2009 Toyota Corolla: Do No Harm

By The Car Family

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Officials at Toyota must have taken the Hippocratic Oath and promised to do no harm to their bread and butter seller the Corolla. The design, handling, and features of this new model are nothing if not similar to the previous model in nearly every regard. Now, that isn’t necessarily bad. The new model is nearly as efficient, larger, and more comfortable to drive. What it isn’t is exciting. Of course, high performance machinery from Toyota has never proven to be a big money maker as can be seen in the demise of our favorite car of all time, the turbocharged Supra.

For a decade we have been advising consumers that the Toyota Corolla is the best combination of fuel economy, safety, and interior space for the money. So we waited patiently as Toyota held up offering a new version longer than usual. After driving a preproduction 2009 model we can safely say that if you liked the previous generation you are going to love the new one. If you were waiting for a Honda Civic fighter you wasted your time.

There are five different trim levels from the base LE to the “sportier” XRS model. All of them are equipped with Toyota’s 1.8L dual VVT-i four-cylinder engine with 132 horsepower and 128 lb-ft of torque. Although nothing is official, look for gas mileage figures and pricing nearly the same as the outgoing model, which are excellent. We averaged nearly 30 mpg and pricing should surround the $15,000 neighborhood. If you want more briskness the S and XRS models may be equipped with a 158 horsepower 2.4 VVT-i four-cylinder engine and a five-speed manual or automatic transmission available. The extra power will cost you more at the gas pump. We recommend the base engine and a manual transmission for the frugal and the XRS for those who want a bit more fun in their commutes.

2009 (left)

These new Corolla has the same 102.4-in.wheelbase as earlier models, but the body is a bit longer and wider. You never feel like you are in a small car as there is room for four adults and a child. The trunk remains a useful size and the rear seats have a 60/40 split so you can carry longer objects once you find the seat release in the trunk.

As for other new features, well you can get a DVD navigation system, Vehicle Stability Control, to allow for better control in adverse conditions. Combined with the Corolla’s traction control, these features make the Corolla ride a safe one. There is also a XM satellite radio with real-time traffic information available.

Mom’s view: I long time ago my mother told me that you should never change a good recipe. Apparently, Toyota took my mother’s advice. The new Corolla offers the same wonderful traits as the past model as well as some needed updating in terms of safety features and electronics. The 2009 have standard driver and front passenger airbags, front seat-mounted side airbags and two-row side curtain airbags. Active headrests that help avoid whiplash injury, and antilock brakes are standard with Vehicle Stability Control and Traction Control available. Buy every safety feature you can regardless of which vehicle you select. This Corolla is much sharper looking than the older model. The steering wheel has a tilt and telescoping feature and the seats are comfortable. There are lots of storage spaces and a couple of glove compartments. It took me a while to figure out that the hook on the center console was to hold a bag. The interior lighting is average with map lights for both the driver and passenger, and the headlights are slightly above average in coverage and quality of illumination. The horn is way too meek to be of value.

Driving the Corolla is for those who don’t care to be daring. It is simple to navigate, goes when asked, and has an interior that isn’t too noisy. The base model isn’t really worthwhile and we recommend the LE with power windows locks and mirrors. Stepping up to the XLE provides you with larger rims, a remote entry system, and some interior and exterior doodads, especially the S model. Handling is better with the larger tires, but for Pete’s sake this is a Corolla sedan and I don’t think many canyon cutters are going to be longing for one. The most everything model is the XRS with a 2 .4-liter four and more of everything, including larger rims, and front and rear racy panels. The reduced gas mileage took some of the luster off this model for us.

The Corolla also has an AM/FM/CD audio unit with four speakers and XM satellite capabilities. There is an auxiliary audio input jack as well. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes, the seats are very comfortable, and the rear seats fold 60/40 making it easy to haul more cargo. We had the sporty XRS Corolla with its P215/45 R17 tires, alloy wheels, color-keyed front and rear spoilers, fog lamps, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and AM/FM/CD XM capable audio system with six speakers along with more trim pieces and an off switch for the VSC and XRS. The bottom line is that the sporty models just aren’t that sporty on the road. The extra horsepower is nice, but if you put the automatic transmission behind it the additional push is minor. I did like the

Dad’s view: The steering is too light and the new front MacPherson strut and control arms as well as the torsion beam rear suspension are tuned for the general population rather than the hard core. Toyota has created a sedan that is easy to drive, park, and maneuver, but isn’t likely to be taken seriously otherwise.

I don’t know what I expected the new Corolla but since they sell upwards of 300,000 of these per year, I wasn’t expecting a sea change. Even at that the new Corolla surprised me with its, well, sameness. Toyota stayed ultra conservative with the remake of the Corolla and I fully expect they are going to sell a batch. If you get the base version with the standard version you might get close to 37 mpg on the highway and have plenty of room for four adults as well as a good sized truck. Driving the preproduction Corolla didn’t attract any attention at all. People simple thought it was the old model. However, the ride and acceleration are quite different with the optional sports features and larger engine. It is quick to react, has a lot of passing power, and doesn’t lean nearly as much as the earlier version. The brake feel was good, but not overwhelming.

The previous model got a bit better gas mileage, but it didn’t have the more ample heft and room of the new version. Regardless, the 2009 still represents the top of the compact car class for families.

Young working male’s view: There are a lot of changes in the audio system of the 2009 Corolla. The optional JBL Audio system’s AM/FM with a six-disc CD changer and MP3/WMA with playback capability work very well. The extra cost satellite radio service is easy to use, and the six speakers are a good start, but nothing to worry the folks about. The new model also has Bluetooth capability. There are redundant controls on the steering wheel available and the heating and air conditioning controls are very easy to use. I really liked the XM NavTraffic feature that enables you to find the fastest route around traffic. I like the Corolla, but expected more visually and under the hood. As it now sits, this Corolla is clearly better than the previous model, but only if they hold the price. It is essentially a small Camry, which isn’t bad. And, you can finally get a touch-screen for the GPS. Can this be the conservative Toyota Corolla? Well, yes, as the rest of the interior is basic in looks and has a few ergonomic concerns such as the mirror adjustment which is located on the dash in back of the steering wheel making it very difficult to use. The stereo buttons don’t offer enough feel and the font on the instruments is a bit small for quick reading. This Corolla is not offensive and still represents a terrific value in resale, inexpensive driving, and usability. Perhaps the biggest plus is that you can live without the spoilers it is nearly invisible to law enforcement.

Young job seeking woman’s view: Interestingly, gas mileage is a tad less than the 2008 model. That in itself isn’t major news, but it does show you how close to the vest Toyota kept this key model in its line-up. Like many Toyota models, the Corolla is getting bigger. It is about150 pounds heaver, wider by two inches, and offers a bit more interior room. With gas costing well over $3 a gallon fuel mileage is important to those shopping for Corollas. As such it appears that the Corolla still does well. We averaged nearly 26 mpg with the larger, 2.4 liter; engine and you can expect at least 30 in town with the 132 horsepower engine.

The XRS model has comes with front and rear spoilers that give it a very different look. I wouldn’t say it was unattractive, but I just asked myself why? Who buys a Corolla to race even with a Camry sized engine under the hood? You can get to 60 mph in a little over eight seconds should you want to surprise Hondas running low on nitrous.

Family conference: Safe sells, and the 2009 Corolla is very likely to hold its own against the much improve Chevrolet Cobalt, reshuffled Ford Focus, and more youthful Honda Civic. Its pricing makes even the very good Suzuki, Kia, and Hyundai hide behind better warranties and sharper handling. The bottom line is utility and value. The new Corolla, as the old, is a safe bet for an under 3000 pound sedan.