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2009 Toyota Corolla S Review

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2009 Toyota Corolla S

Gasoline prices, if dropping slightly from recent record highs, are still expensive. And vehicle sales reflect that. For many years the best-selling vehicles in the US were full-size pickup trucks. Now that honor goes to compact sedans, and the Toyota Corolla among the most popular.

That should come as no surprise. In the time since its debut in 1966 and American introduction in 1968, more than 30 million Corollas have been sold. It has a solid record. But, as is the Toyota Way, the Corolla does not rest on that record. It keeps improving, as evidenced by the nearly all-new 2009 example I've driven for the past week.

2009 marks the debut of the tenth generation of Corolla to the American marketplace. It is most changed in looks, with sleek and sporty Italian-influenced lines, but the structure underneath has been strengthened, too. Once-upscale technologies, like multi-layer acoustic glass in the windshield, vibration control for the side glass, and other soundproofing techniques once expected only in a Lexus help make the new Corolla much quieter and more refined than expected of a small, inexpensive "economy car".

Toyota has gotten to the top in the auto industry by making cars with wide appeal, and there is a 2009 Corolla for every small car desire and budget. The base Standard, sporty-looking S, well-appointed LE, and junior Lexus XLE have an economical 132-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine driving their front wheels through a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. For customers who want power to back up the S's looks, there is the XRS, with a 2.4-liter, 158-horsepower four with a choice of five-speed manual or automatic transmission. Toyota's VSC electronic stability control system is available in all models, and standard in the XRS.

In contrast to the usual press-fleet specification - which would have resulted in a fully-loaded, leather-and-nav-system-appointed XLE or XRS - my test car was an S model with the automatic, the moonroof, and the upgraded JBL audio system. The "Sport" package here is merely for appearance - for more than looks, see the XRS - but it does look good, and as-equipped is a comfortable and economical all-around car as well-suited for travel as for shopping or commute duty. There is more room inside than you might expect - the rear seat is not necessarily the penalty box so four-person carpools should work fine. At 30 mpg overall, yes, there are cars more frugal with fuel. But they are generally smaller and less comfortable. The latest iteration of the Corolla formula looks posed to continue success.

APPEARANCE: A sportier shape was desired for the new Corolla, so Toyota Design collaborated with an Italian design studio. The base of the windshield was moved forward and the base of the rear window was moved back, for lower aerodynamic drag and a sleeker look. With the Toyota "T-face" grille, wide, low headlamps, and a strong shoulder line, the Corolla has the look of a current Toyota sedan and fits neatly in size and proportion between the smaller Yaris and larger Camry. Its taillights echo the headlight shape. The S's "aero kit" of front chin spoilers, side sills, trunk-lid spoiler, and rear bumper extension visually lowers the car.

COMFORT: The new Corolla's enlarged passenger cabin does more than improve looks and aerodynamics. More importantly to passengers, it feels larger inside, although key measurements haven't increased appreciably. Which is a non-issue as it's roomy for its size and more comfortable than expected of a small car. Styling is sporty compact, with high-quality synthetic materials for upholstery and trim. Much attention was paid to seat design, and it shows. The driver's seat is even adjustable (manually) for cushion height. A tilt-and-telescope adjustable steering wheel, unusual in the compact class, further improves driver comfort and so safety. Instruments are shielded from glare and easily seen. Those in the Standard, LE, and S are the regular type, while the XLE and XRS use backlit Optitron gauges. The silver-trimmed center stack has the audio and climate controls, and, if fitted (not in this car) the first-ever factory navigation system in a Corolla. Controls are all simple and self-explanatory to use. Useful storage abounds, with the usual door pockets (in all doors, with bottle holders) and console box supplemented by dual glove boxes and an overhead sunglasses/garage door opener holder, with a compartment for tolls and such to the left of the steering wheel and a small tray near the driver's right knee. The contoured rear bench will hold two adults for carpool duty, but is a little narrow for three. Three kids should be fine. The seatback folds 60/40 if oversize cargo needs to be carried, and the trunk is reasonably large.

SAFETY: The new 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 are antilock brakes. The VSC electronic stability system is available in all models, and standard in the XRS. The `09 Corolla has received four-star ratings by NHTSA for its performance in frontal, rollover, and rear-seat side impact crash tests, and five stars for front seat side impact protection.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Other than a plus-one wheel and tire combination, with P205/55R16 tires on alloy wheels replacing P195/65R15 tires on steel wheels, the S package is a cosmetic, not suspension, upgrade. For a sportier Corolla experience, see the XRS and/or the TRD catalog. No problem, as the `09 Corolla's MacPherson strut front, torsion beam axle rear suspension is tuned for everyday comfort, not ultimate performance. Its supple, quiet ride is a long way from what was once the norm in the small car class. Electric power steering varies assistance with engine and car speed, for a light touch when parking and stability on the highway.

PERFORMANCE: "Performance" for most Corolla buyers is likely to mean fuel economy as much as acceleration, and they will be pleased with the new 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine. Of aluminum alloy construction, with dual overhead cams and VVT-i variable cam phasing on both actuating two intake and two exhaust valves per cylinder, it was designed and built to maximize fuel economy and minimize friction and emissions. Its 132 horsepower (at 6000 rpm) and 128 lb-ft of torque (at 4400 rpm) are sufficient for the Corolla to deal with nearly any typical traffic situation, and while the automatic transmission is only a four-speed, the engine's broad torque band makes it perfectly acceptable. Uphill and downhill shift control minimizes unwanted and inefficient excess shifting on grades. EPA ratings are 27 mpg city, 35 highway, and I averaged right around 30 mpg for the week with a mix of both, mostly city and country driving.

CONCLUSIONS: The tenth-generation Toyota Corolla is small but capable and comfortable.

SPECIFICATIONS: 2009 Toyota Corolla S

Base Price			$ 17,150
Price As Tested			$ 21,255
Engine Type			dual overhead cam, 16-valve,
				  aluminum alloy inline 4-cylinder with
				  VVT-i variable cam phasing
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. / 178.7 in.
Curb Weight			2822 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		21.4
Fuel Capacity			13.2 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P205/55R16 89H Goodyear Eagle RS-A
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / drum, antilock standard