The original Toyota Corolla, a small rear-drive subcompact, arrived in the United States in the late 1960s; by the 1970s the second-generation version was the best-selling import in the country and new Corollas have followed every four or five years since. This stylish tenth-generation Corolla arrives for 2009 as slightly longer, lower and wider and with significant engineering improvements. The Corolla has grown over time, both in size and in features, with each generation being better than the one that went before, and the 2009 model certainly maintains that standard. But it's in a market segment with some very tough, excellent competition, from Japan, Korea and the United States, and smart buyers have lots of choices for their automotive dollars. As with many Toyota products, expected strengths of the Corolla should be long-term reliability, great fuel economy, a pleasant ownership experience and excellent resale value.
YOU'LL LIKE THIS CAR IF...
If your vehicular preference is for a modest but fuel-efficient and (presumably) reliable compact sedan from a trusted Japanese brand, this may be an excellent choice.
YOU MAY NOT LIKE THIS CAR IF...
If you want efficiency and practicality combined with a touch more style and driving excitement, you may prefer a somewhat livelier competitor such as Honda's Civic, Nissan's Sentra, Chevrolet's Cobalt or Ford's new Focus. There are also less expensive compacts available, especially from Korean makers Hyundai and Kia.
WHAT'S SIGNIFICANT ABOUT THIS CAR
This new Corolla sedan, available in five "grades" from base to sporty and the more powerful XRS, is a better-looking car than the plain-Jane previous generation. It's also quieter and slightly roomier, achieves better fuel economy with its standard 1.8-liter engine and offers better performance and handling in 2.4-liter XRS trim.
We found the lesser Corolla models to be perfectly acceptable if not outstanding. Their performance is adequate with the five-speed manual, less so with the automatic. Their brakes are strong and fade-free, their ride is good and their handling better than previous Corollas but not up to some of the best of the competition. We would prefer more feel than is transmitted through the electric power steering, and a higher level of interior materials. The top-of-the-line XRS has much more in the way of sporty looks, handling dynamics and get-up-and-go performance. With larger tires and wheels, structural enhancements and more tightly-tuned steering, it gets around corners more smartly without much sacrifice in ride and will accelerate from zero to 60 miles per hour in just less than nine seconds. It's sprightly, but not as quick as some of the higher-performing small cars, such as the Honda Civic Si or Chevrolet Cobalt SS.
OUR FAVORITE FEATURES
Tilt/Telescopic Steering Wheel
This much-appreciated standard feature, rare in this class, helps drivers of all sizes find a comfortable position.
This better-looking, better-performing handling-oriented sport model is the highest-priced and least fuel-efficient Corolla but provides a substantial boost in driving enjoyment over the other four, including the semi-sporty S.
The inside objectives were perceived roominess and improved comfort. The added width provides more shoulder and hip room in front, and leg room is increased a half-inch in front and nearly an inch in back, though front head room is down a half-inch due to the lower roofline. Much emphasis was put on seat comfort for occupants of almost any height, and the steering column tilts and telescopes to optimize driver comfort. The instrument panel offers speedometer, tachometer, fuel and coolant-temperature gauges and an optional multi-information display that offers a clock, outside temperature, fuel economy, range, average speed and elapsed time.
The Corolla exterior designers' objectives were a lower, wider, sportier look to compete with Honda's Civic and others in this increasingly popular class, plus increased interior room and improved aerodynamic smoothness for enhanced fuel efficiency and interior quietness. Those objectives were met with a lower roofline with sleeker windshield and rear glass and careful attention to detail, especially at the corners. A trio of character lines run along the door handles to the rear fenders, from the hood to the front pillars and from the front bumpers to the front fender flares, while a low front air intake adds visual width below the Toyota signature mesh grille.
NOTABLE STANDARD EQUIPMENT
The base Corolla comes with 15-inch steel wheels, air conditioning, power steering, tilt and telescopic steering wheel, 60/40-split folding rear seat, power mirrors, AM/FM/CD (XM satellite-ready) radio, outside temperature gauge, a driver's-seat height adjuster and driver and passenger front, seat-mounted side and side-curtain airbags. The LE adds power windows, locks and color-keyed mirrors; the XLE 16-inch tires and wheels, variable intermittent wipers, a sliding center console with card holder, remote keyless entry and wood-grain trim; and the S has fog lamps, front and rear spoilers, sport seats and a leather-trimmed steering wheel. Only the XRS gets the 2.4-liter engine, rear disc brakes and standard cruise control.
The base Corolla's option list offers just cruise control, stability control, a six-disc CD changer and an All-Weather Guard Package (heavy-duty heater, rear heating duct and heated outside mirrors), while the LE adds available remote keyless entry (RKE) and larger tires on 16-inch alloy wheels. XLE buyers can specify JBL audio and navigation, and the S offers an available Power Package (power windows, locks and remote keyless entry) and leather-trimmed seats and shifter. The well-equipped XRS is available with the All-Weather and Power Packages, JBL audio, navigation and leather. All Corollas except the base model are available with the optional moonroof.
UNDER THE HOOD
Four of the five 2009 Corolla models offer only the base 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine; it's great for reliability and economy, but, as would be expected, only so-so for performance. Driving through a choice of either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission, it delivers an excellent 27 city, 35 highway and 30 combined EPA-rated miles per gallon. The larger, more powerful 2.4-liter four, with either a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic, is available in only the sportiest, top-of-the-line Corolla XRS.
1.8-liter in-line 4
132 horsepower @ 6000 rpm
128 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4400 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 27/35
158 horsepower @ 6000 rpm
162 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 22/29 (manual), 22/30 (automatic)
The 2009 Toyota Corolla starts at a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of just under $16,000, a few hundred dollars more than the 2008 it replaces, and New Car Blue Book Values should hold very close to MSRPs. That compares to about $14,500 for the base Chevrolet Cobalt LS Sedan, $15,500 for the Honda Civic DX Sedan and $16,500 for the Nissan Sentra. Automatic transmission models start $800 higher. Equipped with the automatic transmission, the LE model starts at about $17,000 MSRP, the XLE at slightly over $18,000, the S at slightly under $18,000 and the XRS at under $21,000. On the resale side, the Corolla should hold an above-average value after five years, similar to the Honda Civic and Nissan Sentra but substantially better than the Chevrolet Cobalt. Be sure to check New Car Blue Book Values to see what buyers are actually paying in your area.