Then and Now: The Compact Sedan

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Everyone knows that things have been getting bigger. A small drink at the local burger joint is the old large, college tuition is through the roof, and the screens on cellphones seem to grow with each passing minute. Cars are no exception to the rule of things get bigger and (sometimes) better, but how much are they really changing? Let’s look at the best-selling compact sedan, and indeed one of the best selling cars ever, the Toyota Corolla. How different is the 2015 Corolla from its 1995 predecessor?

Pictured in this feature are Corollas from the 1995-model-year car’s generation as well as 2014-2016 Corollas.

Exterior – Dimensions

In 1995 the Corolla measured 172 inches long, 53.5 inches tall, and 66.3 inches wide. By 2015 it has grown more than 10 inches longer (182.6), about 4 inches taller (57.3), and 3 inches wider (69.9).

That’s about a 17 percent increase. The new Corolla is almost as big as the 1995 Camry.

Exterior – Weight

A 1995 Corolla DX with an automatic transmission tipped the scales at 2,458 pounds. A 2015 Corolla L with an automatic weighs in at 2,820 pounds. A 13 percent increase in weight isn’t bad, especially considering that the 2015 Corolla is some 17 percent larger and sports even more weight-adding features as standard equipment.

Exterior – Technology

In 1995 you could get a Toyota Corolla that was properly utilitarian with optional goodies such power windows, power locks, and cruise control. Intermittent wipers and a rear defogger were standard, however. Twenty years later, all of those are standard on the most basic 2015 Corolla L, which also ups the ante and supplies a LED low-beam headlights, LED foglights, and even exterior mirrors.

Twenty years of progress, though, and the Toyota Corolla still sports steel wheels and styling that is anonymous at best in the more common colors (white, black, silver). You’ll be able to see more at night as you go from A to B, though.

Mechanical – Powertrain

The 1995 Corolla cranked out 105-hp and 117-lb-ft of torque from a 1.8-liter I-4. The 2015 model produces 132 hp and 128 lb-ft of torque also from a 1.8-liter I-4. Instead of merely sporting dual overhead camshafts, the new car also has dual variable valve timing with intelligence (VVT-i) and a direct-injection fuel system.

That’s 21 percent more horsepower and 9 percent more torque, which illustrates what the aftermarket import crowd already knows: You can only do so much with 1.8 liters spread across four cylinders, and horsepower is easier to make than torque with four bangers.

Mechanical – Fuel Economy

Ah, fuel economy. Although the 1995 Toyota Corolla with a four-speed automatic originally saw EPA estimates of 27/34 mpg city/highway, those figure have been revised to 23/31 mpg for a more apples-to-apples comparison with modern testing procedures. Never mind the downgrade—the 2015 Corolla also with a four-speed auto would handily beat the older car with its 27/36 mpg rating.

That’s about 15 percent better around in the city and 14 percent better on the highway. Step up to the most efficient Corolla, the LE Eco, and the newer car’s 30/42 mpg represents a 24 percent and 27 percent increase in the city and highway.

Mechanical – Performance

We combed through the archives to see what it’d be like if these two showed up at the same drag strip to throw down. The closest we could get: a 2014 Corolla S versus a 1998 Corolla LX. Left foot on the brake, right foot rolling on the gas as the tree counts down to go time. Power braking at its finest. The newer car would have crossed the quarter first, completing a run in 17.3 seconds at 82.6 mph, with the ’98 screaming across 0.3 second later, posting a 17.6-second time at 79.8 mph.

Although technology has improved in the intervening years, the 2014 Corolla stopped in 123 feet from 60 mph, only 9 feet shorter than the 1998, which stopped in 132 feet.

Interior – Capacities

Pictured: The 1993 Toyota Corolla in wagon form

The 2015 Corolla is 17 percent bigger in external dimensions, but what about the interior? Up front the 1995 Corolla sported 38.8 inches of headroom and 42.4 inches of legroom; the 2015 Corolla measured 38.3 inches of headroom and 42.3 inches of legroom. Smaller? Yes, indeed. Seventeen percent bigger on the outside and fractionally smaller on the inside.

Rear-seat passengers have it a bit better. In 1995 they had 37.1 inches of headroom and 33 inches of legroom, and in 2015 they get the same 37.1 inches of headroom and a downright luxurious 41.4 inches of legroom, and 4.3 more inches of legroom is certainly noticeable.

Interior – Technology

The 1995 Toyota Corolla eschews many of the features we’ve come to expect on our vehicles, which shouldn’t be a surprise. The 2015 model brings with it tilt/telescoping steering, power windows, power locks, air-conditioning, steering wheel controls, standard cruise control, Bluetooth hands-free phone control, and a 6.1-inch touchscreen display.

Pricing and Warranty

The least expensive brand-new Corolla you could get from the dealership in 1995 would have sported a manual transmission and an MSRP of $12,895 (including destination). 2015 saw prices increase to $17,785 (including destination), which represents a 28 percent increase.