2009 Toyota Corolla XLEPosted on May 17th, 2008
Toyota’s classic subcompact sedan celebrates forty years in America.
By Nina Russin
How many cars have had the staying power of the Toyota Corolla? Toyota’s subcompact sedan arrived state-side forty years ago. The tenth-generation Corolla that rolls into dealerships this spring continues the tradition of dependability, value and fuel economy that rivals some hybrids. The test car averages 35 miles-per-gallon on the highway.
The XLE is one of five available grades. Power comes from a new 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine and four-speed automatic transmission. Engineers applied variable valve timing to both intake and exhaust cams to maximize fuel economy and engine power.
One hundred thirty two horsepower isn’t going to win any races, but it’s enough to keep up with traffic, and give the driver an extra margin for evasive maneuvers. The engine reaches peak torque at 4400 rpm: the engine speed during hard acceleration. The sedan merges into high-speed traffic with ease. The Corolla tows up to 1500 pounds: not enough to meet our ALV standards, but adequate for hauling a small trailer.
An available four-speed automatic transmission performs seamlessly in most situations, though it downshifts hard at wide open throttle. While its performance is adequate, a five-speed automatic would have lessened the distance between gears for more fluid performance.
A car that’s comfortable in its shoes
While many models grow bigger with each new generation, the ’09 Corolla maintains the same modest footprint as its predecessor. Wheelbase is just over 102 inches. The new car is slightly longer and significantly wider than the outgoing model. It is also lower, giving it a sportier appearance and reducing the coefficient of drag.
Designers from Toyota collaborated with a studio in Turin, Italy to give the new Corolla a European flair. Wrap-around headlamps in the front and tail lamps in back soften the sedan’s corners. Designers moved the front pillar forward to give the profile a more aerodynamic shape.
Sixteen-inch wheels on the XLE are sportier than the fifteen-inch rims on the Standard grade: they also give the car a more stable footprint. I prefer alloy wheels to the steel wheels with covers on the test car. The wheel covers are attractive, but I’ve seen too many end up in the hands of neighborhood thieves, or take flight when the wheel encounters an especially vicious pothole.
A five-layer windshield contains two sheets of acoustic material to reduce wind noise. As subcompact cars go, the Corolla is remarkably quiet. Having driven on the highway on some windy late spring afternoons, I was impressed by the lack of wind noise around both the windshield and side mirrors.
Light, nimble chassis is ideal for urban traffic
As new cars go, the Corolla is relatively light: 2745 pounds. Its modest curb weight enhances fuel economy and performance. Though the suspension feels soft, the sedan is easy to maneuver through traffic. Engineers added stabilizer bars to the MacPherson front and torsion beam rear suspension to reduce roll in the corners.
A lighter, more rigid rack and pinion assembly has an electric steering pump in place of mechanical components. The electric pump minimizes mass under the hood. Steering effort varies according to speed. There is more steering assistance at low speeds for maneuvering around parking lots: stiffer setting at high speeds enhances the car’s on-center feel.
Front disc and rear drum brakes are standard on all but the performance-driven XRS grade. Though most braking on front-wheel drive cars takes place over the front axle, I don’t like drum brakes. They don’t stop evenly on wet surfaces, and they’re harder to service. Antilock braking is standard on all models.
Inside, the Corolla has ample room for four adults. Since the Corolla is a front-wheel drive car, there’s no transmission tunnel through the back. Three-across in a subcompact is a stretch, but it’s possible for three to sit in the rear bench seats on a short drive.
Front-row passengers have ample leg, hip and shoulder room. The XLE has manual seat adjustments, but the seats have ample lower back support. A standard tilt and telescoping steering wheel allows smaller drivers to maintain a safe distance from the front airbag.
The center stack includes the audio and temperature controls, all of which are easy to reach from either seating position. The steering wheel also has redundant audio and telephone controls. There is a 12-volt plug in on the center stack for charging electronic devices, as well as a MP3 plug-in. Cupholders in the floor console are large enough for water bottles. All four doors also have bottle holders molded into the map pockets.
A two-piece glovebox provides extra storage space for maps and other documents. The center console bin has a small upper shelf for storing cell phones and PDAs.
Legroom for second-row passengers is minimal, but adequate for smaller adults. Pop-out cupholders in back of the center console will hold cups or small cans but not bottles.
The Corolla has a surprisingly spacious trunk, that will easily hold several golf bags or the family’s luggage. Release levers in the trunk allow the second-row seats to fold flat, extending the cargo floor. The seatbacks don’t fold flush with the trunk, making it more difficult to fit a bicycle in. People who travel routinely with their bikes are better served by the Corolla Matrix hatchback.
All cars come equipped with front, side and side curtain airbags, antilock brakes and daytime running lamps. Vehicle stability control with traction control and a cut-off switch is available as an option.
Pricing for the 2009 begins at $15,520 for the front-wheel drive Standard grade. Drivers who want to venture off-road can opt for an all-wheel drive model. The Corolla is produced at Toyota’s NUMMI assembly plant in Fremont, California.
Likes: An affordable, well-constructed sedan with a versatile interior, good fuel economy and exceptional reliability.
Dislikes: Rear drum brakes. Vehicle stability control is not standard equipment.
Model: Corolla XLE
Base Price: $17,550
As tested: $19,869
Bicycle friendly: No
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Fuel economy: 27/35 mpg city/highway
Comments: Base price does not include a $660 delivery charge.
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