2009 Toyota Corolla Review

2009 Toyota Corolla - Long live the Corolla.


The Toyota Corolla in its various forms over the years has topped the Ford Model T and original Volkswagen Beetle in sales, with more than 25 million built after it arrived as a  $1,700 two-door model with 60 horsepower in 1968.

From the get-go, the Corolla was a "last-forever" high-quality low-priced car--easily good for 150,000-plus miles with minimal maintenance. The word got out years ago about the Corolla, and it's been quietly upgraded with each new-generation model. Resale value long has been high for this four-door sedan.

The tenth-generation front-wheel-drive Corolla arrived as an early 2009 model, with considerable improvements  It's larger, with slicker styling reminiscent of the Toyota Camry, more power and room, a redesigned chassis and suspension and added safety items.

Major rivals include the Honda Civic and Mazda 3, which are more fun, besides the Hyundai Elantra.

A hot rod XRS model arrived for 2005 but seemed out of place in the conservative Corolla line with its extra power, sport seats and "aerodynamic" body add-ons for a slicker look. It also had a firmer suspension and wider tires.

The XRS was dropped for 2007 but increased Corolla competition has caused it to be returned for 2009 with a larger (2.4-liter) four-cylinder engine producing 158 horsepower.

Other Corollas have a 1.8-liter engine, which gets a horsepower boost from 126 to 132, thanks to dual variable valve timing on both intake and exhaust camshafts.

While small, the 1.8-liter engine is sophisticated, with dual overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. However. performance is basically unchanged with the "1.8" because the car's weight  is up about 200 pounds. The XRS engine also is sophisticated and is smoother and quieter than the 1.8.

The 2009 Corolla's new body is slightly longer, lower and 2.4 inches wider, which allows a little more shoulder and hip room. The car accommodates four 6-footers, but tall rear passengers have little room to spare.

The 1.8, which powers most Corollas, is hooked to a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission, which shifts efficiently but is rather dated. The Honda Civic and Mazda 3 are offered with five-speed automatics. However, the XRS has a five-speed automatic--or the five-speed manual.

The Corolla 1.8 is known for providing sparkling fuel economy. It delivers an estimated 27 mpg in the city and 35 on highways with either the manual or automatic Figures for the 2.4 engine are 22 and 29 with the manual and 22 and 30 with the automatic.

A 13.2-gallon fuel tank allows a long cruising range, especially for 1.8 models. All require only 87-octane fuel.

Despite the new chassis and suspension, the 2009 Corolla 1.8 rides and handles much like the ninth-generation model. A smooth ride long has been a Corolla strong point, as is decent handling. The XRS has sharper moves because it has 17-inch wheels and wider (45-series) tires, while other Corollas have 15- and 16-inch wheels and less performance-oriented 55- and 65-series tires.

There are five trim levels, versus three for 2008. List prices range from $15,350 to $17,650 for the 1.8 models, while the XRS goes from $18,860 to $20,050.

All Corollas are well-equipped, although keeping track of which models have specific features can be confusing.

Bit even the Base model has air conditioning, AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system,.tilt/telescopic wheel, console, split-folding rear seat, intermittent wipers and power mirrors.

The LE adds power windows and door locks, while the XLE has power door locks, backlit gauges, center console, sliding front armrests and wood grain trim.

The fairly sporty S has front sport seats, front/rear spoilers, leather-wrapped wheel with radio controls and AM/FM/CD/XM-capable radio with six speakers.

The XRS adds a stability/traction control system, rear spoiler with a tacked-on look, strut tower brace for better handling, cruise control and an upgraded audio system, besides 45-series tires on 17-inch wheels.

As for safety, all models have anti-lock brakes with a brake-assist feature and front-side and side-curtain air bags. The desirable stability/traction control system is a $250 option for all models, except the XRS.

Other key extras include $635 power windows and door locks for the S and XRS. A $1,495 Sport Package for the S contains power windows, cruise control, rear spoiler and 55-series tires on 16-inch alloy wheels.

A power sunroof for the LE, S, XLE and XRS costs $890. Cruise control for the Base, LE, S and XLE is $250. Leather upholstery is optional for the S ($1,550) and XRS ($1,490).

A navigation system is a "first" for the Corolla. It's a $1,300 option for XLE and XRS.

My test XLE had decent performance, with acceptable merging and 65-75 mph passing times. The fuel-saving electric power steering was quick and handling was acceptable, but average The ride was good for a compact car, although deep potholes jolted occupants. The brake pedal had a linear action, but only the XRS has an all-disc brake setup.

The quiet interior has a good amount of hard plastic panels and trim. But there's also supportive front seats and comfortable rear seats. However, taller drivers will wish their seat moved back more and small rear door openings complicate entry and exit.

The dashboard layout is straightforward. Climate and most sound system controls are within easy reach, but some radio controls are too high. Gauges are too deeply set for a quick read during some daylight hours without the backlit gauges not in Base and LE models.

The glove compartment has a handy two-tier design, and all doors have storage/bottle holder pockets. Front cupholders are well-placed, but rear pull-out plastic cupholders are flimsy.

The trunk is fairly large and has a low, wide opening, but also intrusive hinges and no interior pull-down feature. Rear seatbacks have trunk releases and sit fairly flat when folded forward for extra cargo room.

The hood must be held open with an awkward prop rod, but the engine compartment has easily reached filler areas.

The 2009 Corolla looks more stylish than previous models, but its strong point is dead-reliable, economical, comfortable transportation.

Visit DanJedlicka.com for more road tests, interviews, and classic car articles.Visit DanJedlicka.com where veteran auto writer Dan Jedlicka reviews the latest cars and trucks in an easily understood but detailed manner. In addition, Dan's Web site also includes colorful classic and collectible car articles, a letters column and candid interviews with auto-field personalities.

Dan Jedlicka

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Dan Jedlicka joined the Chicago Sun-Times in February 1968 as a business news reporter and was named auto editor later that year. He has reviewed more than 4,000 new vehicles for the Sun-Times--far more than any newspaper auto writer in the country. Jedlicka also reviewed vehicles for Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Autos Internet site from January, 1996, to June, 2008.

Jedlicka remained auto editor at the Sun-Times until October, 2008, and continued writing for the newspaper's AutoTimes section, which he started in 1992, until February, 2009. While continuing his auto writings at the Sun-Times, he served as assistant financial editor of that newspaper from 1970 to 1973, when he began his automotive column.

He has appeared on numerous radio and television shows, including NBC's "Today," ABC's "20/20" and "The CBS Evening News." He was a host, consultant and writer for Fox-TV Channel 32's 1991 New Car Preview show and that Chicago-based station's 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995 Chicago Auto Show Previews.

Jedlicka's auto articles have been printed in national magazines, including Esquire and Harper's. His auto columns have been reprinted in U.S. government publications and economic textbooks and he is profiled in the "World's Greatest Auto Show" history book about the Chicago Auto Show. In late 1975, Jedlicka was host and technical advisor for three one-hour television specials, "Auto Test 76," which aired nationally on PBS and were the first nationally televised auto road test shows.

In 1995, Jedlicka was the recipient of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois Inc.'s Consumer Education Award, given annually to a person who has gained distinction in the field of consumer education. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Media category and inducted into the Legends of Motorsports Guild at the Carquest World of wheels custom car show in Chicago in January, 2006.

Jedlicka was a member of the North American Car and Truck of the Year jury, composed of a select number of auto journalists from throughout the country, from 1995 until 2009. From 2010 to 2012, he was a member of Consumer Digest magazine's auto experts panel that gave Best Buy new vehicle recommendations.

He is a 1987 graduate of the Bob Bondurant Race Drivers School and later of the BMW "M" and Skip Barber Advanced Driving schools. He was a member of the U.S. team that participated in the 1987 1,000-mile Mille Miglia race/rally in Italy and has been a race winner at the Chicago area's Santa Fe Speedway.

Jedlicka has owned 25 classic cars, including 1950s and 1960s Ferraris and 1950s and 1960s Porsches, a 1965 Corvette, a 1967 Maserati and a 1957 Studebaker supercharged Golden Hawk. Jedlicka resides with his wife, Suzanne, in the Frank Lloyd Wright historic district of Oak Park. They have two children, James and Michele.

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