Classic CARmentary: 1998 Toyota Corolla LE

In my last COAL, I had mentioned that I used to write car reviews for a Washington D.C.-based car magazine, African Americans On Wheels.  A couple of commentators mentioned that they’d like to see some of those old reviews, which I fortunately held onto.  Due to the Toyota love going on from PonderosaMatt’s posts, most recently the review of his 2013 Corolla, I thought I’d start with a review of the new 1998 model, one of my earliest.  The reviews were limited to 350 words since the managing editor wasn’t sure people wanted to read anything longer on this new-fangled internet thing.  Still trying to push the limits, the below review is the 384-word version that I submitted since I really don’t like the changes that were made to the published version to get it down to size.  For reference, $18,715 is $29,815 in today’s dollars, or more than MSRP of a fully loaded 2020 Corolla XSE.

Let’s get the shocking part out of the way first: the retail sticker price of the tested “sandrift metallic” Toyota Corolla LE sedan is $18,715. Before you tune out and go looking for the latest SUV, base Camry or two-year-old Avalon, think for a second: You can fit four adults (five in a pinch) and a good amount of luggage while getting nearly 30 miles-per-gallon around town and fitting into parking spaces that a Ford Explorer would never dream of attempting. Best of all, you do not have to give up any of the luxury you are used to. Besides the necessities (power windows, locks and mirrors, 4-speed automatic transmission, cruise control, in-dash CD player) there are extras not usually found on compacts, like aluminum alloy wheels, moon roof, auto on/off exterior lights, an outside temperature gauge, and expensive-looking cloth seats.

The Corolla (along with the almost identical Chevy Prizm) has been completely re-designed for 1998.  It’s a little larger and a little more powerful, but it’s still a compact. Besides the tested top-of-the-line LE, it comes in base “VE” and mid-level “CE” trim.  Style wise, the Corolla breaks no new ground, being as conservatively styled as its predecessors. But it’s at the engineering level that this car shines.  It feels tight and solid, more like a mid-size than a compact. The all-new 1.8-liter engine responds quickly, with impressive acceleration and passing power even with the optional automatic (a 5-speed manual is standard).

The Corolla’s ride is a little more active than a larger car, but it coped with pot-hole infested downtown D.C. better than many of the now-popular SUVs. On the highway, it can easily cruise at 75 mph.

Complaints are few: the orange-on-silver gauges offered poor contrast at dusk; the accelerator sits in a too-narrow space between the brake pedal and the console, so that people with big feet may have difficulty; and the tail lamp design is a little busy for my tastes.

“But gas is the cheapest its ever been, so why should I care about gas mileage?” If gas prices ever skyrocket again, $18,715 will seem like a bargain, and you’ll be laughing at all of your friends with 12 mile-per-gallon land yachts. People who bought Corollas just prior to the last two gas crunches were doing the same thing.

For more information contact 1-800-GO-TOYOTA


Type: 4-Door Sedan
Engine: 120 horsepower, 1.8 liter I4
Transmission: 4-Speed Automatic
EPA Mileage: 28 city/36 highway
Base Retail Price: $15,598