The 5 Best Corollas as the World’s Most Popular Car Hits 50


An email inviting me to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Toyota Corolla at the New York International Auto Show popped into my inbox the other day.

Of course that started a mental debate: what were the 5 best Corollas of the last half-century? What were the worst? Well, as my editor sagely pointed out, nobody wants to read about the 5 worst Corollas. In honor of 50 years of Corolla, here’s our primer on the 5 best Corollas to roll off the assembly line.

But first an introduction, delivered courtesy of an excellent history by Toyota. The first Corolla, designed for the Japanese market, rolled onto the sales floor in November 1966. (Okay, so it’s not quite 50.) Since then, more than 40 million have been sold in 150 countries. That’s equal to every single vehicle sold in the U.S. in the last 30 months approximately, and that helped the Toyota Corolla earn the title of the world’s most popular car.

1969_Toyota_Corolla_001The Original Corolla
This model is included because it started it all. It was designed as a family vehicle for Japanese people living the suburban life. It had a 1100cc engine, and designers inspired by European cars gave it a 4-speed transmission with a floor shifter. It was a radical concept for the time. It also had a MacPherson strut suspension, vertical rear shock absorbers, and a compact engine with a 5-bearing crankshaft.

1976 Corolla HardtopThird-Generation Corolla
This was built roughly from 1975 to 1980 in the United States. (It began in 1974 in Japan.) What made this Corolla significant, and earned it some scorn because of its slightly higher price, was the belief of its developer, an engineer named Shirou Sasaki. He said a focus on strict cost planning resulted in a cheap, shoddy product. This was at a time of a fairly widespread recession and climbing gas prices. People didn’t mind cheap and shoddy, but he wouldn’t stand for it.

1986_Corolla_GT-S_Liftback1985 Toyota Corolla GT-S
In the United States this may have been the first Corolla to get one’s heart racing. It had a 112-hp DOHC 16-valve inline 4-cylinder engine with 97 lb-ft of torque. It was quick, handled exceedingly well, and was a good-looking car for its time. Adding to the fun was a tachometer with a 7,500-rpm redline. Does it get any more fun than that?

2003 Corolla LE-72003 Toyota Corolla
The Corollas of the ‘90s were largely uninspired. Toyota wisely recognized that and started from scratch in designing the ninth-generation Corolla. This was a surprisingly well-made car that helped solidify Toyota’s reputation for quality. (And it spawned vehicles like the Matrix and the Pontiac Vibe.) It was a surprisingly comfortable vehicle to drive on long road trips.

2103 Corolla2013 Toyota Corolla
This is the model that drove the Corolla’s worldwide sales total to 40 million. Plus, this 10th-generation Corolla is a better vehicle than the 11th generation currently on the road. That’s a totally subjective opinion, but the earlier version seems to be aging better.

What does the future hold for the Corolla after the hoopla of the 50th? Odds are you’re going to see a model heavily influenced by the new Toyota Prius. Will the Corolla make 60 years? Probably, but what it might look like for its diamond anniversary of 75 years is anybody’s guess.

Which has been your favorite Corolla of the past 50 years?

-Keith Griffin

Find Certified Pre-Owned Cars and Used Cars in your area at CarGurus.

Shopping for a new-to-you vehicle this weekend?
Bring along CarGurus’ mobile app to help check prices, find good deals, and research cars on your smartphone.

Used Toyota Corolla
Used Toyota Matrix
Used Pontiac Vibe
Used Toyota Prius

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.