2009 Toyota Corolla XRS

I won’t lie – a Toyota Corolla with an automatic transmission hardly tops my dream car list. Having spent some time with it, though, I’d hasten to add that for the pragmatic buyer, the car still belongs near the top of the compact car heap.

The XRS has a genuinely premium, if not quite sporty, appearance. The seventeen-inch aluminum wheels and body extensions dress up the plain-Jane Corolla quite well. Factor in its considerable size, and you have a compact car that looks like it belongs in the premium mid-size segment.

That impression doesn’t fade when you climb inside, where one finds nice leather seating and features galore. The $24,135 sticker on this tester is a bit shocking at first, but isn’t any more than one would pay for a similarly equipped Mazda 3 or Volkswagen Jetta, though both of those cars offer more interior style.

The Corolla also drives reasonably well. The biggest surprise is the steering, which actually provides decent feedback. Much, much better than the last Camry I drove. The 2.4-liter four-cylinder provides ample, smooth power, and the 5-speed automatic responds quickly to jabs at the throttle.

Keep in mind, this isn’t a Honda Civic Si or Mazdaspeed 3 competitor. In terms of base price, power, and disposition, the XRS lines up better with a Civic EX-L or Mazda 3 Grand Touring. Even then, the Corolla falls a bit short on personality. But for the compact car buyer in need of comfortable, upscale-feeling transportation, the Corolla certainly deserves a look.

David Zenlea, Assistant Editor

Over the past three decades, the Toyota Corolla has become synonymous with basic, dependable transportation. Contrary to the chrome wheels, racy body cladding, and leather seating, this XRS model is just that – basic. The I-4 is adequately powerful and the five-speed automatic is smooth, but there’s hardly a single feature on this test example that isn’t offered (or bested) by a competitor.

That may prove problematic, as the compact car segment grows increasingly competitive here in North America. Honda’s Civic has the Corolla out-classed in terms of both ride and interior quality, to say nothing of the mature Volkswagen Jetta and Mazda 3. Even Ford’s Focus – which drives better than the Corolla – manages to entice buyers with the gadgets included with the Sync package, and the improved European model is expected to arrive in the next year or so.

For those looking for a compact Camry, the Corolla is the car of choice, but for those looking for some additional content or charm, there are plenty of competitors that offer both.

Evan McCausland, Web Producer

The best thing about this car is its incredibly good high-beam headlights; they are every bit as good as a BMW’s. I also note the very good stereo, the quick-acting heated seats, and the well-crafted cabin. The Corolla is roomy and comfortable, and it’s a reasonably tied-down car and even offers more steering feel than we’ve seen in many Toyotas. It’s a refined, comfortable, simple car that’s easy to own and to drive. Anyone looking for excitement in their compact-car purchase, though, will want to check out the Honda Civic and the Mazda 3.

Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor

I echo the sentiments of my colleagues — this Corolla is hardly a car that will warm the cockles of an enthusiast’s heart. And really, it’s not that easy to make a case for it on value, either. At the same time we had this Corolla in our fleet, we also had a Mazda 6 that stickered for only $800 more. That car offered more room and a more upscale feel than the Corolla, and it only averages 1 mpg less in both the city and on the highway. One thing the Mazda 6 doesn’t have, of course, is the Toyota nameplate, which to many buyers is a synonym for reliability and build quality. And for those who are looking for those attributes, the Corolla is a reasonable car. It doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a well put-together compact car that will appeal to the masses.

Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor

The Corolla XRS is a perfectly decent automobile, but it does absolutely nothing for me emotionally. It’s a trite statement anymore, but this is the perfect appliance for people who simply want affordable, reliable, mundane transportation. The red paint and XRS trim help spice up the looks a bit, but not enough for me to want to drive a Corolla on a daily basis. The interior quality seems pretty good, although the materials aren’t as appealing as what you’d find in a Honda Civic, among many others.

Still, for people who aspire to own a shiny new Toyota Prius or Lexus RX400h someday, the Corolla would be a splendid choice. However, those folks would probably argue that the best Corolla to buy wouldn’t be this 2.4-liter four-cylinder-powered XRS but rather any of the other Corolla models, which come with a 1.8-liter four that boasts a 5-mpg-combined fuel-economy advantage versus the larger engine.

Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor

2009 Toyota Corolla XRS

Base price (with destination): $20,770
Price as tested: $24,135

Standard Equipment:
Front airbags
Front and rear side curtain airbags
Air conditioner
Auxiliary audio input
Tilt and telescoping steering wheel
Cruise control

Options on this vehicle:
6-disc changer – $200
All-weather guard package – $150
-Rear seat heat duct
-Heated sideview mirrors
Leather package – $1490
-Leather seats
-Leather covered center console
-Heated front seats
Power package – $635
-Power windows with auto-down driver window
Remote keyless entry – $890

Key options not on vehicle:
Power moonroof – $1380

Fuel economy:
22 / 30 / 25 mpg

Size: 2.4L four-cylinder hybrid
Horsepower: 158 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 162 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm


5-speed automatic transmission

Weight: 2965 lbs

17 in. aluminum alloy wheels
215/45R-17 all season tires

Competitors: Honda Civic, Chevrolet Cobalt, Ford Focus, Mazda3, Nissan Altima, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte


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Buying Guide
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2009 Toyota Corolla

2009 Toyota Corolla

MSRP $15,350 Base (Manual) Sedan


27 City / 35 Hwy

Safety (IIHS):

Best Pick

Horse Power:

132 @ 6000