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

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