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Making a strong play along with Saturn for most favored student honors was Toyota's handsome Corolla.  If you've got the cash – and at $17,553, this particular well-optioned example distinguished itself as the priciest offering in the group – there's a whole lot here that impresses.  Offered only in DX trim, the Corolla wagon makes excellent use of its 1.8L twin-cam four, rated at 115hp in 49-state trim and 110 horses in our California-spec tester.  A notch behind the Saturn in pure acceleration, the Toyota engine felt much less stressed under load, but matched with an autoshifter, it merited the best EPA fuel-economy marks of the bunch, 26 city/33 highway mpg.  Handily abetted by optional ABS, the Corolla's disc/drum binders required only 125 feet to stop from 60 mph, best of the lot.  While it, too, was inclined to display some gratuitous tailwagging during evasive maneuvers, the Toyota's front-running slalom work and 0.82g skidpad earned it extra credit with all our testers.

This multifaceted hauler rolled off with top honors for interior fit and finish, as well as for basic ergonomics.  Its exceptionally quiet passenger compartment also drew raves, with several drivers favorably comparing it to the larger, more expensive Camry.  The Corolla's comfortable, supportive front buckets are paired with an adult-capable – albeit a trifle firm – rear bench that ahs a 60/40 split folding back.  While slipping from first to second place in total volume when the rear seatback is dipped, the Corolla's flip-forward lower cushion and true bumper-level cutout afford some minor loading/unloading advantages versus the Escort when both are configured in full-tote mode.  This also was the only wagon in the class to feature a removable hard parcel shelf along with a retractable cargo cover.

Based on available preliminary information, we expect the Toyota will be saddled with roughly a 5% price bump for '94.  Even though part of that extra tariff goes toward offsetting the cost of a passenger-side airbag and CFC-free refrigerant, the Corolla seems destined to retain its most-likely-to-produce-sticker-shock status.

If money were no object, the Corolla would stand as our consensus choice for best small wagon.


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