The Toyota Corolla is the textbook compact sedan, the standard by which others are judged. Corolla is the longest continuous nameplate from a Japanese manufacturer, and more than 30 million Corollas have been sold to date in more than 140 countries. The Corolla is inexpensive to buy and operate yet it doesn't feel like a cheap car. Completely redesigned for the 2009 model year, the Corolla carries over with more safety equipment standard for 2010.
The Corolla is easy to drive, with straightforward controls, minimal distractions, and a comprehensive list of standard safety equipment. It's a hop-in-and-go kind of car, easy to master. And it's comfortable. It feels like a small version of a Camry, more like a small car than an econobox, the big car made small.
The Corolla rates 26/35 mpg City/Highway by the EPA. (There is no hybrid version, that role being served by the Prius.) Corollas have historically proven to be reliable cars and are less expensive to insure.
The 2010 Corolla comes in five distinct models to cover a wide range of buyer needs. The base model has wind-up windows and manual door locks, and hardly anyone buys it. Upgrading to the Corolla LE adds power windows and locks, while the XLE comes with wood-grain trim. The Corolla XRS features a bigger engine, bigger brakes and performance tires for sportier driving dynamics. Leather trim is available on high-level models.
For 2010, Corolla comes standard with Vehicle Stability Control with Traction Control. Electronic stability control systems helps reduce spin-outs and accidents.
The 2010 Toyota Corolla ($15,350) comes standard with fabric upholstery, air conditioning, CD/WMA/MP3/XM radio, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, six-way manual driver seat, 60/40 split folding rear seat, outside temperature gauge, power mirrors, and engine immobilizer. Corolla comes with a five-speed manual gearbox or four-speed automatic transmission ($16,150). Corolla LE ($16,750) comes standard with the automatic and adds power windows, door locks, and color-matched outside mirrors. Corolla, XLE and S models come with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine.
Corolla S ($16,420) has color-matched spoilers, fog lamps, black headlight housings, leather-trimmed steering wheel, and sport front seats.
Corolla XLE ($17,650) upgrades with 16-inch steel wheels and covers, wood-grain trim, Optitron instruments, variable intermittent wipers, sliding lid center console, keyless entry, seatback pockets, premium audio. The XLE comes standard with the automatic transmission.
Corolla XRS ($18,860) features a more powerful 2.4-liter dohc four-cylinder engine with either five-speed manual or five-speed automatic ($20,050). The XRS also has 17-inch tires on alloy wheels, trunk spoiler, rear disc brakes, strut tower brace, Optitron gauges, cruise, leather shifter and steering wheel, and chrome interior accents.
Safety features that come standard on all Corolla models include six airbags: dual frontal, front side-impact (for torso protection), and side-curtain airbags (for head protection). Antilock Brakes (ABS) are standard, as is Toyota's Vehicle Stability Control with Traction Control.
The Toyota Corolla is an attractive car though not one that will attract a lot of attention. Overall, the styling is conservative. Fit and finish are at a high level for such an inexpensive car.
The current Corolla is bigger than pre-2009 models. With just a quick glance you might confuse it with a Camry because size is main distinguishing feature between the two. The light housings are similar, driven by styling heritage and modern safety standards. In any case, it's immediately recognizable as a Toyota, and from behind as a Corolla.
Corolla S and XRS receive different lower nose and tail sections, the area around the fog lamps bearing a distant similarity to the Lexus IS, and trunk spoilers. It's a look that works better on the Corolla XRS by virtue of its larger wheels. It also works best on darker colors because the added panels appear more integrated.
The Corolla is slightly longer than the Honda Civic. The Nissan Sentra is noticeably taller and bigger. The Nissan Versa, Honda Fit, and Toyota Yaris are subcompacts, which are smaller than compact-class cars such as the Corolla.
The Corolla has a comfortable, pleasant interior. Materials and patterns are understated. The standard cloth upholstery appears two-tone at first between bolsters and cushions, but it's just an illusion caused by the texturing. The wood-grain trim on the XLE adds visual warmth not often seen in compacts and helps break up color monotony.
Leather upholstery is available on the sport seats in the S and XRS models, though apparently leather is not offered on the XLE. Wood grain trim is available on some models, but the faux wood reflects glare more than the standard trim does.
A dash is conventional, framing speedometer and tachometer with fuel and ancillary data. Corolla XLE and XRS employ electroluminescent Optitron gauges popularized by Lexus for utmost clarity. Controls used often are on the tilt/telescoping steering column stalks, with others on dash and center stack. Basic three-ring climate controls bring the desired temperature and you can add a high-capacity heater with rear-seat ducts.
A navigation system is available, but with two caveats: First, you cannot get the top-of-the-line JBL sound system in conjunction with it. Second, it lacks voice recognition and Bluetooth. Still, Toyota's navigation system is easy to learn to use and it works very well.
The front seats are comfortable, and getting in and out of them is easy. The sport seats in the XRS use heavier bolsters for more support when cornering, though they are not well suited to people with large frames.
The rear seat is apropos for the class. The floor is flat except for a small incline to the back of the console. The split folding rear seats puts the narrow section behind the driver so you can carry long objects and still put two riders behind the passenger.
Outward visibility from the driver's seat is quite good, the narrow pillars paying dividends in lane-change over-the-shoulder glances. A low dashboard and windshield base enhances forward visibility, though the driver can's see exactly where the front of the car ends.
Storage spaces are well thought-out, even to details like a cord slot so your personal electronics connection doesn't get pinched. A sliding-top console comes on upper level models that's appreciated on long drives.
A remote release opens the trunk lid, which springs from the top of the bumper and bisects the taillights for a wide loading space. Cargo space of 12.3 cubic feet is about average and isn't hindered by black boxes and big speakers hanging down under the back window. A temporary-use spare is under the floor.
The 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that comes standard on the Corolla generates 132 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. It's EPA-rated at 26/35 mpg City/Highway with the manual transmission and 26/34 mpg with the automatic. The 1.8-liter engine uses dohc and Dual Variable Valve Timing with Intelligence (VVT-i) to optimize valve timing for the best blend of power, economy and emissions. It uses a timing chain rather than a belt, which usually saves on service costs.
The 2.4-liter engine that comes on the XRS makes 158 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque. It has EPA-rated fuel economy figures of 22/30 mpg City/Highway with either transmission. It also benefits from dual VVT-i technology. The 2.4-liter XRS engine isn't significantly smoother or quieter than the 1.8-liter, it just seems that way since you don't rev it as much. There's no point in pushing the 2.4 to its redline as it won't go any faster and never gets a whole lot of sparkle to it; it just goes. All models run fine on regular unleaded gasoline.
Contributing to the acceleration performance of the XRS is shorter gearing in both transmissions. Only in highway cruising with the automatic do you gain anything back, as the extra gear in the XRS model's five-speed automatic contributes to quieter cruising. Regardless of the transmission, the XRS does not like to take off quickly on a rippled surface, and the manual doesn't like being rushed into first gear. The manual shifter is good, not as slick and precise as the Honda Civic but far ahead of the Chevrolet Aveo's rubbery arrangement. Although the Corolla XRS five-speed automatic has sequential shifting on the console lever, it would benefit from wheel-mounted paddles like those on the Honda Fit Sport.
The standard Corolla rides more smoothly than the Corolla XRS does. As wheel diameter increases and tire aspect ratio decreases (causing the tire sidewalls to become shorter) so does handling crispness improve and the potential for ride comfort degrade. The Corolla has a taut ride while maintaining decent comfort, but you won't want anything firmer than the XRS and its 17-inch tires; with a simple torsion beam rear suspension and firm springs it comes back down fairly hard after a bump. If you live in a state known for poor roads, we recommend a test drive on some of them before committing to the XRS.
Antilock brakes (ABS) are standard, and the XRS upgrades from the standard drum brakes to rear discs. The pedal offers good feel and more retarding the harder you push, without any sponginess; only when the ABS is active do you feel any pulsation in the pedal, and that's normal so keep your foot down.
The Corolla has electric power steering, which matches effort to speed but does not telegraph information from tire to steering wheel as well as some drivers might prefer. In low-speed driving, where you expect the wheel to return to straight ahead on its own as it unwinds out of the turn, you will be doing more of the work.
While the Corolla may not match the class-leading Mazda3 for dynamics or crisp response, it is a solid structure that exhibits no squeaks or complaints, even after being aired out over a particularly nasty railroad crossing. Much of this can be attributed to its stiff body shell, which also offers good crash resistance.
The Toyota Corolla is a practical sedan that by way of its myriad configurations can be used for virtually any application. It keeps up with urban traffic, offers good maneuverability, delivers decent fuel economy, and makes a strong argument in any non-emotional automotive purchase.
G.R. Whale filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com.