civic, and Volkswagen Jetta. Chevrolet halted production of its Corolla clone, the Prizm, which did not carry over into the 2003 design.

Yearly Updates

2004 Corolla
Following its 2003 redesign, the Corolla was virtually unchanged for 2004.
2005 Corolla
Curtain side airbags joined the options list for 2005. A high-performance XRS sedan joined the lineup, with a 170-horsepower engine and six-speed manual transmission. The XRS also featured a sport suspension, unique exterior and interior trim, and 16-inch wheels. Modest facelifting for 2005 gave both the front and rear ends a slightly different look.
2006 Corolla
The Corolla was unchanged for 2006.
2007 Corolla
The larger of Toyota’s compact sedans dropped its sporty model for 2007. Leather upholstery was no longer available.
2008 Corolla
The 2008 Toyota Corolla carried over unchanged, pending a redesign due in calendar 2008 as a 2009 model.


transverse front-engine/front-wheel drive

Most Corollas have the same engine: a 1.8-liter dual-overhead-cam four-cylinder, rated at 130 horsepower. Either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission may be installed. For 2005, the new XRS sedan got a 170-horsepower version of the Corolla engine and a six-speed manual transmission.

dohc I4
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 1.8/110
Engine HP 130
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 125
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
4-speed automatic
dohc I4
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 1.8/110
Engine HP 170
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 127
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
6-speed manual


Road Test

Acceleration is not a Corolla high point, though it’s roughly class-average. A test automatic-transmission LE accelerated to 60 mph in 9.7 seconds. Manual-transmission models aren’t that much quicker. Therefore, passing on two-lane roads requires caution and planning. The XRS delivers more zest to pass and merge, but feels lethargic when taking off from a stop.

Fuel economy scores high. Test LE sedans with automatic have averaged an appealing 28.5 mpg in a city/highway mix. A manual-shift S model hit an impressive 34.1 mpg with mainly highway driving, versus 30.3 mpg for a Corolla XRS, which requires premium-grade gasoline.

Ride quality is satisfying, too. The Corolla’s solid structure helps its suspension absorb most rough pavement with ease. Body motions are quelled nicely over bumps and dips.

Safe and predictable front-drive moves are matched by accurate, nicely weighted steering and good straightline stability. Cornering prowess, however, is limited by the comfort-biased suspension and what some test-drivers have considered to be undue body lean. Despite its sportier pretensions, the S is no better. All models have adequate routine-braking power and good pedal modulation, but ABS is a must.

Corollas are disappointingly noisy. Raucous during hard acceleration, the engine is none too quiet in gentle cruising. Wind and road noise are also significant above 60 mph.

Easy-to-read gauges and logical switchgear are appealing. Audio and climate controls are adequately-sized, but some drivers have to stretch to reach radio buttons. Interior materials won’t disappoint at the Corolla’s price level, but they’re not on par with class-leading Volkswagens. Some test Corollas, when nearly new, have suffered slight rattles and buzzes from interior panels.

Comfortable front seats are nicely padded. Head room is ample, but leg space snug for occupants over six-feet. The excellent driving position is enhanced by standard tilt steering. Outward visibility may be compromised by the Corolla’s headrests.

Although the backseat doesn’t qualify as a penalty box, adults are cramped if front seats are more than halfway back. Seats are supportive and nicely contoured. Doors open wide for easy access.

Trunk space is subcompact-typical. Rear seatbacks fold nearly flat, to boost storage capacity. Front-seat interior storage space beats the class average, but rear door and seatback pockets are absent.


Model Tested: 2004 Corolla LE w/auto.

Ratings values are on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the best. With the exception of Value, these numbers reflect how the vehicle compares against the universe of vehicles, not just against rivals in its class.


Acceleration - 4
Fuel Economy - 7
Ride Quality - 5
Steering/Handling - 5
Quietness - 5


Controls/Materials - 6
Room/Comfort Front - 5
Room/Comfort Rear - 3
Cargo Room - 3


Value - 8

Total: 51


4-door sedan
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
102.4 178.3 66.9 57.5
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
13.6 13.2 5
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
39.1 37.1 41.3 35.4
Safety Ratings

Model Tested: 2003 Corolla 4-door sedan


(5 is the highest rating)

Front Impact Test

Driver Injury - 5
Front Passenger Injury - 5

Side Impact Test

Driver Injury - 4
Rear Passenger Injury - 4


(A score of 100 is average. Lower is better)

Collision N/A
Injury N/A
Theft N/A

Trouble Spots

Air conditioner
Description: The A/C warning light may flash and the compressor clutch may fail to engage due to a faulty clutch relay. (2002-04)
Automatic transmission
Description: The automatic transmission may shift harshly and the check engine light may illuminate requiring a replacement powertrain control module. (2005-07)
Description: Front brakes make rattling or squeaking noises due to excessive clearance at the caliper mounting. (2003-08)
Coolant leak
Description: Coolant leaks from the rear of the 2AZFE 2.4L engine because two rear head bolts stretch. (2003-06)
Engine knock
Description: A squealing or knocking sound from the engine compartment due to bad accessory belt tensioner. (2003-07)
Suspension noise
Description: A tapping noise that seems to be coming from the dash is actually from the upper suspension mount for the spring on which insulating material must be applied. (2003)
Description: The battery dies because a faulty headlight switch is unable to turn the lights off and an updated switch is available. (2003)
Description: Whenever the battery is too low to start the vehicle, the relay for the daytime running lights (DRL) becomes damaged and a revised relay must be installed. (2003)
Check-engine light
Description: Excessive sulfur odor on cars with a 1ZZ-FE engine, usually accompanied by a check engine light (and trouble code P0420) must have the PCM (engine computer) reprogrammed or replaced. (2003-04)
Check-engine light
Description: The check engine light may come on because of a very small leak in the evaporative emissions system charcoal canister. (2005)
Check-engine light
Description: The check engine light may illuminate due to a faulty air/fuel ratio sensor. (2005-06)

Recall History

2003-04 Corolla equipped with power windows
Description: The bolts that hold the driver- and front-passenger-door glass may loosen and come off, causing the glass to separate from the window regulator. This may cause the glass to bind and shatter. Dealers will replace the bolts with newly designed bolts.
2003-2004 Corolla
Description: Passenger-side frontal airbag inflator may rupture upon deployment and spray metal fragments at the passenger.
2003-2004 Corolla
Description: Supplemental restraint system (SRS) is susceptible to shorting, creating an abnormal current and heat that can damage the circuits. Airbags and seatbelt pretensioners may deploy inadvertently.
Description: The engine control module (ECM) for the subject models equipped with the 1ZZ-FE engine and two-wheel drive may have been improperly manufactured. There is a possibility that a crack may develop at certain solder points or on varistors on the circuit board. There are a variety of warnings and consequences associated with the defect. The engine-warning lamp could be illuminated, harsh shifting could result, the engine may not start, or the engine could shut off while the vehicle is being driven. An engine shutoff while the vehicle is being driven increases the risk of a crash. Dealers will inspect the production number of the ECM and replace the ECM if necessary.
2007-2008 Corolla
Description: Power window master switch assemblies may malfunction and overheat due to irregularities in the lubrication process during assembly.

Equipment Lists

Equipment lists are only viewable on larger screen sizes.


Used-car pricing varies widely depending on local market conditions. Therefore, we recommend visiting websites that list used cars for sale to get a better idea of what a specific model is selling for in your area.

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