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.