2002 Toyota Corolla
2002 Toyota Corolla. Click image to enlarge
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Toyota Corolla Reviews

By Chris Chase

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Toyota Corolla, 1998-2002

What’s left to say about Toyota reliability? Ask the average driver, and they’ll tell you these are some of the best-built cars you can buy. That logic makes the Toyota Corolla about the best buy for the budget buyer.

1998 marked the introduction of the eighth-generation Corolla, a car that already had a long reputation of simple design and good dependability. While the styling was a little swankier than that of its predecessor, this car wasn’t much bigger than its predecessor.

1998 Toyota Corolla
1998 Toyota Corolla. Click image to enlarge

There was more power under the hood, though. The base engine was a 1.8-litre four-cylinder, where the previous generation could be had with 1.6- and 1.8-litre motors – but the new one was good for 120 horsepower, up from a maximum of 115. Then, in 2000, the Corolla motor got a power boost to 125.

The base transmission in lower-end models was a five-speed manual; the top-line LE came standard with a four-speed automatic. Note that the base model in 1998 was offered with both three- and four-speed automatics (mid-level models got the four-speed); fuel consumption, particularly on the highway, will suffer in three-speed cars. The three-speed was dropped after 1998, however.

Details, details: fuel consumption is decent. In 1998, the Corolla’s Natural Resources Canada figures were 7.7/5.8 L/100 km (city/highway) with the manual transmission, while four-speed automatic cars were rated at 8.3/6.0 (city/highway). Opt for the three-speed, and the numbers increased to 8.5/6.8.

1998 Toyota Corolla
2002 Toyota Corolla
1998 Toyota Corolla (top); 2002 Toyota Corolla. Click image to enlarge

The eighth-generation Corolla suffers from an uncharacteristic engine oil consumption problem. The cause is apparently poor quality piston rings that allow too much oil into the combustion chamber. The fix is an engine rebuild, which, as you can imagine, is a pretty expensive job if you’re not handy enough to do it yourself.

Chronic oil consumption is troubling, but it’s far less likely to happen in a car that has been well-maintained from new. Consumer Reports acknowledges the oil use issue in its Corolla reliability ratings, and a fuel system problem (which I couldn’t find details of online) looks like the only other mechanical item to watch out for. Consumer Reports notes some exhaust system issues, too, as well as some body hardware troubles. Despite these issues, the eighth-generation Corolla still earns a “better than average” used vehicle rating from Consumer Reports.

The Corolla earned an “acceptable” rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in its frontal offset crash test. They cited poor control of the dummy movement and too much upward movement in the steering wheel, though the chance of serious injury was relatively low. The IIHS didn’t test for side impact safety.

In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) tests, the Corolla earned four stars in frontal crash tests, and three stars for side impact protection. A model with available side airbags did slightly better in side impact tests (four stars for front-seat occupant protection instead of three), but it doesn’t look like these were available in Canada.

The eighth-gen Corolla isn’t a driver’s car; its handling has been called quite poor – and even unsafe – by some enthusiasts posting on line. This apparently applies more to early 1998 versions, whose suspension didn’t get a front sway bar. This piece was made standard in subsequent model years. I doubt, however, that the lack of a sway bar would matter much to the Corolla’s target audience; there are several other good small cars that will appeal to drivers who place a higher value on handling (more on that shortly).

1998 Toyota Corolla
1998 Toyota Corolla. Click image to enlarge

According to Canadian Red Book, used Corolla values range from $3,700 for a 1998 VE model, to $6,950 for a 2002 Corolla S; Red Book lists no values for 2001 models.

For similar money, a Mazda Protege comes in a few hundred bucks less in most cases, and offers more interior space and a more involving driving experience. The Nissan Sentra is tight inside and isn’t a terribly interesting drive, but reliability has been decent, and it tends to be less expensive to buy than either the Corolla or Protege. And then, don’t forget the Honda Civic, the Corolla’s closest natural competitor; it too, tends to be roomier than the Corolla inside.

All this to say that, while you can hardly go wrong with a used Corolla, there are other similar cars offering similar reliability for less money. As always, look for a car with maintenance records and have it checked out by a trusted mechanic before buying.

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