Pros: Reliability, fuel efficiency
Cons: Price, lack of standard safety features
I own a 2005 Camry, but have driven the 2006 Corolla extensively and had a 2008 Corolla as a loaner recently. My review will exclude the least popular and most sporty Corolla in "XRS" trim.
The Corolla, at a glance
The Corolla has a 1.8L four-cylinder engine, which although revised throughout the years, has been around for a while. All of its best traits - fuel economy, reliability, smoothness - have been maintained while getting quieter and quieter.
Safety features like ABS and side airbags are optional across the board. Finding an ABS-equipped Corolla should not be too hard, but finding one with side airbags will likely take some time. When I walk past Corollas, I notice almost all of them lack side airbags. There's a little "SRS SIDE AIRBAG" tag on the top side of the seat which you can see as you walk by, so you'll know right away if that used Corolla you're looking at is so equipped.
Size-wise, it is above the Echo/Yaris and below the Camry. You can fit four adults comfortably and the trunk is a nice size. It weighs under 2700lbs so because of its size and weight, you may get tossed around in the wind a bit. I didn't find it a particularly dangerous problem but if you're sensitive to that, you should be looking at a larger car anyway.
If I were to say reliability in terms of a car, it wouldn't surprise me if the Corolla popped into your head. There's not much that can slow your Corolla down, unless you just absolutely neglect your car. If you take care of it with regular oil changes and tune ups, the car will last you a long time.
Changing the Corolla's oil is very easy as well, and so is other basic maintenance on it like the cabin air filter (for the air conditioner) and the engine air filter.
The first thing I noticed is the slightly awkward seating position. It seems like the steering is placed at an odd angle. I can get comfortable but from other reviews I've read in magazines and what not, that isn't the case for everyone.
The car is very easy to drive and maneuver. Its 1.8L engine will not outpace larger V6/V8 cars, but it WILL return phenomenal fuel economy numbers. I made it a point to measure fuel economy on my Corolla loaner, and I averaged 38.5 MPG with half city and half highway miles. Very impressive!
The ride is smooth. It compares favorably to that of my Camry. The Corolla is tall so it might not feel as agile as some may like, but it is plenty capable. The stock tires on the 2006 Corolla in my case, are 15" Goodyear Integrity tires. They do not receive the best reviews but I haven't run into any major problems with them.
I almost ended up with a Corolla myself
When I was looking for a car, it was between the Corolla and Camry. It just so happens that I found a great deal on a Camry so I went with that. I have a feeling I would have been perfectly happy had I ended up with a Corolla. With the price of gas these days, sometimes I wish I did buy a Corolla! The Corolla may not be flashy or exciting but it does its job and it does it well.
I would not hesitate to recommend the Corolla for those looking for a used car. The 2009 Corolla is out now, and while it offers many improvements, the previous generation Corolla can still hold its own.
I would definitely try to find a Corolla with ABS and side airbags. From 2003-2004, side airbags consisted of only front side torso airbags. Beginning in 2005, full length side curtain airbags were an option which included the previously mentioned front side airbags. The Corolla is a smaller and lighter car, so any advantage you can have in the event of an accident, is good.