PROS Comfortable ride, Good interior room for the class, Fuel-efficient engine
CONS Sloppy steering, Modest acceleration
Like any industry in a capitalistic society, the auto business is driven by cycles. Strong demand for any particular type of vehicle leads to fierce competition. Recently, crossovers became the rage as buyers tired of large inefficient SUVs and migrated into vehicles that better fit their lifestyles. Today, those same buyers are looking to escape rising gas prices and turning to an old friend, the subcompact car. Often forgotten, the subcompact has been around since the early '70s when the industry faced its first fuel shortage, and one of the first subcompacts was the diminutive Toyota Corolla.
Though the Corolla has grown up some over the years, Toyota has held the vehicle true to its mission of providing economical and affordable transportation for the masses. The current Corolla was redesigned for 2009 with more power, additional safety features, and freshened styling. The '09 Corolla is similar in size to the previous model in every dimension except width, where it grows 2.5 inches. It returns as a front-drive, five-seat, four-door sedan that competes with vehicles like the Chevrolet Cobalt, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Mazda 3, and Nissan Sentra.
Five trim levels are offered: Base, LE, XLE, S, and XRS. All save the XRS use a 132-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine. This engine has eight more horsepower than last year. The line-topping XRS gets a 158-horsepower 2.4-liter engine. Base and S come standard with a five-speed manual transmission. Optional on those models and standard on the LE and XLE is a four-speed automatic. The XRS comes with either the five-speed manual or a five-speed automatic.
Standard safety features include antilock brakes with brake assist, front-seat active head restraints, tire-pressure monitor, and dual-front, front-side, and curtain-side airbags. XRS models add stability control, which is optional on other models.
The Base model lists for $15,250 and comes with air conditioning, tilt-telescope steering wheel, front bucket seats, center console, split-folding rear seat, power mirrors, AM/FM/CD/MP3 player with digital-media player connection, rear defogger, theft-deterrent system, and 195/65R15. The $16,650 LE adds power windows and power door locks.
2009 Toyota Corolla XLE
Base Price: $17,550
As-Tested Price: $19,920
Built in Fremont, California.
JBL AM/FM/6-CD Changer
All Weather Guard Package
Vehicle Stability Control
Engine: DOHC 1.8-liter I4
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Drive Wheels: front-wheel drive
The S model starts at $16,320 and adds leather-wrapped steering wheel with radio controls, trip computer, fog lights, and 205/55R16 tires. However, it loses the power windows. XLE lists for $17,550 and adds to the S power windows, keyless entry, and variable-intermittent wipers. It deletes the leather-wrapped steering wheel with radio controls and the fog lights.
The XRS starts at $18,760 and adds traction control, four-wheel disc brakes, leather-wrapped steering wheel with radio controls, cruise control, fog lights, rear spoiler, 215/45R17 tires, and alloy wheels But it deletes power windows, keyless entry, variable-intermittent wipers.
Options include leather upholstery, navigation system, sunroof, and satellite radio. Corolla shares chassis and engines with the Toyota Matrix and Pontiac Vibe and is built in Fremont, California. All Corolla models have a destination charge of $720.
Get Up and Go The Corolla has never been a fireball and models with the 1.8-liter engine live up to that reputation. The four-cylinder provides merely adequate around-town acceleration and modest passing power. Thankfully, it's smooth and doesn't create much ruckus.
The new 2.4-liter engine in the XRS certainly gives Corolla more than adequate pep and is a valid upgrade for those looking to stray from life in the slow lane. Toyota claims a 0-60 mph time of 8.1 seconds. That's fast for the class. In normal driving, the engine provides good acceleration and above-average passing punch.
Both automatic transmissions shift smoothly and downshift promptly for more power. The manual transmission has long and deliberate throws that dissuade aggressive shifting.
Always a fuel-economy standout, the Corolla is EPA rated at 27/35 mpg for the 1.8-liter/automatic and 22/30 mpg for the 2.4-liter automatic. Those are impressive is any book and among the most frugal in the class. In real-world driving, expect the 1.8-liter to average more than 30 mpg and the 2.4-liter to average about 28 mpg. Both engines run fine on regular-grade gasoline.
On the Road Corolla's mission as a mainstream subcompact is evident in a ride that is both comfortable and absorbent. Thankfully that on-road smoothness doesn't come with the penalty of additional float, bounce, or wallow. XRS models are noticeably firmer, though the ride falls well short of harsh.
Far from the sportiest sedan in the class, Corolla feels nimble around town and solid at highway speeds. No model is overly athletic, thought the XRS plays the role of sports sedan with some success. The electric steering is disappointing as it lacks road feel, has an unnatural weight, and doesn't seem very accurate. Thankfully, the brakes have good stopping power and a responsive feel.
Standard Corolla models qualify for best-in-class quietness, with nicely suppressed wind, road, and engine noise. XRS models are significantly more noisy thanks to overly aggressive tires and a somewhat coarse-sounding engine.
NHTSA Crash-Test Results, 2009 Toyota Corolla
|Front Impact, Driver ||4 Stars|
|Front Impact, Passenger ||4 Stars|
|Side Impact, Driver ||5 Stars|
|Side Impact, Rear Passenger ||4 Stars|
|Rollover Resistance ||4 Stars|
Behind the Wheel Corolla's interior is a model of simplicity. Materials are par for the course, but disappoint when compared to the previous-model's upscale fittings. Gauges are large and easy to read. Audio and climate controls are simple and straightforward. Programming of the available navigation system is easy.
Front seats are comfortable but lack support when the road grows twisty--a trait common to most subcompact cars. XRS models have slightly more bolstering. Head room is good and leg room adequate, though really tall drivers will want a bit more of both. Tilt-telescope steering wheel is a nice standard at this price-point. Outward visibility is excellent thanks to thin roof pillars.
Rear-seat leg room is above the class norm, though adults larger than six-feet tall with want a bit more head room. Door openings are a trifle small and that makes it difficult to get in and out in tight parking spots.
With 16.6 cubic-feet of storage space, the trunk is roomy for the class. All models come with split-folding rear seats, which are a nice touch considering the class. Complicating matters are a small opening and intrusive hinges. Interior storage, with a small center-console bin and tiny front-door map pockets, is par for the class. Twin gloveboxes are a nice touch.
Bottom Line Corolla is one of Toyota's bestselling models, and for good reason. It's affordable, economical, and roomy. It doesn't offer a lot of flair, but does an excellent job at offering a large dose of refinement.
Toyota is facing strong competition in the class. Other than a strong reliability record and high resale value, Corolla doesn't offer anything that isn't matched by less-expensive models like the Hyundai Elantra or Chevrolet Cobalt. Given today's high demand for fuel-efficient economy cars, Corolla sales won't suffer a bit, but Toyota missed an opportunity to separate itself from the herd with the 2009 redesign.