Model: 2003 to 2006 Toyota Corolla
Vehicle type: Compact sedan
Approximate used price range:
$5,500 to $12,000

History/description: The Corolla has long been Toyota’s “bread and butter” small car for the Canadian masses. Built to be reliable, efficient and cheap to run, it’s got a lengthy history of winning awards and being named to “best buy” lists of all kinds.

 

For its ninth generation, Corolla filled a place between the Yaris and Camry in Toyota’s product portfolio. The Corolla was also made larger and roomier than before, translating to more interior space. Styling was relatively plain, though a visually sporty Corolla ‘S’ model added some go-fast styling cues. Side and curtain bags were available, along with power accessories, a cabin air filter and a CD player.

 

Power came from a 1.8-litre four cylinder engine with 126 ponies and 122 lb.-ft of torque.
This base engine employs variable timing for surprisingly peppy performance, as long as it’s paired with the five-speed manual transmission and not the four-speed automatic. A high-performance XRS model was also available, and featured a tuned-up variant of the 1.8 litre engine with 170 horsepower and a six-speed manual.

What owners like: Owners typically say they most enjoy the tidy cabin layout, comfort, handling and safety of their Corollas. Gas mileage is rated highly, too. Owners of the Corolla XRS also enjoy a high-performance experience.

What owners hate: Owner gripes centre mainly around bland and generic styling, and some wish for more performance from the four-cylinder engine /automatic transmission combination.

Common issues: Corolla’s reputation for reliability means that common issues are few and far between — but like every used car, there are at least a few issues to be aware of.

 

Some owners have reported having to change their catalytic converter far before its expected life was over. Apparently, the bill to replace a catalytic converter is a hefty one.


Other owners report random illumination of the check-engine light — which could indicate a number of sensor or emissions-system problems. If you see a check engine light on your test drive, be sure to find out why it’s there.


Remember that an exceptional deal is often too good to be true. As such, scrutinize the condition of any used Corolla’s tires and brakes to ensure the former owner isn’t trying to pass off a big expense on you.


If you’re not mechanically inclined, ask a friend or your favorite mechanic for help. Kill the stereo system and listen for any abnormal noises coming from beneath the car when cornering or travelling over bumps at various speeds. Clunking, snapping or popping noises are all potential signs of worn out suspension parts that will need attention.

The verdict: Though priced at a premium, a clean, well-maintained and well cared for Corolla is one of the used car market’s most reliable and sensible small cars.