Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Test Drive: 2009 Toyota Corolla XLE

As the famed Jeremy Clarkson once said, Toyotas are as much of a white good as wallpaper paste, obviously enthusiast Supra/MR2/Land Cruiser/4Runner aside. So this means anything from the Corolla, to the retirement home-destined Avalon. They really are cars for people who care nothing about cars, but that it’s reliable, easy to drive, cheap and has a good radio. And a good radio is what you would need if you cared the slightest bit about cars in order to shield yourself from the hideousness that ensues when driving the new Corolla…or should I say Crapolla?

Because from as far as I’m concerned there’s nothing on the outside to suggest that this car is any way attractive. It’s just ugly. There’s no other way of saying it. The only one that I would live with is the XRS Sport trim, the one that comes with 5-Spoke 17-inch wheels and the subtle body kit. Any other iteration of the Corolla is as attractive as someone’s hairy scrotum.

And things don’t get much better when you step inside. The first thing you will notice about the inside is that the interior is as plain and cheap as the Corolla is ugly on the outside. I’ve seen better plastics and panel gaps on Fisher-Price toys. And it’s as mindless as the person who designed it. Everything is dull and gray and the only thing that changes the norm of grayness is the faux metallic trim bordering the center stack, which upon touch is so cheap that you can probably scrape the paint off of it with your fingernail.

Cheap interior aside, Toyota’s reputation for value must transcend to the standard options list for this Corolla XLE. Not really. Sure you get power windows/locks, a trip computer, traction and stability control, ABS, a plug for your iPod…and that’s about it…but this is 2009…not 1999 so these things are expected. Driver and passenger adjustments are manual. But the seats are awful. They do not provide any support nor comfort.

Driving the Corolla doesn’t impress either (does this surprise you?). Steering is pinky finger-light and so dead that you have to assist the steering wheel to center and you can never tell what direction it’s pointing. It’s worse than a bloody Crown Victoria. The whole driving experience is as numb as your ass would be after spending about 5 minutes in this car. The only things I can speak positively about is the 1.8-Liter four-pot which is the standard engine and the refinement. This is by no means a fast car but the engine is one of the most refined four-pots I’ve ever experienced, something Toyota is fairly known well for. It’s 25/34 city/highway EPA estimates are good and I’ve returned around 31 MPG in mixed driving.

Handling as you’d expect is nonexistent. But with the light aforementioned steering and refined engine and movements this car is more willing to be tossed around than I expected…not that you would want to push this car anywhere beyond 5/10ths driving because understeer is completely unavoidable in the Corolla with its MacPherson front struts and torsion beam rear suspension and completely uncommunicative driving experience. On the highway the Corolla is quiet and smooth but that doesn’t make up for the uncomfortable and unsupportive seats.

Altogether you have an entry level econobox that’s as exciting as wallpaper paste. If you cared the slightest bit about cars, look into a Mazda3 or Volkswagen Rabbit. It’ll be that much better, just trust me! Otherwise the Corolla best serves its purpose for those who just want the cheapest, most reliable form of transportation that money can buy. And leave it to them since they most likely won’t be reading this article.

~Chris Chin

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

NY International Auto Show

A car show for the common man may suggest merely a collection of family sedans, midlife crisis cars and the ever-ubiquitous hot hatch; however, the New York International Auto Show (NYIAS) has more in store for the average visitor. Held at the Jacob Javit's Convention Center in New York City, the show Amidst the recession car manufacturers are shelling out little cash to produce new vehicles; if the price of oil were high, but the economy was in good shape, it would be 2007. This would also mean a plethora of fuel-sipping machines, designed with the average Joe in mind, but here and now in April, 2009, few efficient concepts are offered at the show. Design studies and concepts aren't uncommon at the NYIAS, but innovative production cars are more typically more common.

This year, the innovation seemed to come from Ford in the form of the 2010 Taurus. The car shown at NYIAS is ready for production and is no different from the European equivalent in terms of fit and finish, although it's not the Mondeo. The build quality is greatly improved from Tauruses of old, but this comes at a price, this family sedan starts at $25,000; the base price for the limited-production and high performance SHO variant is $37,000. At this point, it's in the price range of the BMW 1 and 3 series. One might wonder why an American family sedan is a high point of an auto show containing over 1,000 production and concept cars. Very few companies represented at the NYIAS suggested such an overhaul of not only the brand's image, but its future selling points as well.

For the car-forum-trolling, pimply-faced, 15-year-olds, the show satisfied all needs and desires; bright colors and displays dominated the Scion exhibit, plus Lamborghini, Ferrari, Rolls-Royce, Koenigsegg, and Spyker were represented. ShamWow was not represented; however, a knock-off vendor managed to shout at those passing through the merch section of the show. In keeping with the theme of mediocrity, GM offered up a natty Cadillac plug-in design exercise, this machine while shiny, offered up little promise for those interested in “green energy.” GM satisfied those interested in greenwashing; the presenter touted the Volt, a virtually production-ready concept as having 40 miles of 'completely green range.' Needless to say, the power source defines the range's environmental sustainability: someone using nuclear, coal, natural gas or oil is hardly sustainable. The presenter went on to suggest that the gasoline or ethanol-burning engine is environmentally acceptable because it doesn't power the wheels: it runs a generator, which runs an electric motor to power the wheels. This immediately raises questions regarding energy (heat) lost in friction.

As for the crowds and the overall experience; there was little interest in the SUV and light truck exhibits; the 'cars' were much more popular. The facilities were clean and organization was clear although legitimate dining possibilities were scant inside the building. In all, the experience was not a waste of time and certainly it goes without saying that the poor selection of outstanding vehicles reflects the economy. Then again, this asks the question of 'what is outstanding for a new car?' The fact that it's new implies a warranty and technology for the sake of technology and marketing, but that's another subject.

~Sawyer Sutton

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

VW Scirocco

Being a cynic of new cars, especially those from the 'Dub/Audi group, I'm nonetheless astonished at one of their latest offerings: the new Scirocco. Sure, most auto anoraks are quick to point out that "it's only a Golf," but it's really not. It's not "only a Golf" in the same way that the 'new' Beetle isn't. A mkV Rabbit owner wouldn't be caught dead driving round in a cabby version of the Beetle with even the R32 drivetrain.

The Scirocco is a magnificent piece of design, and it has a stunning interior thanks to the Audi connection. Sure it may have horrendous visibility due to the awkward C-pillar, which is similar in proportion to that of an early-mid 90's Civic. It works in the Civic, it doesn't work in the Scirocco, but that doesn't matter.

The car gets a 197-bhp 2-liter as standard, which is reasonable, but considering the heft of new cars, it's not about to blow anyone out of the water. Still, this powerplant will whisk it from 0-60 in 7.2 seconds, manage 146 mi/hr and 37.2 mpg on the European combined cycle. The first engine is typical of most new car offerings: this is the middle of the range engine; there will be a smaller 160-bhp petrol, a 140-bhp diesel, and most likely something slightly south of the R32 powerplant. The diesel will be offered with the new 7-speed DSG gearbox.

So far there's only two trim levels: standard and GT. GT gets you all sorts of crap to break like useless foglights, a touchscreen CD autochanger (who uses CD's anymore? and who wants to get fingerprints all over a screen?), ABS, ESP, 18" rims, buttons on the steering wheel, 6 airbags, a massive moonroof and leather trim.
Having said that, even if you only plop for the diesel, that awesome metallic green color is available, you can buy real foglights if you need them, on top of that, you'll be driving one of the most beautiful cars on the road--and you'll still get 52 miles to the gallon.

~Sawyer Sutton