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2003 Toyota Matrix by John Pearley Huffman (12/3/2001)
Set the way-back machine for 1986! (Insert hallucinatory special effects and a John Williams score here.) Ah, we’ve arrived back at that magic time of an un-ironic Miami Vice, a less-than-creepy Michael Jackson and an NBA with Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan in it. Be careful what you say! These people are still paying $10,000 for personal computers with 20MB hard drives! We don’t want to give them to revolt and deny Bill Gates his billions!
Okay, now let’s go to the Toyota dealer and buy us a new ’86 Corolla! But which Corolla, you say? The front-drive sedan? Rear-drive coupe? Rear-drive hatchback with 16-valve engine? Or the four-wheel drive wagon? There are just too many Corollas to choose from! Our 21st-century minds can’t handle such variety! Let us flee back to our own time… where there are far fewer Corollas to confuse us!
Leaving the chaos of 1986 behind, the great variety of Corollas past has dwindled to this, an all-new 2003 Corolla compact sedan. If you like front-drive and four-doors, then they’re still making a Corolla for you. And it’s the best Corolla sedan yet.
This ninth-generation version’s “style and substance” has been, asserts Don Esmond, Toyota U.S.A.’s general manager, specifically designed to “reach out to younger buyers with a strong, new identity.” Based solely on appearance, that new identity seems to be that of a scaled-down Camry. Considering how many Camrys they sell, that can’t be all bad. But it’s not the sort of visual excitement that’s likely to drop the median age of Corolla buyers down much from 44 (that’s absolutely Methuselan in econocar terms). The new Corolla looks modern, sober and substantial, but hardly exciting or youthful.