2009 Toyota Corolla XLE review: 2009 Toyota Corolla XLE

This navigation system offers a very full points-of-interest database, but it's not particularly advanced otherwise. It doesn't have text-to-speech or any traffic services. It does offer rich graphics to display upcoming turns. When we deliberately turned off of its route, the system quickly calculated a new route along the direction we had chosen without complaint.

The navigation screen also displays audio information. There is a single-CD slot hidden behind the navigation screen and an auxiliary audio input jack at the bottom of the stack. XM satellite radio is also an option, as is an upgraded stereo system with a six-disc changer. Unfortunately, the premium stereo and the navigation system are mutually exclusive, just like on the Toyota Matrix. On the plus side, if you get the premium stereo, you also get Bluetooth.

Choosing folders from an MP3 CD is easy with this touch-screen interface.

With an MP3 CD loaded, the system makes it easy to choose music, displaying a list of folders. You can also choose to display full ID3 tagging information for any track. Although the system says it plays WMA tracks, as well, it wouldn't play songs we had bought from the Microsoft Zune Marketplace. We assume this is because of Microsoft DRM on the files.

The base audio system in our Corolla consisted of six speakers, tweeters on the A-pillars, and woofers in all the doors. As such, the sound quality wasn't impressive. The system did about equally well in reproducing the highs, mids, and lows, but the sound was generally muted, with poor separation. What we did like about this system was the digital signal processor. It does a good job of letting you pinpoint the sweet spot for the sound in the cabin.

Under the hood
Along with the 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine in our 2009 Toyota Corolla XLE, the higher trim XRS comes with the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine we previously tested in the 2009 Toyota Matrix. The smaller engine puts out 132 horsepower at 6,000rpms and 128 foot-pounds of torque at 4,400rpms, which felt like adequate power to get the Corolla moving. The larger engine gets 26 more horsepower and an extra 34 foot-pounds of torque. We didn't feel a significant power difference between the Corolla and the Matrix, although our Matrix also had all-wheel drive.

The automatic transmission only has four gears, which means you will feel every shift.

Toyota has been at the forefront of developing variable valve timing tech, which optimizes engine efficiency, and the company takes it a step further with this new 1.8-liter engine by incorporating what it calls dual-variable valve timing. The engine controls the timing of the intake and exhaust camshafts through oil pressure, based on the engine's computer, which tries to determine the most efficient level of operation. You won't be the fastest driver on the freeway, but we easily maintained speeds of 70 mph to 80 mph.

Passing at speed can be a bit slow, but mashing the gas pedal results in a quick kickdown of the four-speed transmission. The small number of gears means you will feel the shifts, as the rpms change dramatically. You also feel and hear the road, as the suspension on the Corolla fits its economy car status. We drove the Corolla down one stretch of freeway that went through three types of rough pavement, and felt every change.

Electric power steering keeps the power assist even for the entire rotation of the wheel.

The car also uses electric power steering, a new trick for saving gas that is just coming into vogue among automakers. At low speeds, you can hear the whir of the electric motor as you crank the wheel around. The system operates with ease, adjusting the power ratio depending on the car's speed.

For fuel economy, the 2009 Toyota Corolla gets an EPA-rated 27 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway. The emissions rating hasn't been published for the 2009 Corolla as of this review, although previous year models have only met the minimum LEV II requirement. However, the 2008 Toyota Corolla made it on to the ACEEE's 12 greenest cars list, and there's no reason the 2009 model shouldn't follow suit.

In sum
Our 2009 Toyota Corolla XLE came in with a base price of $19,320. Our major electronics option, the navigation system, came in a package for $1,960. A sunroof added $890, while stability and traction control, a must-have feature, only cost $250. Other sundry options and the destination charge brought the total up to $23,529.

In scoring the Corolla, we had mixed feelings about the cabin gadgets. The navigation system is pretty good, although not particularly cutting edge, but you are forced to choose between that or a better stereo system with Bluetooth. You can't have it all in the Corolla. As for performance, we were impressed by the car's economy and its all-around driveability, but it's not particularly inspiring. The price also gets a little high when optioned up, as with our test car.

What you'll pay

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