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A fraternity brother of mine proudly pulled his car into an adjacent parking lot one evening many years ago, quickly becoming the envy of most people who lived in our aging house on campus.

Most of us were cash-starved college students at the time, so owning a new car was indeed a big deal. Although familiar with the name Toyota at the time, few of us had ever heard of the Corolla, a stylish compact vehicle that was both affordable and good on gas.

A frugal guy at the time, our fraternity brother had made a wise investment that many people have since emulated worldwide.

What’s the top selling car of all time? It’s a bit surprising here that the answer is the Corolla, which has been going strong for more than four decades. Corolla sales surpassed 33 million in 2007 when this popular Toyota pushed ahead of the Volkswagen Beetle to become the top seller of all time.

Name recognition continues for the Corolla, a vehicle that still rates high in dependability, is offered at a reasonable price, and won’t have its owner pulling into a gas station too frequently. But the one thing missing of late with the Corolla is it no longer sits by itself at the front of the subcompact class.

The 2011 Corolla remains a smart buy. It ranks high on the reliability scale for compact sedans and it’s tough to complain about the $17,300 price tag. But it could use some serious changes if it wants to distance itself from the pack. And even with a few new tweaks this year, right now the Corolla clearly doesn’t.

Serious rivals like the Hyundai Elantra, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Mazda 3, Chevy Cruze and a few other notables can all tempt car shoppers into bypassing the Corolla. For instance, the Elantra gets around 40 mpg, while the other brands generally can match or exceed the Corolla (34-40 mpg) in that department. The front-wheel drive Corolla also lacks overall refinement and the driving experience is devoid of excitement.

It didn’t help that Toyota dropped from its 2011 lineup both the sport-tuned, more powerful Corolla XRS trim and the XLE, its most luxurious model. The choices now are the base, LE and S trim levels.

This year’s Corolla has a smooth 1.8-liter, inline-4 that produces a modest 132 horsepower. It cruises around town nicely as a commuter car, but lacks any quickness, going a tepid 0-60 mph in 10.1 seconds.

The interior features comfortable seating up front with solid leg and head room. However, the backseat may hold three passengers, but it’s a tight squeeze for even two adults and a child. The trunk space is average, although it opens wide and makes storing larger items easier.

The Corolla may not be king of the mountain in terms of overall sales for much longer. But it remains a solid purchase that still ranks high in the reliability category and is offered at a competitive price.

2011 Toyota Corolla

  • Power: 1.8-liter, inline-4, 132 horsepower
  • Mileage estimate: 26-34 mpg
  • Price: $17,300

Standard features include: tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel; 60/40-split-folding rear seat; six-speaker sound system, CD player, auxiliary audio jack; variable intermittent wipers; stability and traction control; brake assist; halogen headlights;