June 8, 2008
The Toyota Corolla has survived more than 40 years since its 1968 U.S. debut.
That's a heck of a feat in an industry not known for its longevity. Toyota's reputation for quality and reliability, of course, helps keep the nameplate alive.
The 10th generation of the compact sedan is now in showrooms as an '09 model.
Corolla isn't the most fuel-efficient car in the Toyota stable. Prius, with its 48 m.p.g. city/45 m.p.g. highway, holds that title for Toyota and the industry. Corolla isn't even second best in mileage at Toyota. The subcompact Yaris is, at 29/35. Corolla with its 1.8-liter, 132-horsepower 4-cylinder and 4-speed automatic comes in third at 27/35.
But, unlike Prius, Corolla isn't saddled with a premium for the battery hardware that puts up the huge fuel savings—and that's Corolla's selling point: Good mileage and utility at a reasonable price.
While the name has remained the same, Corolla hasn't. Once the smallest and cheapest offering in the lineup—the position Yaris now holds—Corolla has grown to compact dimensions in response to the typical consumer econcar complaint: Love the car, but it's a tad too snug.
Corolla is offered in standard, LE, XLE, S and high-performance XRS versions. We tested the dressy XLE.
It sports new body panels that Toyota calls "lean and stylish." In truth the car is so traditionally conservative that the designers who did the original must have been brought back to create the 2009 body panels.
The car is roughly the same size as the previous generation except for 2.4 extra inches in width, a nod to the fact that some in the U.S. have buns of steel, most have butts and thighs of foam rubber. The dimension change brings much-needed stretch space in the cabin.
The trunk is huge as well. Tall grocery bags or large suitcases slip inside nicely. A very nice touch is the plastic tray in the corner that holds a couple gallon milk jugs to keep them from bouncing around. Rear seat backs fold when you pull the release lever in the trunk, but won't go flat unless headrests are removed.
While the added width creates more hip and elbow room, it didn't do anything for the legs, knees or heads of those in back. Kids will handle the space fine, adults not so much. Front or rear, the seats could use a little more padding back and bottom and the bottom cushions could be a bit longer for better thigh support in long trips. The cloth coverings stay cool in the summer.
The new 1.8-liter in the XLE, along with the standard, LE and S, has variable valve timing teamed with a 5-speed manual as standard, a 4-speed automatic as optional. It replaces the anemic 126-h.p. 4. But while blessed with a few more horses, there's still more groan than gusto when you push the pedal hard to pass.
For those who feel they must opt for a manual to get the most mileage, the rating is 27 m.p.g. city/35 m.p.g. highway with it or automatic.
A 2.4-liter, 158-h.p. 4 is available for oomph fans, but it's in only the performance XRS. While the majority of folks buy Corolla for mileage, a little more muscle would be appreciated. Perhaps in Gen 11.
The suspension is tuned for soft, economy-car ride and handling, which is why you'll experience some lean in corners. Take them at speed and you may hear the radials scrape pavement. Sadly, while four-wheel anti-lock brakes are standard in all models, stability control with traction control is a $250 option in all but the XRS, in which it's standard. Why not make it standard across-the-board to keep all the wheels firmly planted taking off from the light or in corners? Keeping the base price $250 lower just doesn't seem like a good enough reason.
And while attention was paid to the need to stop in panic situations, more needs to go into improving everyday braking—there's too much travel in the pedal. Most Corolla owners aren't concerned with zero- to 60-m.p.h. quickness, but all value a thrifty 60-to-0 time.
The XLE we tested starts at $17,550 and the goodies include side-curtain air bags, power locks/windows/mirrors, air conditioning, AM/FM radio with CD player and MP3 playback, keyless entry, power plugs in the console and under the center armrest, cupholders front and rear, dual glove boxes and digital clock.
In addition to stability and traction control, options on the test car included an all-weather package that added heated sideview mirrors and heavy-duty heater with a rear-seat duct for $150, cruise control for $250 and a JBL audio upgrade with XM satellite radio, Bluetooth with eight speakers and hands-free controls for $1,060. Navigation system is a new option, though it wasn't on the test car. Power seats aren't on any Corolla.
Read Jim Mateja Sunday in Transportation. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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