2009 Toyota Corolla is a baby Camry
Sunday, August 31, 2008
What's better than America's best-selling car, the Toyota Camry? These days, it just might be a baby Camry.
It's an apt description for the new-generation Toyota Corolla sedan debuting this year.
While smaller and lighter weight than a Camry, the 2009 Corolla comes to showrooms with the exterior styling of a Camry, many of the Camry's amenities, a Camry-like quiet interior and, best of all, fuel mileage that's better than the Camry.
The five-passenger, compact Corolla with base four-cylinder engine has a federal government mileage rating as high as 27 miles per gallon in city driving and 35 mpg on the highway. This puts the Corolla near the top of small cars in fuel mileage and compares with the 21/31-mpg rating for a mid-size 2009 Camry with four-cylinder engine.
Best of all, Corolla's starting price is nearly $3,500 less than a 2009 Camry.
Manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, starts at $15,910 for a base 2009 Corolla with 132-horsepower, 1.8-liter four cylinder and manual transmission. A base Corolla with automatic starts at $16,710.
This compares with the $19,380 starting MSRP, including destination charge, for a base, 2009 Camry with manual transmission.
Corolla's starting price is on par with the pricing of many other small sedans. For example, a main competitor, the Honda Civic, is priced at $15,680 as a 2008 model. The 2009 Ford Focus starts at $15,690.
Coming to dealerships some 40 years after the first Corolla arrived in America, the 2009 Corolla marks the 10th-generation of one of Toyota's best-sellers.
I had to catch myself because I'd often look out at the Corolla in a parking spot and think it was a Camry because the styling is so similar. The old Corolla styling that made it seem like a cheap car is gone.
The new Corolla is just a tad larger than its predecessor in width and height, but its 102.3-inch wheelbase is unchanged. Compared with the Camry, the Corolla is 10.5 inches shorter in length, 2.4 inches narrower and about the same in height. This makes for a maneuverable auto that's easy to park on city streets and in compact parking spaces at the mall.
Yet the new Corolla has better interior space than before, especially in the back seat where a flat floor makes the middle passenger more comfortable. And legroom in the back seat has grown from 35.4 inches to 36.3 inches.
To be sure, three adults sit closely in the Corolla's back seat, but shoulder room is improved for both front- and back-seat riders, and back-seat headroom is only 0.6 inch less than it is in the back seat of a Camry.
Everyone, unfortunately, sits on seat cushions that feel too much like thick, cheap foam.
But the interior fit and finish on the test Corolla XLE was excellent, the optional navigation screen was good-sized, and the fake wood grain trim received lots of compliments from passengers.
All controls were within easy reach in the Corolla, and the large knobs and buttons, while not as dressy as some in the Camry, are imminently functional.
The most memorable aspect of the Corolla was how quiet it was inside. It didn't feel like I was riding in a low-priced compact car because so many of the outside noises were muted.
Among other things, Toyota added a windshield with five layers in it. Some layers are acoustic material just to reduce sound. Likewise, the Corolla carpet on the floor is designed to absorb sound.
The test car had the base, 1.8-liter, double overhead cam four cylinder with variable valve timing. While it delivers just 132 horsepower and 128 foot-pounds of torque at 4,400 rpm, the engine worked adequately and with smooth power via a four-speed automatic to move me and the Corolla confidently in traffic.
The engine can get buzzy when pressed on uphill climbs on mountainous highways, but the overall trade-off of good fuel mileage and mainstream performance is acceptable.
In fact, both four-cylinder engines for the 2009 Corolla are new and provide more power than the four cylinders in the 2008 Corolla.
Specifically, the base, 1.8-liter four now adds 6 horsepower and 6 foot-pounds of torque, while the uplevel, 158-horsepower, 2.4-liter four with 162 foot-pounds of torque is the same engine that's in the base Camry.
Steering has a mainstream feel in the Corolla -- neither sporty nor numb.