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Toyota Corolla E11 1_3 1998 and 1_4 VVTi 2000

Toyota Corolla E11 1.3 (1998) and 1.4 VVTi (2000)

04/03/2014 09:28 |  Comments: 
Our extended family, at least on my side, seems to have undergone full Toyotification. We have a Picnic, a Verso and a Corolla - that's all. I only take credit for the latter as I gave my aunt an ultimatum when she was about to replace her first-gen Corsa: if she moves on to a B Corsa that will be the end of my automotive support activities…

No way I would be locating repair shops or hunting down spare parts for her Corsa. For the kind of rough treatment her car was going to get she needed a Toyota, I said. Just how rough you might ask? Once I asked her if she'd had the oil changed in the Corolla that year. Sure, she says, just done the MOT test, she says. They do the oil change bit, don't they?

After I steered her clear of Opel - they were in a bit of a rut those days - I managed to open her eyes on Toyota. It wasn't easy though. She didn't like the looks of the Yaris. So it would be the E11 Corolla then, the one with the goofy fish face. It took me weeks persuading her into that car. Toyota people managed to find her the last remaining specimen of the retiring model when she suddenly saw a brochure of the upcoming facelifted version. It was love at first sight. It also cost her more than better equipped versions of the original series but by that time she was dead set on the deal. So Corolla it was. There's a lesson for you all about the mindset of Toyota customers.

Between you and I, her car looks hideous. I could never get used to the second iteration of what Toyota calls the E11 Corolla. The first one was far from pretty but at least it had integrity and character. And just when you thought you got used to the looks Toyota introduced these awful headlights. Anyway, looks have never been the reason why people choose Toyota although the original E11 had her ways as a three-door hatchback, especially as a rally car. But there were other body version, from the much-favoured Sedan through the five-door Liftback to the Wagon.

Product brochures liked to refer to the design of the E11 as something inspired by the animal kingdom. The rear combination lamps looked like the compound eyes of insects, and if you looked at the front from just the right angle it looked like a frog sitting in a pond. The distributor affectionately refers to the car as the pignose Corolla, an association likely caused by playing too much Angry Birds. One colleague of mine also claims the five-door version arches its back like a cockroach, although I am pretty sure Toyota brochures say nothing about roaches.

When the car was introduced in 1997 it was obviously and significantly less spacious than its predecessor, the E10 Corolla. This is nothing short of weird, especially knowing that it was declared to go up against the Golf and the Astra. True, contemporary Golf models (Mk.3 and also Mk.4) were not exactly cavernous either but they certainly looked beefier, especially the latter. Toyota could have saved grace by having a big trunk but nope: the Sedan was the largest at 390 litres, with the five-door liftback measuring 372. The Wagon had a lousy 308 litres. Now, compare that to 480 litres on the Opel Astra G Caravan - how do you explain that difference to customers? And as for the three-door version, its measly 281-litre trunk was supermini territory.

And yet Corolla was the best selling single nameplate around the world. Although there were aesthetical differences Toyota practically sold the same car worldwide, with different lamps, engines, equipment and so forth. Don't be fooled by claims like this one comes from Japan unlike later models made in France. Some E11 Corollas (of both iterations) were manufactured in Burnaston, UK, the rest was shipped In from Japan. The latter have a VIN code starting with a J. As for France, they never built a single Corolla. They had the Yaris.

This Corolla is the living proof that – as a result of its reputation for longevity – Toyota can get away with anything. People value sturdiness more than anything if they want a user car. More than passenger room, obviously. Rear legroom will only be sufficient if you are travelling with people of average build; get a daddy-longlengs-type passenger in the front seat and you lose rear seat functionality just like that. Today you'd call it a supermini, really - compared to the Corolla, a Fiat Linea is a stretch limousine with a huge trunk.

The original E11 featured the old range of petrol engines. The line-up started with the 86 PS 1.3, sold as a 1.4 on some markets even though it had a swept capacity of 1332 cc. That's the legendary 4E-FE engine. While somewhat feeble at low revs this was a mighty fine engine. It could tackle city use at barely over 8 litres/100km and around 7 litres overall if driven carefully. The 1.6-litre engine (4A-FE) is identical to the one in the contemporary Avensis. With 110 horses it is really spirited while consumption figures are nearly identical. The Wagon also came with 4WD, necessitating a larger engine. Toyota increased the stroke of the 1.6-litre engine, taking it to 1.8 litres (7A-FHE), but power rating remained at 110 PS. This car supposedly has excellent offroad prowess and can take whatever modern SUV's can. It is a rare find, but the 1.8 was the only engine carried over during the facelift.

The kidney-shaped headlights marked the dawn of the new, variable valvetrain engine technology for Toyota. The 1.4 VVT-i (4ZZ-FE) and 1.6 VVT-i (3ZZ-FE) powertrains had continuous variable intake valve timing, effectively creating a more flexible engine. The entry level powerplant was now 97 PS, and while the larger one was still rated at 110 PS it felt amazingly more powerful than its predecessor. The 1.4 VVT-I is more common on the used car market. Its significant torque boost in the lower registers makes up for the slightly higher (around 8.5 l/100km) urban consumption, while it remains just as frugal in extra urban use (7 l/100km) unless you push the car hard. However, a short final ratio means the engine revs too much on the highway, which is no problem except for the noise.

The Corolla didn't have much going for it when it comes to diesels which were not even sold everywhere. The first engine was a 69 PS 1.9 atmospheric diesel engine from Peugeot. The other, two-litre diesel is a genuine Toyota powerplant; our local Corolla owners' club has knowledge of 2.0D models with over 600K km. The second run saw the arrival of the direct injection common rail D4-D turbodiesel with 90 PS. Diesel models are typically imported from Western Europe and are a rare sight on the used car market.

So, what do customers like about the Corolla (provided they fit inside)? Noise levels are low, the suspension is comfortable yet the car handles exceptionally well in tight situations. The gearbox is phenomenal, and the entire car is just highly sophisticated. Overall interior quality is better than on the current Corolla / Auris - for one thing, the plastic steering wheel feels nicer to the touch than many modern leather-clad wheels. The car only gets noisy on the highway, although it was not considered exceedingly loud back in the early 2000's.

We got a mail from our reader Peter, asking if we wanted to try his car. This is what made this test possible because I would not have been making claims based on my aunt's car. You see, during thirteen years of ownership she drove it some 55 thousand kilometres, 90% of which in dense city traffic. Because she learnt how to drive and shift in a Škoda she has probably been a bit rough on the gearbox; normally you can operate the lever with two fingers. Her servicing history is a boring read, just some replaced batteries, tyres and wiper blades. Her dealer installed alarm apparently had too high a parasitic drain and thus killed the battery; she would go weeks without driving the car.

Peter's car is a pre-facelift model with 305.000 kilometres. The dashboard has been polished shiny, the steering wheel worn smooth, and there are some burn marks on the upholstery from a previous smoker owner. Apart from these signs you could not tell this car has been used more than the other one. The engine has grunt, there is no oil consumption, the gearbox shifts smoothly. Both the clutch and the brakes need to be operated with authority - this must be due to the higher mileage; the newer car is more female-friendly in that respect. The chassis has handled the 300K mileage with dignity, there are no knocks, no rattles and even the shock absorbers work fine - I suppose those have been replaced. Peter has just bought the car and the only thing he has had replaced is the timing belt. This needs attention on the older model; newer VVT-I engines have a timing chain which, unlike in modern engines, actually needs no replacement throughout the lifetime of the engine.

Looking at Peter's car I come to the same conclusion as with the other car: when you buy a Corolla you primarily need to focus on previous accidents and the quality of repairs. The Corolla is not prone to rot unless due to a botched repair job; the only places you should double check are the rear quarter panels and the foot of the C-pillars. My aunt's Corolla has had its share of accidents - nothing unusual, just inattentive drivers, careless parking manoeuvres and the like.

I called upon the chairman of the local Corolla Club to verify my findings. He said their members are usually busy discussing how to replace cabin light bulbs or complaining about the corner of the centre console storage compartment breaking off - not bad for a car that is at least ten years old. He says the materials used in the petrol engines are excellent. Really, the only way to destroy the 4A-FE/4E-FE engines of the first series is to use the wrong kind of lubricant and to neglect oil change. If you do that, the engine will start sipping oil around 250 000 km - never at the valve stem seal but at the oil control ring. The cylinder walls are still intact at this point, the only thing you need to do is disassemble the engine, clean the ring groove, plane the cylinder head, put it back together and use as before for at least another 250K.

The chairman said there are certain components which you should always replace with genuine parts, regardless of higher costs. One of these is the head gasket; although other seals and gaskets can be safely bought from OEM manufacturers.

When I say oil consumption I am only talking about 2 or 3 litres every 10 000 km (some companies like Opel draw the line at 1 litre/1000 km), although it can be higher on VVT-I engines. The reason for that is piston oil holes are slightly smaller in diameter than ideal, causing a proneness to coking and subsequently overwarming which makes the rings stick. Due to this design fault and because the hard chrome plating on the aluminium cylinder walls of early 4ZZ-FE engines has a tendency to wear, Toyota offered an extended warranty on the engine - basically, an engine replacement, conditional upon impeccable servicing history and a runtime of less than 180 000 km / 7 years. You should thus always check the service booklet, even if the car has been serviced at an independent garage recently, because in this case an engine swap is in fact a good thing. Alternatively you can check the engine code on the block as replacement engines were assigned a shorter code (4ZZ)

Now, this does not mean all original 1.4 VVT-i engines are necessarily faulty, he warns. Many club members have cars that are now way past 180.000 km without an engine swap and no oil consumption. If the engine continued to be fed the right quality and right viscosity oil after the warranty period it should be fine.

Oil change interval for Corolla petrol engines is 15.000 km or 12 months. As for viscosity, the first generation can run on 5W-40 or 10W-40 but VVT-I engines require 5W-30, although they are also happy with 5W-40. Most customers who diagnose oil consumption automatically shift to 10W-40 but experience has shown this to aggravate the situation. Diesels are not known to die early but they need a fresh load of oil every 10K. The transmission should be fine although these also need oil change after 105.000 km, something customers usually fail to remember. If they do, the gearbox will start disengaging fifth gear after a while. To check for this, accelerate in fifth and lift off the pedal - if the gear lever moves significantly, it's only a matter of a few years before it will disengage the gear under load.

Apart from possible issues with the VVT-I engines you really cannot go wrong with the Corolla. Sometimes VVT-I engines are also prone to knocking (ECU supplied by Bosch was not reading the knocking sensor right). This however usually happens with lower grade fuel. You can try upgrading your petrol but it does not always work.

The rear suspension is not a simple torsion beam but a multilink construction. Here, stabilizer bar links have a tendency to get loose. Silent blocks and ball joints are rugged even on rough roads. Other possible issues include the textile door lining coming loose on the three-door models or the armrests breaking at the joint.

Peter has paid some €1200 for his car. The low price was probably due to the high mileage, the minor paint job imperfections and mainly his good luck. This is the lowest you can get on these models. Bare bones facelifted models should cost around €1700 although for family use I'd recommend a five-door liftback with an old 1.6 or the new 1.4 VVT-i. Diesels are expensive, late 90 PS D4-D models could cost over €3000.

Reader reviews indicate this Corolla generation is an unusually well put together car. With only five sub-par reviews the model scored an average of 7.97 which is a staggeringly good result, especially as these scores indicate not only reliability but, among other things, also the spaciousness of the car.

Who is the Corolla good for? It's an excellent first car, but is also a good choice if you need a smallish car. All you need is a good mechanic who will remember to change the oil - that's about it. But you must make sure you buy the car from someone who had done the same, although this stands true for any given car. Luckily, though, it takes conscious efforts to destroy the Corolla.

What is Harmony?

Looking at all the used car adverts it might be useful to go over Corolla spec levels really quickly. Starting from the bottom, they are as follows:

  • Harmony
  • Line Terra
  • Linea Luna
  • Linea Sol
  • G6

Western European markets didn't have Harmony; it was specifically made for Eastern and Southern European markets. Terra had two airbags, an adjustable steering wheel and power front windows, making it decidedly too expensive. Harmony spec cars tangibly boosted Corolla sales but this came at a price: it was truly a bare bones model. Unpainted bumpers, no odometer, no intermittent wiper, manual windows fore and aft, no boot lighting, vinyl seatbacks and no ABS, not even as an option. Don't be surprised to find aircon on board; it was a dealer installed option using the original on/off switch. G6 was a more dynamic version with a sporty chassis and a six-speed gearbox. It came with all available engines except the 1.8. In Hungary it was sold with the 1.3-litre engine which did not highlight the innate sportiness of the model, except for the need to frequently work the gearbox. Facelifted G6 received the 1.6 VVT-I engine. Other markets also had a G6 TTE (Toyota Team Europe) version that was really tough and looked like Corolla WRC.

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