Missing the Mark
Page 1: Intro
"Stop bothering your sister."
"Don't eat those Crayons."
"Don't put that in the toilet."
"Because I said so."
At some point, every child asks the monosyllabic word that drives parents crazy and becomes the response to virtually every statement, demand, or question made.
Why. Even as adults, that simple question continues to live on, albeit with more mature subject matter.
"You owe millions in back taxes."
"Your hard drive has been erased."
"It won't work without this pill."
"Toyota builds a Corolla XRS."
There are logical answers to why kids shouldn't eat Crayons and how hard drives get erased. And, considering the availability of sporty compact sedans with increased horsepower and taut suspensions, it is clear why Toyota has decided to offer a Corolla with a shot of testosterone. The mystery is why shoppers would choose the Toyota Corolla XRS over its competition.
New for 2005, this top-of-the-line Corolla features 16-inch alloy wheels, performance tires, a tire pressure monitor, a sport-tuned suspension with a strut tower brace, cruise control mounted to the steering wheel, a body-colored grille, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution, electroluminscent instrumentation, a six-speed manual transmission, a rear spoiler and chrome trim on the shift knob. Special treatment for the 2005 Toyota Corolla XRS is rounded out with a lower body kit and color-keyed exterior trim. Base price for this potent compact sedan is around $18,000, which represents $2,700 more than the less athletic Corolla S model. Oddly, equipment such as power windows, variable intermittent wipers, a split rear seat, and keyless entry are standard on the less expensive Corolla LE, but are either not available or are optional on the XRS.
Regular, run-of-the-mill Toyota Corollas are fine cars that can typically be depended upon mile after mile. Apparently, though, being one of the best-selling cars across the globe is not enough: Toyota wants to add a little flava' to its Corolla. That can be anything from slick exterior mods to a whining supercharger, though prescribed here is more of the former and less of the latter.
Powering the Corolla XRS is a detuned version of the 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine found in the Celica GT-S, with horsepower coming in at 170 and a torque rating of 127. The result is 40 additional horsepower and two more pound-feet of torque versus other Corolla models. Featured on this motor is Toyota's Variable Valve Timing and Lift (VVTL-i), which increases valve lift between 6,000 and 7,800 RPMs. In effect, this technology allows the four-banger to release its full potential within that RPM range. The six-speed manual is the only transmission offered, and is exclusive to the Corolla XRS. The ride around town is uninspiring, but the Corolla XRS is the antithesis of run-of-the-mill on highway ramps and back roads. Keep the revs up in that small window where VVTL-i is effective, and the four-cylinder provides a surprising amount of fun. Nothing comes for free, and the Corolla XRS is no exception. The high compression engine requires premium fuel, and suffers a downgrade in emissions from ULEV to LEV, meaning it's not quite as eco-friendly. Testing revealed an average of 25.5 mpg during a week of mixed driving, a bit lower than EPA figures (26 mpg city/34 mpg highway).
Quick, short throws characterize the six-speed manual transmission, though the slots for fourth and sixth gears are so close that shifting from fifth to sixth requires pushing the shifter a bit to the right. Inexperienced drivers may be frustrated with an inordinate number of missed shifts. Our biggest complaint about the transmission involves the extremely annoying beep that sounds (inside of the car) each time reverse is engaged. The beep is designed to alert drivers that reverse has been chosen rather than first gear, and given the close proximity of these two gears, the warning is necessary.
Page 3: The Ride
With some Celica GT-S genes residing under the hood, the 2005 Toyota Corolla XRS required beefier suspension to flesh out its new image. Front and rear stabilizer bars are standard on all Corollas, but the XRS employs sport-tuned suspension and a slightly lower ride height to minimize body roll. The 16-inch Michelin Pilot Primacy tires do a good job of holding the road, but they're designed for performance, not traction in all weather conditions. In areas frequented by poor weather, all-season tires are a much better choice. Toyota has outfitted the Corolla XRS with a unique steering rack and upgraded steering column to improve response, but the result is steering that feels unsettled in the corners. On the highway, the ride is firm but not jarring and road irregularities are handled well. The Corolla XRS is tall, and is prone to being buffeted by strong wind gusts.
Unlike some of its competitors, the Corolla XRS opts for rear drum brakes rather than better-performing discs. Pedal response is well modulated, and we encountered no noticeable fade during our testing, thanks in part to rear drums that are 69-mm larger on the Corolla XRS. Up front, Toyota has opted to equip the more-capable Corolla XRS with solid front disc brakes rather than the ventilated discs found on other Corollas, models with less horsepower and a less sophisticated suspension. Typically, ventilated discs are used to dissipate heat on vehicles capable of higher speeds and superior handling, so the appearance of solid discs on the peformance-oriented Corolla is baffling. While braking performance drew no complaints, mirroring the competition by placing discs on all four corners would provide improved braking performance and better reflect the sporty nature of the Corolla XRS.
Page 4: Interior
Front occupants are treated to a comfortable ride in the 2005 Toyota Corolla XRS. The well-bolstered seats, upholstered in a durable sport fabric, provide ample back support and keep bodies firmly planted in the turns, though finding a suitable driving position is a challenge. With the seat adjusted for proper distance to the pedals, reaching the steering wheel (which tilts but is not telescoping) becomes difficult. Adjust the seat according to the steering wheel position, and the pedals end up being too close. In the rear, the seat bottom is firm, but the seat back is stiff and flat. Lacking is a folding seat back, center armrest or center pass-through. If the 2005 Toyota Corolla XRS was a serious sporting car, these deletions may make more sense. However, as this remains a compact sedan, some cargo versatility is a reasonable request, and is found on XRS competitors.
Build quality was only average on our test car. The top of dash was loose, as were the plastic pieces surrounding the gauge cluster and parts of the door armrest. Irregular gaps were noticed around the center dash storage pockets and the radio. However, the lower dash and console were sturdy and these components lined up well. Outside, inconsistent gaps were found on both sides of the hood. These complaints are relatively minor, though interior issues do raise some concerns regarding future squeaks and rattles as mileage adds up.
Front doors include small storage pockets, there are a few dash mounted storage slots good for coins or cell phones, and the center armrest storage is deep, though not very large. Four fixed-size cupholders are found inside the cabin. The rear seat lacks any storage, so on long drives or roadtrips, atlases and other necessities will apparently be relegated to the floor or rear seat. This relative lack of storage is offset by the generous spacious trunk.
Page 5: Exterior
Most consumers will likely consider this the most attractive Corolla. At a quick glance, it might be hard to distinguish the Corolla XRS from the less-expensive S model, but the differences are real. With its standard 16-inch alloy wheels, rear spoiler and body-colored grille, a sharp eye will catch this wolf in sheep's clothing. Shared with the Corolla S are front foglights, smoked headlights, side skirts, front and rear air dams and body-colored mirrors and moldings. The overall look suggests fun and sportiness, but stops short of screaming gaudy, which is a good compromise for shoppers torn between a stock Toyota Camry and a Scion tC.
Page 6: Wrap Up
For those sold on the style of the Corolla and the strength of the Toyota brand, the XRS is a bargain at less than $20,000. But, frankly, shoppers owe it to themselves to seriously consider similarly-priced competitive offerings, complete with four-wheel disc brakes, similar horsepower ratings and split rear seats.
Page 7: 2nd Opinion
Slipping a slightly modified Celica GT-S engine under the hood of the capable Corolla sedan might seem like a good idea at first, but this is not one of my favorite powertrains. As in the Celica, the Matrix XRS, and the Pontiac Vibe GT, you have to really rev the engine to access the extra oomph, and the motor objects to the abuse. Plus, the six-speed manual's gates are tight, the clutch a little tricky at launch, and when reverse is engaged it beeps to make sure the driver knows the Corolla XRS is going to back up and not move forward. In these times of record gas prices, a premium fuel requirement is a significant turn-off. A supercharged version of the standard powerplant seems like a much better idea for a performance-tuned Corolla than this solution.
Except for the engine, the rest of the car is pleasing. Handling, brakes, and steering are responsive, if not engaging. Comfort for taller people is elusive due to the lack of seat track travel, but the seats themselves are firm and supportive and there's adequate space in the back for adults. The trunk is also impressively sized. What impresses about the Corolla XRS is the build quality and the materials. From the way the door thunks solidly shut to the appearance of the gauges, the Corolla looks and feels much better than the econocar class average. Plus, it's an easy car to use, with most of the controls placed and labeled logically.
Despite the fundamentally sound design, however, the Toyota Corolla XRS is tough to recommend to someone looking for a fun-to-drive small sedan. Not when the Mazda 3s and Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart are available at about the same price. - Christian J. Wardlaw
Page 8: FAQs
What options are available for the Corolla XRS?
Packages include side and curtain airbags, power sunroof, six-disc CD changer, power windows and a remote keyless entry system.
How does the fuel mileage of the Corolla XRS compare with other Corolla models?
The EPA estimates that Corollas equipped with a five-speed manual transmission will get 32 mpg in the city and 41 mpg on the highway. Those ratings drop to 30 mpg in city and 38 mpg on the highway with the four-speed automatic transmission. Those numbers are significantly higher than the estimated 26/34 (city/highway) ratings for the Corolla XRS.
To what extent have Toyota engineers "detuned" the Celica GT-S engine?
When used in the Celica GT-S, the 1.8-liter motor cranks out 180 horsepower and 130 lb.-ft. of torque. That translates to a loss of ten horsepower and three pound-feet of torque when planted in the Corolla XRS.
Page 9: Notes
Test Vehicle: 2005 Toyota Corolla XRS
Engine Size and Type: 1.8-liter inline four-cylinder
Engine Horsepower: 170 at 7,600 rpm
Engine Torque: 127 at 4,400 rpm
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 26/34 mpg
Observed Fuel Economy: 25.5 mpg
Curb Weight: 2,670 lbs.
Competitors: Chevrolet Cobalt SS Sedan, Ford Focus ZX4 ST, Honda Civic EX, Hyundai Elantra GT Sedan, Mazda3 s, Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart, Nissan Sentra SE-R, Subaru Impreza 2.5 RS, Suzuki Aerio, Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T
Photos courtesy of Erik Hanson and Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A.