With an exterior looking like the sad love-child of that billy-cart you made as a kid and those trolleys that old women use to take their groceries home, this 1999 Toyota Corolla has a lot left to be desired in the looks department. And as for the interior, well I’ll be kind; it’s functional. Very functional. Clearly during the design phase of this cars life all of Toyota’s designers were on annual leave, so Dennis from accounting was asked to design it on Friday afternoons. And Dennis liked grey, so once inside you’re immersed in a world of grey. Grey everything.
So what’s it like to drive? Not as bad as you’d think. Toyota claims 78kW at 5800rpm and 135Nm at 4800rpm, far from ecstatic figures, but it’s sufficient to propel the little sedan from 0-100km/h in just under 11 seconds which could give some modern competition a run for their money. The 1.6 litre four cylinder pulls well, with reasonably linear torque produced throughout the rev range with adequate power delivery coming in from about 2500rpm. And it’s quite too, only protruding into the cabin under firm acceleration. Servicing won’t hurt the bank either, with those who are mechanically minded no doubt having little trouble getting greasy themselves. The gearbox is smooth and predictable, but shows its age with the low ratio fifth gear and occasional grind when going into reverse. On the whole, the drive-line is along the lines of what you’d expect but far from terrible, however it will be challenged with a car full of passengers. Speaking of passengers, new generations of Corolla have grown and as such rear legroom is occasionally poky comparatively, and those of us beyond 6 feet will notice limited head space in the back, thanks to that sloping sedan roof line. Life in the front isn’t a whole lot better with the seats comfortable but unsupportive, making long drives a little draining.
So what else? Well the suspension is crashy and wallows over large bumps and allows the car to lean a little too much through the corners. The steering is no better with next to no feel coming through the wheel, and this less than sporting combination doesn’t inspire confidence on the road. As for the tech? Ha-har! You’ll find more tech in an Amish barn then you will in this car. It has power steering, key-operated central locking, air-conditioning and a cassette (yes cassette) player, and that’s about it.
As for safety, um…pass? Pretty much the only ‘safety feature’ the Corolla possesses is the length of bonnet between you and whatever it is you may hit, and after that the crumple zones include you, and most of your passengers. That’s it, no airbags, or computer safety aids, however there are no lap-strap seat belts in sight only proper three-points, which is a plus, I guess. Fuel economy was better than I thought it’d be, with Toyota claiming 7.2 l/100km on the combined cycle and me actually getting anywhere between 7.2-8.4 /100km, with mostly city driving.
So why exactly is this car one of the greats? Well the problem with so many modern cars is they write cheques that they can’t cash, every model coming out is supposedly better than the last with Johnny Motorist finding his four wheels obsolete in no time. But this car’s greatest attribute is the fact that it’s the characterful underdog, the cheerful little guy no one expects much from but will stand up happily to its modern competition. And that brings me neatly onto what I love most about this car, it’s humble, and subsequently humbling. Driving a bare-basic car like this makes you feel happy, every time I drive it its annoyances tremble into insignificance and I want to put on some driving gloves and parade around the countryside. And isn’t that what motoring should be about? Choosing a car that evokes joy?
In many respects this car is like the family dog; it’s utterly annoying a lot of the time, makes strange noises, produces occasional foul smells, embarrasses you in crowds and your neighbours secretly hate it, but there’s not a force on the face of the planet that you’d let take it from you. So to the last Aussie-made Corolla I say to you, cast off the web of pessimistic peer evaluation, and bask in your triumphant march into the pages of history, as one of the truly great cars.