The engine is tuned to produce all its torque very low, so as far as city traffic, there's no problem at all. The engine isn't built for peak power, nor is it easily upgraded for more power, but it is simple, bullet proof, and will last easily over 200,000kms.
The clutch and gear throw are quite nice for a car that was designed more as a commuter.
The original tyre size is really more for fuel economy, but a set of 15" Konig Rewinds with 195/50 Yokohamas really improved grip without lowering fuel economy too much, or making the ride rough like those stupid 18" trolleys.
A larger rear swaybar also upped the handling, and replacing the front bushes with Super Pros with Neutral position, but increased caster, livened up the steering.
Unlike a lot of newer commuters, it had independent suspension all round, and 4 wheel disc brakes, and you can actually see out of it when you're reversing. The brakes are very good for quick stops, although ABS was an option my car didn't have fitted.
It has a neat little option where you can slot a remote central locking fob in the glove box and program them yourself. The price of the fob was under $40 new from the dealer, Internet price was over $60.
The Australian spec air conditioning ensured that it actually cooled the car in Aussie summers, something which dad's fully imported Civic struggled to do.
The Australian version was assembled in Australia, so you'll notice a lot of Oceania Parts supplier branded items such as PBR and Pilkington NZ. Other parts are decent Japanese brands like Nippon Denso. Parts are quite cheap in price, even if they're Japanese, and available almost everywhere.
Okay, so the Corolla won't win any style stakes or quarter mile runs without some serious modifications, but it can be made to be a fun zippy little daily dung-er. Its slabside looks, while bland, are easy to keep clean, and don't really age too much. It's easy to park, and the boot is surprisingly deep. I actually like the fact my car still has manual windows; I don't have issues with power window motors slowing, or rear window failures due to non use. It doesn't have any nanny controls, which think they know how to drive better than you, although ABS would have been good to have.
My only criticisms of the car are as follows.
1. Front seats have nowhere near enough lateral support.
2. Seat cloth is very ordinary in the Australian assembled cars. The Mazda 323 of the same year is much nicer inside (but not sold in as many numbers, nor as much in the way of aftermarket suspension parts).
3. The hand brake just operates the rear discs not a drum built into the hub, hence you have to be a little bit careful when parking on hills, and forget any handbrake turn manoeuvres.
4. The gap to the boot after you fold down the seats, isn't much help when you want to put longer items in the car; it may be that oval shape to help keep body rigidity.
5. Fifth gear is not really tall enough to be an overdrive, and not short enough to be used all the time when driving. Hence 100km/hr will have the tacho sitting at 3000rpm.
6. The headlights are okay. Japanese cars of the 90's all seemed to have issues with average headlight performance. US headlights are different spec and design, and use two bulbs while the Australian ones are single H4. The small modification to run your headlights from the battery with slightly brighter bulbs is definitely a good idea if you travel in unlit areas. If you're in urban or suburban areas, the factory lights are fine.
Really, these are fairly piddling little details, especially if you're using the car for daily urban use. The number of these still on the road is a testament to their reputation.