The Toyota Corolla has been around now for 50 years. Over that time, 43 million have been sold throughout the world. Almost everyone knows of someone who owned a Corolla, or even owned one themselves, and has some kind of Corolla story.
As we travel down this photo timeline of the Corolla, we will see that not all versions of the ubiquitous runabout have been boring. Which one is your favorite?
1st Generation – 1966-1970
The Corolla that started it all, the humble first-generation car had a simple pushrod engine and rear wheel drive.
2nd Generation – 1971-1974
For the second generation, the Corolla got bigger pushrod engines and later its first overhead camshaft engine.
3rd Generation – 1975-1979
The third-generation Corolla got a little bigger and more stylish. This is also the Corolla infamously purchased by Red Forman on the sitcom That ’70s Show, which was a big deal as he worked in the auto industry.
4th Generation – 1979-1983
The fourth generation was a major restyle and introduced a modern, squared-off design with square headlights on higher trim levels. Along with the basic two- and four-door sedans and three-door hatchback, this funky extended wagon-like hatchback, as seen in the photo above, was available in the U.S. This generation is also sought after as a drift car conversion. AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is the Corolla that I wanted when I was 17 years old. I wanted a rear-drive Toyota and I test drove a three-door liftback version, but this extended hatchback was the one I wanted. Alas, I didn’t get one but got a Celica instead.
5th Generation – 1984-1987
It was with this generation that the Corolla was moved to a front-wheel-drive platform. While those cars were capable but boring, it’s the one pictured above that everyone remembers. Toyota kept the sporty Levin and Sprinter coupes (as they were known in Japan) on the older rear-wheel-drive platform and gave birth to the famous AE86. Sold here as the GT-S, it had a twin-cam, 16-valve 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that was also used in the MR2. In Japan it made 128 horsepower, but emissions lowered that to 112 horsepower for the U.S. Still, with its responsive handling and free-revving engine, it became the poster child for drift racers thanks to the anime and live-action movie, Initial D. It was the inspiration for the Toyota 86.
6th Generation – 1988-1992
From this generation on, all Corollas were front wheel drive. Although there was a sporty GT-S version, it never had the same cachet as the AE86 and it was the last Corolla coupe. The sedans, like the one above, got a little bigger and the styling was less boxy.
7th Generation – 1993-1997
Without any hot hatchback or coupe versions left, this is the generation when the Corolla truly became a boring car. While they were always well built and reliable, they never were able to attain the level of sportiness they had with previous generations and were left behind by rivals such as the Honda Civic, Nissan Sentra, and Mazda Protege.
8th Generation – 1998-2002
For the eighth generation, the Corolla’s styling got a Lexus-like improvement in sophistication, but the underlying car was still relatively uninspiring. It was still well built, still reliable, but it was also still boring.
9th Generation – 2003-2008
For this generation, the styling took a step back and really became plain vanilla. Even the color of the car above screams “I don’t care about cars.” The only plus side was the XRS, which was Toyota’s attempt to inject some performance into the Corolla. It shared the same engine as the Celica coupe and was the most sporting Corolla since the old GT-S.
10th Generation – 2009-2013
The Corolla got a styling bump for the 10th generation and it didn’t look nearly as frumpy as the previous generation. The S model pictured above continued the sporty premise of the old XRS, but the rest of the lineup remained sensible yet boring.
11th Generation – 2014-present
When the 11th and current generation Corolla was released, Toyota gave it one of the best styling updates in the car’s history. Once an ugly duckling, the Corolla was now one of the best-looking cars in the compact segment. Unfortunately, the performance couldn’t keep up with the styling, with underpowered engines and CVTs. The S model can be had with a six-speed manual, but those with enthusiast leanings should still look elsewhere, namely at the Mazda 3.
So what are your memories of the Corolla? Was there one version you owned, had an adventure in, or even lusted after? Start the conversation in the comments below.
Check out this TFLcar video review of the 2016 Toyota Corolla: