Like the tortoise in its famous race against the hare, the best-selling 2012 Toyota Corolla takes a slow and steady approach. New rivals are popping up everywhere these days, offering adventurous styling and futuristic interiors. But while they run around and tire themselves out, the Corolla stays the course, racking up huge sales with its tried-and-true formula.

The S in Corolla S stands for "Spice." Not really, but that's a good way to think about the Corolla S's purpose in life. It's got all the familiar Corolla virtues, but there's a hint of aggression in the way it looks. The Corolla S is a car for Corolla fans who find the regular models a bit too mundane.

There's wisdom in crowds, so the Corolla's perennial sales success might be all you need to know. But if you want to dig little deeper, here are our top five reasons to buy the 2012 Toyota Corolla S.

1. Great Reputation for Reliability

Earlier this year, the Corolla became the best-selling car ever. Ever! Since its 1966 debut, the Corolla has racked up over 37 million sales, and counting. That's not because the Corolla has powerful engines or alluring curves; no, what keeps people coming back to the Corolla is its almost peerless reputation for reliability. Practically everyone's heard of a Corolla that went for hundreds of thousands of trouble-free miles, right? It's a clear advantage the Corolla has over the competition.

2. S is for "Spice."

Toyota didn't go crazy with this sporty version of the Corolla, of course, but there's a little more excitement here than usual. Standard features include 16-inch alloy wheels, a subtle body kit for that sporty look, more aggressive front seats, and even a sport steering wheel. Plus, our Corolla S test car had the engaging five-speed manual transmission, and Toyota threw in a sunroof for good measure. These are nice touches in an economy car.

3. Big Back Seat

With the popular Camry getting a redesign for 2012, you might be tempted to get one of those rather than this aging Corolla. But hold that thought until you've tried the Corolla's back seat. See, not only is the Corolla a lot cheaper than the Camry, it's also got an unusually large back seat for an economy sedan. You can fit a couple adults back there, no problem. Just because the Corolla's an economy car doesn't mean you have to make sacrifices.

4. Good Fuel Economy

A Corolla S like ours with the manual transmission is EPA-rated at 27 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway. Fun fact: that's the same as an automatic FIAT 500. It's true, folks. The Corolla S gets the same fuel economy as Fiat's tiny city car. We expected even better from this Toyota, but 34 mpg isn't bad at all for a practical sedan with a sporty flavor.

5: Smooth, Quiet Ride

The Corolla S may look a little aggressive with that body kit, but it's got the same smooth, quiet ride as every Corolla. That's another thing that keeps the Corolla faithful coming back, year after year. Whereas some other economy sedans remind you of how cheap they are with their firm, noisy rides, the Corolla does a good imitation of the well-mannered Camry when you're cruising on the highway. Sure, it's a little less refined, but as economy sedans go, the Corolla's a smooth operator.

Here's the long and short of it: newer rivals may offer more flash and dash, but the 2011 Toyota Corolla proves that consistency is the key. Take one for a spin and see if slow and steady wins the race for you, especially with the S model's extra spice.

author photo

Josh Sadlier is an automotive journalist based in Los Angeles and has contributed to such publications as Edmunds.com and DriverSide.com. He holds arguably the most unexpected degree in his profession: a master's in Theological Studies.

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