2011 Toyota Corolla LE Review


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2011 Toyota Corolla

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyers Guide


The Toyota Corolla is not exotic. Adolescent boys do not have posters of Corollas on their bedroom walls. Corollas have not racked up hundreds of victories in racing series around the world (although highly-modified examples have competed, and won, in the World Rally Championship long ago). But many millions of Corollas have been sold since the nameplate debuted in 1966. It's the best-selling automotive nameplate in the world, and the best-selling subcompact in the USA, so Toyota is definitely doing something right.

The Toyota Corolla is a small, inexpensive car done well. If not luxurious, it's much more than basic transportation. Sports sedan it isn't, but there's enough power to deal with any real-world traffic situation and a well-tuned chassis makes for a pleasant driving experience, all with a minimal appetite for regular gasoline. The tenth generation Corolla made its American debut for model year 2009, and has some changes for 2011.

Most apparently, its front and rear styling has been freshened. There are also some differences inside. More importantly, Smart Stop technology and the Toyota Care complimentary maintenance program are now standard fare in all models, as is the Star Safety System™, which includes Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Traction Control (TRAC), Antilock Brakes (ABS), electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), and Brake Assist (BA).

The three trim levels are base, LE, and S. All share a 1.8-liter, 132-horsepower four-cylinder engine, matched, unless it's the auto-only LE, to either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. There's nothing exotic about the chassis, a transverse front engine, front-wheel drive layout with suspension by MacPherson struts in front and a torsion-beam axle in the rear, but that suits the Corolla's intended market just fine.

All models have standard power mirrors, filtered air conditioning, information display with temperature, fuel economy, and speed and distance readouts, tilt- and telescope-adjustable steering wheel, 60/40 split folding rear seat, and plenty of useful interior storage compartments including dual gloveboxes. So "base" model is not necessarily the correct description. The LE adds fancier fabric, cruise control, remote keyless entry, and power doors and locks. "S" is for sportier looks, with unique interior and exterior trim and upgraded standard equipment.

I've been driving a 2011 Corolla LE equipped with the Premium option package -- with upgraded wheels and tires and audio system and a power tilt-and-slide sunroof -- for the past week and have no complaints. It's a solid, middle-of-the-road car that is quiet, roomy, well-equipped, and comfortable for its class. The rear seat has enough space for carpool duty, and the trunk is big enough for plenty of groceries, luggage, and whatever stuff can be stuffed inside. Fuel economy, at around 29 mpg overall, with more city than highway driving, may not be at hybrid level, but is commendable given the Corolla's size -- which has grown over the years.

APPEARANCE: Evolution, not revolution is the theme here, with a larger, more expressive interpretation of the Toyota "T-face" grille and bumper in front and revised rear styling giving the 2011 Corolla more presence on the road. It looks lower and wider, even if it isn't -- it's still small enough outside to easily squeeze into parking spaces. All models have a bit of an "aero kit" look, with small chin spoilers and side sills, but those on the S are larger.

COMFORT: Interior comfort, styling, and usefulness are important considerations for cars in the Corolla's class, and the Corolla will not disappoint. Front seat comfort and adjustability is good, not just "good for a subcompact", and a comfortable and so safe driving position is helped by a steering wheel adjustable for both tilt and reach. My test car's interior was all synthetics, no surprise, but with multiple materials and textures and good fit and finish. The dark instrument panel top kept glare at bay. Useful interior storage is found in double, over-and-under gloveboxes (lower locking), storage and bottle holders in all four doors, and the console box. Rear seat room is good for the car's size, and a flat floor makes the center position reasonably comfortable if all rear passengers are reasonably-sized. A 60/40 split to the rear seatback adds versatility for items that might be a little out-sized for the trunk, but that trunk's big enough that folding the seat should be a rare occurrence.

SAFETY: The Corolla's unibody structure surrounds passengers with a strong cabin and outlying sections designed and built to absorb crash energy or channel it away from passengers. Front, seat-mounted front side, and side curtain airbags are standard, as is the comprehensive Star Safety System and Smart Stop technology.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Not too hot, not too cold… the Corolla's MacPherson strut front, torsion beam axle rear suspension is tuned for everyday comfort. Its supple, quiet ride is a long way from what was once the norm in the small car class. If the larger-diameter wheels and lower-profile tires included in the LE Premium Package make any real difference in turn-in response, it's not much, and that's not something the typical Corolla buyer will be concerned with. Electric power steering varies assistance with engine and car speed, for a light touch when parking and stability on the highway. The Corolla delivers what's needed - a smooth ride and pleasant driving experience.

PERFORMANCE: Not all that long ago an aluminum alloy multivalve engine with dual overhead cams and variable cam phasing and valve actuation was the stuff of exotics, not plebeian subcompacts. But such an engine is more efficient than designs common in the past, and so can be optimized for low emissions and high fuel economy. And that is exactly what Toyota has done with the 1.8-liter four-cylinder found in today's Corolla. With maximum horsepower of 132 at 6000 and torque 128 lb-ft at 4400, and, in the finest Toyota tradition, strong torque all the way to idle, it's a good match for the Corolla's four-speed automatic, and delivers an EPA estimated 26 mpg city, 34 highway. My 29 mpg overall reflected a bias toward back roads and the facts of city traffic. No complaints.

CONCLUSIONS: Toyota has freshened the Corolla for 2011, and added important standard safety equipment.

SPECIFICATIONS 2011 Toyota Corolla LE

Base Price $ 17,600 Price As Tested $ 20,210 Engine Type aluminum alloy DOHC 16-valve inline 4-cylinder with Dual VVT-i Engine Size 1.8 liters / 110 cu. in. Horsepower 132 @ 6000 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 128 @ 4400 rpm Transmission 4-speed automatic Wheelbase / Length 102.4 in. / 180.0 in. Curb Weight 2800 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 21.1 Fuel Capacity 13.2 gal. Fuel Requirement 87-octane unleaded regular gasoline Tires P205/55 R16 89H Bridgestone Turanza EL400 m+s Brakes, front/rear vented disc / drum, ABS, EBD, BA standard Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson struts / torsion beam axle Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 26 / 34 / 29 0 to 60 mph est 10 sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

Premium Package - includes: 16-inch alloy wheels and P205/55 R16 tires, integrated foglamps, power tilt-and-slide moonroof with sliding sunshade, AM/FM/CD player withMP3/WMA playback, minijack, USB, and iPodŽ connections, XMŽ radio, Bluetooth connectivity $ 2,150 Destination charge $ 760


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