2009 Toyota Corolla XRS

Well-rounded at the right price

2009 Toyota Corolla XRS
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For 2009, Toyota has taken its venerable Corolla economy car, dropped in a hotter engine, added a sport tuned suspension, larger wheels and tires, and some aggressive bodywork; transforming the vehicular “appliance” into an economy sports sedan. And they made it difficult not to like.

FAST FACTS

1. The XRS is powered by the Camry’s 2.4-liter 4-cyl engine with 158hp and 162 ft-lbs of torque.

2. 2. While power options aren’t standard, the sporty looking and powerful XRS model starts at just $20,050.

3. Fuel economy is still quite reasonable (thanks in part to a five-speed automatic) at 22/30 mpg (city/highway).

4. Upgrades over the standard Corolla include the larger engine, 17-inch wheels, a front strut tower bar, front and rear stabilizer bars and a body kit.

Oddly enough, I’d read a brief review some weeks ago in one of the glossy car magazines, that wasn’t overly impressed with the XRS, so I was prepared to be critical. But as is usually the case with the buff magazines, their writers seem to feel that if a car doesn’t measure up to a BMW 3-Series, it isn’t worthy of praise. And make no mistake; the Corolla XRS won’t be mistaken for a 3-Series. However, at less than half the price of the German luxury car, it isn’t meant to compete. But when compared to other cars in its category and price range, Like the Nissan Sentra 2.0SL, or Hyundai Elantra, it fares quite well, thank you.

PERFORMANCE: 158 HORSEPOWER AND 162 FT-LBS OF TORQUE

Toyota replaces the standard 1.8-liter Corolla engine, which puts out a modest 132 horsepower and 128 ft.-lbs. of torque, with the 2.4-liter powerplant lifted from the base Camry, which offers 158 ponies and 162 ft.-lbs. of torque. While that motor won’t impress performance drivers in the much heavier Camry, it provides plenty of giddy-up when sitting in the engine bay of the 2,965-pound Corolla package. Add the Toyota 5-seed automatic, with manual shifting option, and you’ll see zero to 60 times in less than 8 seconds, which is much quicker than the competition.

While the transmission shifts smoothly in everyday driving, it does have a tendency to hunt for the right gear when driving spiritedly on twisty country roads. But that’s when you put it into the manumatic mode, and shift it yourself to keep it in the proper gear for maximum power, and fun.

As far as the suspension is concerned, the SRX adds a sports strut tower brace to the standard independent MacPherson strut setup up front, and torsion beam rear suspension with stabilizer bars at both ends. Vehicle Stability Control and Traction Control are standard for safety in all driving conditions. 17-inch wheels with 215/45/17 tires provide good grip and feel when pushing the XRS around corners, and the car feels stable and well planted. Adding to the nimble response of the car is the electronic power assisted rack and pinion steering. Body roll is moderate, and better than the Elantra’s and at least equal to the Sentra’s. The car sometimes feels a bit harsh over broken pavement, but nothing to complain about. In general the ride quality is comfortable.

The ABS brakes work well, and the XRS model adds disc brakes in the rear, rather than the standard Corolla’s rear drum brakes.

INTERIOR: OPTIONAL LEATHER

The test car had the $1,495 Leather Package, which included heated leather seats, and “molded leather door trim and leather covered console.” The seats were quite comfortable and supportive, but one would be hard pressed to know that the door trim and console were made of anything except textured plastic. In fact, the entire interior and dash had a plastic look and feel to it, that wasn’t quite up to the Nissan Sentra’s appeal. But all the controls in the dash and center stack were right where they should be and quite well laid out and easy to use. In fact, it was nice to get back into an economy car from some of the more expensive cars that I’ve been testing lately, because it reminded me of how a simple, basic control layout can be so much superior to the overly fussy or downright difficult to use controls in luxury cars.

I don’t want to get off on a rant here, but three simple, easy to see and operate round dials for air flow location, fan speed and temperature control can’t be matched. The same goes for the radio controls with six large buttons for pre-sets, and round knobs for volume, tuning, and speaker controls. A convenient slot for CDs and a well-lit LED screen for the information is all anyone needs. But in so many of the more expensive luxury cars nowadays, you feel like you need to take a college course to operate those basic controls.

In many cars equipped with Nav systems, you have to work the heating and radio controls through the touch screen, which means you’ve got to find and select different menus for the heat or radio, so you wind up needing to press on that screen five times before you can increase the fan speed or change the airflow to the dash vents instead of the floor vents. And don’t even get me started with BMW’s I-Drive system! Listen up, OEM’s . . . just keep it simple! Ah, I feel better now.

Rear seat passengers can be comfortable on ling trips, especially if the front passenger seat isn’t pushed all the way back. But like all cars in this category, two is company and three is a crowd, unless they’re all children. Headroom is good. The trunk is fairly large and the rear seats fold forward to add carrying capacity.

SPORTY XRS AERODYNAMICS

The XRS I had was finished in arrest-me red, and was quite striking. Front and rear underbody spoilers (with integrated fog lamps in front) and side rocker panel moldings are striking without being over-done. And a small rear deck lid spoiler adds some flare as well. Together, the bodywork transforms the Corolla from a car that gets lost in the parking lot, to one that attracts without screaming, “Hey look at me.”

AMENITIES AND FEATURES

There are a whole host of niceties and safety features in this car, despite the relatively low price. Front and side air bags with roll sensing curtain air bags, steering wheel audio controls, cruise control, a multi-information on-board computer, MP3 player ready, power windows, shift-activated door locks, a tilt/telescope steering wheel, dual power outlets, alloy wheels, halogen headlights, low tire pressure warning and more.

The lid of the center console slides forward to make it a more useful armrest when driving. Like on the Prius, there is a dual glove box – top portion for papers and lower portion for storing larger items.

THE VERDICT

This is a dandy little stylish sport-sedan that gets 22mpg city and 30mpg highway, despite having more grunt than most of the competition, and costs about the same as comparably equipped cars. The base price of $20,050 is very reasonable, and adding the leather seats, heated mirrors, upgraded stereo system, power windows, locks, keyless entry, etc. only brought the total price up to $23,440 including delivery charges. The Toyota Corolla XRS does everything well at an affordable price.

PLUS

Good gas mileage Sporty good looks Sprightly performance and handling

MINUS

Transmission has a tendency to hunt for the right gear Dash and door trim materials a little weak

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2009 Toyota Corolla – Basic Transportation Done Right

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  • casemaker

    I was happy with my 2009 XRS until the paint started peeling off the wheels. With less than 20,000 Km that shouldn’t happen. The Toyota dealer advised the warranty had expired but they would be happy to quote on a new set.