Toyota Corolla E120, the Toyota Corolla before it became a star. Before it became the official car for those for whom a car is just a microwave on wheels that needs to do its job as efficiently and cheaply as possible. Toyota Corolla E120, Toyota’s star in a reasonably priced world.

I’m not even joking when I make this statement. In Europe, the Toyota Corolla E120 came with a hatchback look that resembled the first generation Skoda Fabia, and that didn’t do it any favors. This generation of Corolla isn’t even an Auris with a boot, as that union was formed in the next generation.

So, what are we left with? Sure, here in Europe it wasn’t the most exciting and popular car ever, but this generation Corolla took things up to 100 and became a true world car, it was all car to all people. From the traditional hatchback for the Europe version to the tried-and-tested sedan for the North America version to the wacky wagon version for Asia, the Toyota Corolla E120 was one of the most swiss-army-knife cars of it’s time. Or was it a swiss-army-cheese? But wait, there’s more, as from this Corolla E120 it was spawned the Toyota Matrix and the famous Pontiac Vibe. They even offered the minivan Verso version for it. Is there something that the Corolla E120 can’t do? Corolla E120 – the MacGyver of cars. It took some simple but sturdy plastics and made them into one of the most widespread cars on this planet.

I would write more about this Corolla and it’s quirk and features, but I got so much stuff to write about the engines because this was a real international effort from Toyota and there are so many engines available that you’d feel like a woman buying at Sephora and never quite knowing which makeup foundation would be best for her skin and after 5 hours of picking the foundation then it’s another 5 hour journey of finding out which skin tone should she choose best suited for her.


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Toyota Corolla E120 Engines


  • 1.33 l-4 2NZ-FE of 86 horsepower – One of the greatest small engines from the Toyota family, the NZ is fairly reliable up until 150,000 miles when it develops oil incontinence and the timing chain needs to be replaced. But the typical owners either won’t get to this mileage or won’t care about the issues so go for it. But rather go for it with the Yaris, as this engine on the Corolla is for the sort of person who spends 10-12 hours at Sephora to buy a mundane makeup foundation, only to find out that when she exits the mall and hits the natural light she finds out that the tone is wrong and goes back to the store.
  • 1.4 4ZZ-FE of 97 horsepower – Yes, it’s a relatively reliable engine, but it’s pretty much an older but similar 2NZ-FE, as the NZ family is somewhat the succesor of the ZZ. So if you weigh less than Angela Kinsey, you’re okay with this engine. Because you won’t have passengers anyway. Because you have no friends. Because you have a 1.4 petrol Corolla. I wouldn’t bother with it unless you plan on buying it for the wife (the Honda Jazz / Fit is arguably a better choice) or for your teen daughter’s first car because it can certainly take on the abuse.
  • 1.5 l-4 1NZ-FE of 100 horsepower – Basically a larger 1.33 petrol, this engine was the base engine for the New Zealand and Australia markets so I won’t copy paste the previous info as I’m running out of bandwidth.
  • 1.6 l-4 3ZZ-FE of 110 horsepower – The minimum-effort engine from Toyota Europe. A basic, trouble-and-excitement-free 1.6 4-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol Toyota Corolla E120 competes in the same market as the VW Golf V 1.6 petrol, Ford Focus 1.6 petrol, Seat Leon 1.6 petrol, Peugeot 307 petrol, Vauxhall Astra H 1.6 petrol, and so on. I would have mentioned the Octavia 1.6 petrol, but that’s an aspirational car for aspirational people who aspire to something more than a cheap hatchback.
  • 1.8 MPI 2ZZ-GE of 130, 180, 192 and 224 horsepower – I’m including the 1.8 Turbo version with 224 horsepower here because it’s the same 2ZZ-GE engine. I’ll tell you to avoid both of them, in the unlikely event that you find them. Issues with the oil pump, oil consumption, and the cylinder head gasket because these engines were revved just as you would expect a 200-horsepower engine to be. But on to the 130 horsepower engine as this was the bread and butter for the USA Corolla. This engine doesn’t suffer from the oil consumption issues of the other engines, but the throttle body tends to stick and the oil pump needs to be replaced every 2 days either you’ll have to replace the timing chain and that’s more expensive than the whole car. But who am I kidding, the 2ZZ-GE is the sort of engine that drags itself from no oil change to no oil change and it’s fine with it.


  • 1.4 1ND-TV D-4D of 90 horsepower – The highlight of the european Corolla E120 is a simple and reliable, mundane, and economical diesel. It’s like potato soup. It does its job, but there’s nothing spectacular about it. It’s like spending New Year’s Eve watching telly. It doesn’t make you jump out the window due to the massive injection of enthusiasm, but at least you’re satisfied in your heart and your wallet is untouched. Much like how I am untouched by a woman for many moons.
  • 2.0 1CD-FTV D-4D of 90, 110, and 116 horsepower – The only difference between the 90 and 110/116 versions is that the 90 horsepower version doesn’t have an intercooler. Very important for people who still want a wheeled icebox. It’s the kind of engine for the kind of person who doesn’t know anything about cars and has only heard that diesel is good. They don’t know anything about diesel maintenance. But that’s not a issue. 2.0 D-4D is built for that kind of person.


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Toyota Corolla E120 Reliability Issues

  • Yet another word of caution for the petrol engines because they tend to start consuming oil late in life. But at least you know that there are VW owners everywhere, and you can ask them what oil they use and how many oil barrel they need to have in the trunk before going on a long trip.
  • The semi-automatic MMT gearbox is as useful as a beer bottle dropped on the floor, a woman who gives you the wrong phone number, a regularization invoice where the only thing that’s regularized is your bottom. Anyway, semi-automatic gearboxes have never been good, no matter at which manufacturer you look like.


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Toyota Corolla E120 Verdict

A rarer presence on today’s roads than actual roads in the Balkans, the Toyota Corolla E120 paved the way for the next generation, which became the official car for the sort of person who knows nothing about cars and doesn’t want to know either. Again, I’m sitting and digging… I mean, thinking about why you would buy a Corolla instead of an Avensis. And then the answer comes – the Corolla is cheaper than an Avensis. And when you look at a Corolla, financial efficiency is the top priority. See, I know how to write fancy words!

Which engines do I recommend? Honestly, every single petrol engine except for the 1.33 and maybe the 1.4 due to them being underpowered, and for diesel, I’d choose the 1.4 D-4D 90 horsepower unit simply because it’s cheaper to buy and run and most Corolla owners won’t revv up their diesel and won’t do any racing.