2009 Toyota Corolla: all about affordable competence

February 14, 2009/Steve Tackett


Toyota makes few excuses about the price-to-value relationship on most of its mainstream models, but the 2009 Corolla probably is the best example in the company’s showroom: it’s not the most exciting car you’ll drive, but if you can find a more broadly competent machine for the $18,453 as-tested price of the Corolla I drove, buy it.
Sometimes the auto-enthusiast crowd laughs at cars like the Corolla because they’re bland and don’t offer much in the way of driving feedback. I’ll agree the Corolla’s styling is about as intriguing as a cigar box.
And for the enthusiast set, driving exhilaration usually involves some kind of handling peccadillo that borders on uncontrollability. So if that’s the yardstick of desirability, then the Corolla fails in that respect, too, because you couldn’t find a car with more predictable responses.
What the Corolla lacks for the pure enthusiast is paid back in economy and value — crucial factors for people who drive just to get there, rather than for the experience of getting there.
How about that 27 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway from a car with a reasonable if unambitious 132 horsepower coming almost noiselessly from its sophisticated little 1.8-liter four-cylinder? There are cars in this class with bigger and better numbers, but the Corolla rarely feels underpowered, gliding along with a frictionless ease that usually has you rolling 5 or 10 mph faster than you think.
If there’s one disappointment with the Corolla’s driveline, it’s the old-as-dust four-speed automatic transmission (base models get a 5-speed manual for those who still like a clutch pedal). Most competitors have moved at least to five-speed automatics, although the lack of extra gears hasn’t much hurt the Corolla’s mileage numbers — Honda’s Civic, with 8 horsepower more and a five-speed automatic, does 1 mpg better on the highway but 2 mpg worse in the city.
There’s no quibbling, meanwhile, with the Corolla’s safety gear.

2009 Toyota Corolla

Every Corolla gets a safety arsenal that would’ve made a Mercedes blush just a few years ago: front airbags and side bags mounted in the front seats, as well as two big ‘ol side-curtain airbags. The front seatbelts have pretensioners that yank up slack in an impact and sophisticated active head restraints for the front-seat occupants.
Our test car also had what has to be the biggest steal in the auto industry: Toyota asks just $250 for the option of stability control, a safety “overlay” for the standard anti-lock brakes that helps prevent the car from skidding or fishtailing, a particularly useful feature in nasty weather.
You’d probably call the Corolla’s interior a what-you-see-is-what-you-get proposition. The controls are logical and uncomplicated, and there are features that still aren’t universal in this class of cars, including a tilt-and-telescope steering wheel and height adjustment for the driver’s seat. I also appreciated the prominently placed AUX jack to plug in my audio device.
Interior materials are mostly what you’d expect from an $18,000 compact car — a fruit cocktail of stuff that’s yummy (nice plastic on the center stack and upper dash) combined with some less-tasty ingredients: the raw-looking plastic for the inserts surrounding the power-window switches and the otherwise crafty two-piece glove box, not to mention the queasy Aunt Bee seat upholstery.
Regardless of some stumbles in tastefulness, though, the Corolla’s interior feels screwed and glued together with an inimitable tightness that is embodied throughout the car, underscoring the impression the Corolla is a value-laden transportation module designed to give numerous years of low-cost and unassuming service, leaving the excitement to something else in your life.

Next week: 2010 Mercury Milan

Toyota Corolla _profile

VEHICLE TYPE_________________ 5-passenger FWD compact sedan
BASE PRICE___________________ $16,650 (as tested: $18,453)
ENGINE TYPE__________________ 16-valve DOHC 4-cylinder w/SFI
DISPLACEMENT_________________ 1.8-liter
HORSEPOWER (net)_____________ 132 at 6000 rpm
TORQUE (lb.-ft.)_____________ 128 at 4400 rpm
TRANSMISSION_________________ 4-speed automatic
WHEELBASE____________________ 102 in.
TRACK (front/rear)___________ 60/60 in.
OVERALL LENGTH_______________ 179 in.
OVERALL WIDTH________________ 69 in.
HEIGHT_______________________ 58 in.
TURNING CIRCLE (curb-to-curb) 36 ft.
CURB WEIGHT__________________ 2,745 lbs.
FUEL CAPACITY________________ 13 gal.
EPA MILEAGE RATING___________ 27 mpg city, 35 mpg highway

Copyright, Motor Matters, 2009

Corolla_ rear profile