By Eric Peters
They don’t make the great cars anymore.
Cars like the original (rear-engined/air-cooled) VW Beetle, for instance, which many consider to be the greatest car ever made, if the standard for greatness is a car almost anyone could afford to buy — and for that reason put almost everyone on the road who wanted to be on the road.
Hence, the name “people’s car.”
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The Ford Model T was another, earlier example of the same kind of greatness differently expressed.
These cars weren’t fast or sexy, but they were easy to get and cheap to keep. They didn’t ask for much beyond fuel, oil, brakes and tires once in a while, and they ran and ran and ran — and then ran some more. It was common to see them on the road as daily drivers 20 or 30 years after they were made.
Of course, you can’t get a new old Beetle or a Model T anymore.
But you can get what is arguably a car greater than either of them — combined.
What It Is
The Corolla is the world’s best-selling car — large, small, whatever. Ever. More than 45 million of them have been stamped out since 1966, its first year on the market. That’s more of them than all the Model T’s and old Beetles produced combined.
The base trim Corolla L with a 1.8-liter engine and CVT automatic stickers for $20,025. An SE trim with a more powerful 2.0-liter engine and six-speed manual transmission stickers for $23,175.
A top-of-the-line XSE Apex trim stickers for $28,310.
The Apex trim is the big news for 2021. It includes a firmer-riding suspension, lower ride height and the option to buy a set of high-performance short sidewall “summer” tires.
Ten years from now, you’ll hand this car off to your kid — who will hand it off to his kid.
There is an available manual transmission and a standard not-turbocharged engine.
It has knobs you turn rather than icons you tap.
What’s Not So Good
The manual availability is limited to the SE trim.
The otherwise standard automatic is a CVT automatic.
The CVT-equipped models come standard with automated stop/start, a feature many people dislike — for good reason.
Under the Hood
All Corollas except the SE come standard with a 1.8-liter, 139-horsepower, four-cylinder engine without a turbocharger. Which means you’ll never have to worry about replacing a failed turbocharger.
It’s the same deal with the Corolla’s optional 2.0-liter engine, which is the one to get if you prefer to shift for yourself.
The Corolla’s engines are not as powerful as some of the engines available in cars in this class, but they have an established track record for being extremely low-maintenance and extremely long-lived.
Plus, you can shift for yourself, if you like. Almost every other engine in every other car in this class is paired only with an automatic transmission.
On the Road
The Corolla has buttons and knobs to turn the volume up and down, tune stations and change the air conditioning and heat. Which means you don’t have to take your eyes off the road while you’re driving to adjust these things like you do in almost every other new car, since many have smartphone-emulating touchscreen interfaces. You can’t feel an icon.
There is an LCD display inside the Corolla, but it is unlike the others in that it is meant to be a display rather than an interface. There are even tactile buttons on the sides to get you to the correct menu without having to “scroll” or “swipe” or “tap” a screen with no feel that forces you to look.
This in itself makes the Corolla a great car.
At the Curb
Although the Corolla is considered a compact-sized sedan, if you consider the key interior specifications, you will see it is an almost-midsize car where it matters. There are 42 inches of legroom in the front seat and 34.8 inches in the back. The Corolla’s 13.3-cubic foot trunk is also only slightly smaller than the 15-or-so-cubic foot trunk you’ll find in most midsize sedans.
One of the few small things that’s not so great about the Corolla is the too-small cup holders in the center console, which could easily have been made larger. The center console itself is wide enough to accommodate this.
The Bottom Line
There are other cars that are better at this or that — stronger, faster, sexier or more “high-tech.” But there has never been a car that’s better than the Corolla at being a great car.
45 million — and counting.
It speaks for itself.
Eric’s latest book, “Don’t Get Taken for a Ride!” is available now. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
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