Progress can be hardest on pioneers. Early rockers like Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, and even Elvis Presley were pushed out of the spotlight by the British invasion they inspired. Bespectacled George Mikan, the first professional basketball superstar, is largely unknown by fans of today's high-flying NBA game.
The Toyota Corolla is a pioneer. The Corolla, along with the likes of the Honda Civic, introduced American car buyers to the notion of cheap, efficient, and reliable compacts back when Domestic automakers insisted those qualities were incompatible. General Motors was so mystified that it entered a partnership with Toyota (NUMMI) to figure out how the Japanese automaker built this little car.
Fast forward to 2011, and the Corolla still embodies those early attributes. The interior is as precisely put together as that in a Lexus - the door panel gaps, cutlines et cetera are a work of art for those who appreciate that sort of thing - and the seats are about as comfortable as in anything I've recently driven. The 132-hp, four-cylinder does its job quietly, and the soft suspension provides a ride suited to a bigger car. Though surely no enthusiast's ride, the Corolla performs with effortlessness many commuters will appreciate.
Of course, Chuck Berry played guitar as well in 1967 as he did in 1959. The problem was he couldn't match the creativity and freshness of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, or the Who. And even if George Mikan were alive and in his prime today, there's little chance he'd fare well in a one-on-one game with LeBron James. In the same fashion, new entries like the Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, and Chevrolet Cruze have evolved beyond the formula that has worked so well for the Corolla. Their interiors have much nicer materials and more features, their powertrains are more sophisticated and achieve better fuel economy, and their steering and handling is superior enough that even a lay driver will notice the difference. The current-generation Corolla has been on the market only two years, but it might as well be fifteen.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor