Curbside Classic: 1991 Toyota Corolla (E90) 1.5 SE Limited – White Rice Deluxe

Enough with all those weird parallel-universe JDM-only cars! For once, here’s one we can all remember – the Toyota saloon that the whole world knows and, presumably, loves. But even in this case, there are Corollas and there are Corollas. Just what flavour of this multitudinous species did I manage to unearth here, in what is, after all, its birthplace?

The E90, just like most FWD Corollas, was a true world car. It was at home everywhere. There were plenty of these in Europe, a bunch in North America and a fair amount everywhere else. When I moved to Bangkok a decade ago, there were still a few of these indestructible things doing taxi duty around town. There may be a few still working for a living today.

The 1987-91 JDM Toyota E90 in some of its manifold avatars (plus one false friend)


There were many, many variants available for this sixth generation of Corolla, launched in May 1987. The liftback (top left), notchback and van / wagon (top right) were the basic JDM range, but one could add the Sprinter variations thereof (white sedan), as well as the Levin / Trueno coupés and the distinctive Carib AWD wagon (in red). Oh, and there were also the three- and five-door FX compact hatchbacks (bottom right). And just to be extra confusing, there was also a thing called the Corolla II (bottom left), but that was a rebadged Tercel, not an E90.

Some markets got these under a different name, too, just to make things extra fun. South African models were known as the Conquest / Tazz in saloon form, or as the Carri as a panel van. The Sprinter, the Corolla’s sister car for the JDM, was known as the Geo Prizm in North America and Australian-made models were sold as the Holden Nova.

Because of the E90 Corolla’s many guises and gals – as well as its many production lines, the platform did not so much go swiftly out of production as it stuttered towards its demise. They stopped making them in June 1991 in Japan and the Philippines, but waited until 1992 in Indonesia, the US and Canada, 1993 in Thailand, 1994 in Australia and 2006 in South Africa for the panel van.

As if your brain wasn’t already fried, there are engines to consider. Many choices were available on the E90 Corolla – it all depended where one was shopping. North American cars only got the 1.6 DOHC, but could pick between the carbureted or fuel-injected kind. European cars added a 1.3 SOHC base spec and a 1.8 Diesel to their mix; Australia had a 1.4 DOHC, as well as a 1.8 DOHC, neither of which were seen on E90s in other climes. Not to be outdone, JDM cars were available in six different displacements, ranging from 1.3 to 2 litres and churning out anything from 64hp for the smaller Diesel to 165hp for the supercharged Levin GT-Z.

I’m not sure what 30- year-old Corollas are like in your neck of the woods, but from what I remember in both Europe and Southeast Asia, they were not known to be particularly well appointed. Comfortable and competent, sure, but all very gray and not exactly plush. On the JDM, one could get the Plain Jane 1.3 of course, but this generation came at the height of the Bubble Economy, so fancy high-trim versions were actually quite a hot ticket. And that’s what we have here.

It’s pretty clear when looking inside that this “SE Limited” business is serious stuff. Power windows, A/C, automatic box – It’s like a mini Lexus in there. It just would have needed a bit of faux wood to reach the Brougham level. The sybaritic feeling is only heightened by the red fabric and brown plastics. Nothing like a warmer colour scheme to tie the whole interior together.

Our feature car may be one of millions made, but in Japan these are now getting scarce, at least in saloon form. I’m not sure why that is, as they are just as solid here as anywhere else and there are plenty of 30-year-old Mark IIs, Crowns and Levin / Truenos about.

Maybe the average Corolla owner tends to see his car in a more utilitarian light. I bet quite a few of these were exported out of the country and are now living a second life somewhere on the Pacific rim – or further afield. It’s still interesting to see a top-tier JDM version, with all that bling on the outside and that nice interior. Even a well-worn (to be charitable) example such as this manages to look like a million yen.


Related posts:


Curbside Beater: 1992 Toyota Corolla – The Almost Free, Almost Perfect Beater, by PN

CC Outtake: 1988 Toyota Corolla 5-Door Liftback – The Interesting Corolla?, by Brendan Saur

CC Outtake: E90 Corolla Wagon – Music Teacher’s Favorite, by Perry Shoar