Editors' note: Toyota issued a recall for vehicles of this model and year on January 21, 2010 to replace the accelerator pedal mechanism, which has been known to get stuck, causing unintended acceleration. For the latest recall information, please visit the Toyota Web site.
Although second from the bottom of the Toyota model lineup, the 2009 Toyota Corolla inherits tech that goes all the way up to Toyota's high-end Lexus brand. The optional navigation system on the Corolla uses a similar interface to that in the Lexus GS 460. And the Corolla also gets electric power steering, as does the Lexus. Unfortunately, the Corolla doesn't get the standard iPod integration found in the less-expensive Scion xD.
The body styling on the Corolla is unassuming, refusing to stand out like the Scion does. But as a small, four-door sedan, it offers usable cabin space and a reasonably sized trunk. The Corolla comes in four trims: base, LE, XLE, and XRS. Our car was the XLE, and as such, it came with a sprightly 1.8-liter engine. Either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission can be had as standard equipment on the Corolla XLE.
Test the tech: Geocaching Corolla
When we got into the 2009 Toyota Corolla and looked at its navigation system, we noticed that, along with taking street addresses, points of interest, and intersections for destinations, we also had the option of entering GPS coordinates. This feature isn't incredibly useful for a road-bound car, as your friends are more likely to give you a street address when they invite you over. But we couldn't resist the opportunity to take the Corolla out geocaching, a recreational activity where you get the location of a hidden treasure, and find it using GPS.
We found two nearby locations, named Guns over the Gate and Heart of the Mountain, on the Geocaching.com Web site. Before we could put the coordinates into the car's navigation system, we had to convert them from decimal format, as they are listed on the site, to degrees, minutes, and seconds, the only format the car would take. Obviously this navigation system isn't up with the latest trends in GPS.
We were impressed that we could enter both sets of coordinates and have the navigation system calculate a route from our location to both destinations, letting us determine the order that they appeared on our route. And the system was smart enough to place each destination on the actual road, at its nearest point to the actual coordinates. We wouldn't want to explain to Toyota why we tried to drive the Corolla down a mountain side.
The first cache was right across the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Corolla proved capable in the city and on the highway. Its little 1.8-liter engine gave us the acceleration we needed as we zipped around slower traffic. It didn't exactly stroll up the hills, but when we really mashed the gas pedal, the automatic transmission kicked down and the rpms ran readily up to 6,000rpms with an audible growl.
The navigation system directed us to a World War II era gun emplacement overlooking the approach to the San Francisco Bay, where what would have been a spectacular view was obscured by fog. We called this part of the trip a success and continued on our route. The next location was a little further north in Mount Tamalpais State Park. Although the Corolla isn't exactly the most powerful car on the road, we were constantly stuck behind slower traffic, wanting to put the Corolla through its paces. The electric power steering made the car feel easy to throw around corners.
Unfortunately, we were denied our second destination, as the road leading up to it was closed due to excessive fire hazard. Now that's something this navigation system won't warn you about. To keep the navigation system from continuing to tell us to "Turn right here," we tried to shut it off, which was not an intuitive process. Under a hard button marked Menu, there is a touch-screen button that says Suspend Guidance. That button turned off the route guidance, but we had to go into the destination menu and actually delete our destination before we were really done with it.
In the cabin
The interior of the 2009 Toyota Corolla XLE fit its $19,320 base price, with plenty of plastic and cloth, and few amenities. All the windows are power, of course, but only the driver window is automatic, and that's only for rolling it down. There were no controls on the steering wheel, something we would have liked. There was also faux wood trim in our car, which just wasn't necessary. One surprise tech feature was automatic headlights, something we don't expect to find in a car at this price.
The main tech gadget was the navigation unit, which mounted into a double DIN slot in the dashboard. The fact that this factory-installed unit fit so well is good news for those who might want to get the car without navigation, and add their own aftermarket unit. This DVD-based system uses maps with good resolution and we had no trouble figuring out our way around the interface, as we had just seen a similar layout in the Lexus GS 460. Getting the navigation from a $50,000 car in a $20,000 car is a pretty good deal.
Unlike the Dodge Journey, where the navigation interface looks as if it was designed by engineers, there is some graphic finesse in the Corolla's interface. The touch screen makes the system fairly intuitive to use, and even though it is DVD based, we found it refreshed the map graphics quickly enough that we could pick destinations right from the map. We mentioned the multiwaypoint feature above. The feature's only problem is that the system can't automatically order your destinations along the most efficient route.