Friday, March 14, 2008

2009 Toyota Corolla Review

2009 Toyota Corolla

Toyota Canada waited until Christmas to allow auto journalists to publish their driving impressions of the all-new 2009 Corolla, which is set to arrive in dealerships next February.

Built by Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada (TMMC) in Cambridge, Ontario, the Corolla has now reached a significant milestone in Toyota's North American history. The year was 1966 when the Japanese compact made its debut this side of the Pacific. Over the last 20 years or so, more than 2 million Corollas have been manufactured in Canada - half of which were sold domestically.

The Corolla's 10th generation, available in CE, LE, S and XRS trim, gets a completely redesigned bodywork with sportier lines and a lower profile. It comes with a choice of two new 4-cylinder engines: a 1.8L unit (CE, LE and S models) producing 132 horsepower and 128 foot-pounds of torque through a 5-speed manual transmission or a 4-speed automatic, and a 2.4L mill (XRS models) generating 158 horsepower and 162 foot-pounds of torque via a 5-speed manual or automatic gearbox. Both powerplants use a double overhead camshaft (DOHC), 16 valves and a dual variable valve timing system with intelligence (VVT-i).

All models also come standard with a power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering -- a modern and cost-efficient solution that does away with the cumbersome, pump-controlled steering system and hydraulic ducts. This lighter setup also improves fuel economy, as the engine no longer has to drive the hydraulic pump. It's all attached to a tilt/telescopic steering wheel, a fairly rare feature among compact cars. Complete with a height-adjustable driver's seat, the new Corolla makes it easier to find a good driving position. Toyota must be commended in this regard.

On the safety front, ABS brakes with Emergency Brake Assist are standard across the lineup. However, the XRS is the only one to include four-wheel disc brakes; the others have to make do with classic, rear drum brakes. Likewise, Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) is basic stuff with the XRS model yet not even optional with all the other Corollas. Offering this potentially life-saving feature as part of the standard equipment would really make the Corolla a complete car in its class.

Inside, the layout has been carefully executed to offer even more functionality, a modern audio unit with MP3/WMA and satellite radio compatibility, an auxiliary input jack and numerous compartments, including door-integrated storage bins with specially-molded bottle receptacles. At the bottom of these bins is a drain hole to allow spills to flow out of the car. Clever, isn't it?

The dashboard is pleasantly styled and the center stack gracefully flows downward. The overall design is clean, purposeful and attractive. The controls are where you expect them to be; manipulating them is really easy and intuitive. The lone exception might be the engine start button - a trendy, retro-inspired function - which requires some getting used to. Much to my satisfaction, I found out that there were two glove boxes.

The introduction of the 2009 Corolla to Canadian auto journalists was made in October under full secrecy. What I mean is we were only allowed to do a few laps on a closed track next to TMMC. Toyota even forbade us to report our driving impressions... until today.

Let's start with the CE, LE and S models. The 1.8L engine/5-speed manual combo delivers decent performances. The powerplant is quiet and flexible, the shifts are smooth and the braking maneuvers, adequate. In tight cornering, though, the 15-inch tires of the base CE model let you know of their displeasure by grinding and screeching. As expected, the 16-inch tires of the LE and S models, not to mention the 17-inch units of the XRS, offered better road-holding and braking capacities. Speaking of braking, the rear disc brakes of the Corolla XRS are vividly felt through the brake pedal and the resulting decelerations are markedly quicker. Also, I noticed that the models equipped with 15-inch tires were a bit more affected by crosswinds.

Under acceleration, the 2.4L XRS model is obviously the fastest of the bunch, although torque steer is felt through the steering wheel when exiting a corner. Too bad. As for the 1.8L Corollas, they will no doubt be more fuel-efficient, especially with the manual transmission. I must remind you that the autobox includes just four gears with the smaller engine and five with the larger one.

Our brief lapping session revealed a Corolla that stays true to the Toyota tradition. Technical improvements, a more attractive styling and a friendly interior make up the recipe. As always, there's no extravaganza and no major revolution. After all, the idea is to appeal to as many consumers as possible. But as I'm writing this, and looking at the cold winter through my window, I can't help but wonder when will Toyota finally make heated seats available with its best-seller.

Source: auto123

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