Toyota Corolla – 2009 First Drive: Dynasties come and go – in sports, business and politics – but there’s a common element among all of them: consistency. Those at No. 1 don’t change things on a whim. Nor do they take risks. Adjustments are reserved for an actual threat. While the runners-up take chances, try to create new trends or attempt some razzle-dazzle to gain ground, the No. 1 practices its own version of watchful waiting.
In the nebulous world of automotive marketing, perception, features and price drive sales. Such is the case with the Toyota Corolla, the best-selling passenger car in history – a title it has held for 10 years. But it isn’t that way because Corolla was always the best, cheapest or most loaded car out there. Perception plays a large part, and in this case that perception is about the “safe” choice. Not necessarily safe in the crash test sense, though that’s a consideration, but safe in that intangible belief that picking Corolla means nothing will go wrong. It’s what a great many people want and need a car to be. Despite that definition shifting from time to time, Toyota has kept pace enough to keep Corolla No. 1.
To keep that streak going with the newest generation 2009 Corolla, Toyota has made several changes. Antilock brakes and six airbags are now standard on all trim levels, and the higher-performance XRS model is returning. The S, unfortunately, remains an offshoot of the base model with no performance enhancements. Also new this year is the availability of a navigation system on the S, XLE and XRS. Those top three trim levels can be equipped with Bluetooth wireless, while every audio system has an auxiliary jack. All good additions to a basically good car, but nothing risky has been added, subtracted or changed. So, No. 1 is still a safe choice.
The Corolla’s origins go back nearly 40 years. The 2009 model is the 10th generation of a car that has outsold all others worldwide: According to Toyota, more than 30 million have been produced.
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The Basics: Model Mix
The 2009 Toyota Corolla comes in five trim levels: Standard, LE, XLE, S and XRS. All but the XRS come with a 1.8-liter, inline four-cylinder engine with 132 horsepower and 128 lb.-ft. of torque, and either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. The XRS comes with a 2.4-liter, inline four-cylinder engine with 158 horsepower and 162 lb.-ft. of torque, and a five-speed transmission in either manual or automatic.
Among the features that come on the Standard are antilock brakes and six airbags– options last year – tilt/telescoping steering wheel, a four-speaker, XM satellite-radio ready audio system, cloth seats with vertical adjustment on the driver’s seat, outside temperature gauge and time delay for the interior light.
For the Standard, Toyota offers options including the All-Weather Guard package – which features rear-seat heater ducts and heated mirrors – cruise control, a six-speaker, six-disc audio system, power windows and door locks, and stability and traction control.
One step up, the LE adds power windows with one-touch down for the driver, shift-activated door locks and power mirrors to the Standard’s regular features.
Buyers of the LE can add 16-inch alloy wheels, the All-Weather Guard package, cruise control, six-disc/six-speaker audio system, stability and traction control, and remote keyless entry.
In addition to the LE’s standard features, the XLE adds 16-inch wheels, sliding armrest on the center console, remote keyless entry, six-speaker audio system, optitron meters – white illumination with red needles – and wood grain trim.
On the options side, the XLE can add the All Weather Guard package, moonroof, stability and traction control, 16-inch alloy wheels, a six-disc/six-speaker audio system or one with eight speakers, navigation system with six-speaker audio, and cruise control.
While the Corolla S seems to sit higher on the model list, it shares the same regular features as the Standard, but the S adds 16-inch wheels, front and rear underbody spoilers, fog lamps, six-speaker audio system, leather steering wheel and front sport seats. But unlike the LE, the S does not come with remote keyless entry, optitron meters or wood grain trim.
Of all the trim levels the S has the longest list of options, including 16-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, moonroof, leather seats and shift knob, a choice among three audio systems – including one with navigation – and three packages. The All Weather Guard package, which includes rear seat heater ducts and heated mirrors; the Power package, which adds power windows with one-touch down for the driver, shift-activated door locks and remote keyless entry; the Sport Package, which includes power door locks and windows, 16-inch alloy wheels, remote keyless entry, cruise control, color-keyed outside door handles, and rear deck and lower rear spoiler.
Standard features on the XRS include 17-inch alloy wheels, rear deck spoiler, strut tower brace, optitron gauges, cruise control, leather shift knob, chrome accents, and stability and traction control.
The XRS’ option list includes the All Weather Guard package, Power package, a choice among three upgraded audio systems including one with navigation, leather seats, and moonroof.
The 2009 Toyota Corolla goes on sale in February, with pricing to be announced in late January/early February.