2009 Toyota Corolla and Toyota Matrix

Don Sherman

While we weren't watching, the Toyota Corolla became the modern Model T. Since the nameplate was coined in 1966, the Corolla has invaded 142 countries and evolved through nine model changes. More than 30 million have been sold, eclipsing both Ford's T (15 million) and Volkswagen's Beetle (21.5 million).

To celebrate the Corolla's fortieth birthday in the United States, its steadfast compact-class domination, and its second-place standing (after the Camry) in the Toyota lineup, a tenth-generation Corolla and Corolla-based Matrix arrive this spring.

The new duo comprises two body styles, five trim levels, two engines, and three transmissions. While the Corolla sedan continues with front-wheel drive only, the Matrix hatchback offers front- or optional all-wheel drive.

The only significant dimensional changes are two-plus-inch increases in the sedan's width and wheel tracks, which boost hip and shoulder room a bit. Cargo room is down slightly for both cars, while base curb weight is up by 200 or more pounds. Underneath, there are struts suspending the front wheels and a rudimentary torsion beam carrying the rears (except in the Matrix XRS and the four-wheel-drive Matrix S, which ride on a more sophisticated multilink rear suspension). Electrically assisted rack-and-pinion steering and ABS are standard across the board.

The best news is a base 1.8-liter DOHC four-cylinder engine. Teamed with a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic, it delivers 30 mpg (EPA combined) in the Corolla and slightly less in the Matrix. The more muscular 2.4-liter DOHC four-cylinder powering the Corolla XRS and the Matrix S and XRS is a Camry hand-me-down that cranks out 158 hp. It's mated to a five-speed (automatic or manual) with front-wheel drive and a four-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.

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