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Valentine One Radar Detector

Eric
03-31-2008, 12:02 PM
Does success breed complacency - arrogance, even? It seems to be an inevitable link in the chain of an individual's - and an automaker's - fortunes. It happened to GM. And now, it might be happening to Toyota - just as the company stands poised to become the world's largest automaker.

These thoughts ran through my head as I considered the 2009 Corolla. Ten years ago, this car (along with its Honda equivalent, the Civic) was the Blue Chip economy car. It offered what the biz likes to call "benchmark" value for the buck.

What about now?

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

The '09 Corolla offers two engines. Most come with a 1.8 liter DOHC four. It features Toyota's variable valve timing (VVTi) system but only summons 132 hp - on the low side for the segment - or at least, for the Corolla's price point, which starts at $15,250. Mazda's 3, for example, has a 2.0 liter engine rates at 140 hp; its base price is also just $13,895. The $14,470 Suzuki SX4 comes standard with a 2.0 liter engine - and 143 hp. And you can get 152 hp (and 2.0 liters) in the $13,990 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer sedan.

Some might argue these cars are not in "Corolla territory" - but that's bull. They are about the samesize, have about the same interior/trunk space - and fit the economy car profile just as well. And if you want to argue the point, how about the Honda Civic? It offers 140 hp and also starts out less expensive - $15,010 for the DX. (You can buy a two-door Civic, too. The Corolla, meanwhile, is offered in sedan-only form.)

The Corolla's 1.8 liter mill is an underwhelming performer - objectively speaking and in relation to its competition. Especially with the optional 5-speed automatic driving the front wheels. You are looking at mid 9s, zero to 60. Stick versions are snappier, but still in the nines. These days, that's a little gimpy - even for an "economy" car.

On the upside, Toyota has added an optional engine to the lineup - a larger 2.4 liter four that musters a much better 158 hp. That beats the competition - but only if you don't factor in the extra bucks you have to spend to get the power boost. In standard trim, the '09 Corolla's weaker than many cars that are similar to it in just about every meaningful way - with the exception of the Corolla's "rep" for very high quality. But you can only run on those fumes for so long - and Toyota (as any industry watcher ought to know by now) has been having issues with quality - and customer satisfaction - for a couple of years now, at least.

Things are not what they were.

RIDE & HANDLING

My test car had the optional "S" sport-themed appearance (and some functional) upgrades, including 16-inch alloy rims replacing the base car's 15-steelies. The package also includes some "ground effects" bodywork, fog lights, sport buckets seats and a nicer leather-wrapped steering wheel.

Once you get going, the handling's nothing to complain about. The Corolla's not as bouncy as some of the el cheapo special out there and still feels "quality" - solid and well put-together; quiet - smooth. However, it is really hampered by its underpowered engine - especially automatic versions. You find yourself working the car like Jillian and Bob work the tubbies on "Biggest Loser." Not having best-in-class power makes it hard to look at the Corolla as the best economy car your coin can buy.

The manual makes the car a lot more enjoyable - and frankly, pleasant to drive. But the reality is many people looking at a car of this type need/want an automatic. They prefer the convenience and ease of use.

Still, the Corolla's not as stiff as its major traditional competitor - Honda's Civic sedan. "Stiff" may not be the right (well, fair) word. Honda sets up the Civic to be a bit more on the sporty side. So its ride is a bit more firm-feeling. The Corolla's more mainstream - so its ride quality is a bit softer.

Again, however - there are others in this class/price range that are comparable. And less expensive. And stronger, too.

STYLING & UTILITY

Par for the segment. Neither ugly nor - exceptional - on the curb appeal front. The S and XRS versions look pretty aggressive but can't back it up. Better to buy the standard versions and just keep your head down.

The interior is still roomy - however, if you are used to older Corollas you might feel more cramped due to the sharper windshield rake and lower roofline. These changes were done to make the car more sporty looking and thus more appealing to the under 30 crowd. However, many people who bought Corollas in years past may not like the '09 model's more raffish lines.

Gas mileage is very good - mid-high 30s on the highway and mid-high 20s around town. Of course, this kind of good gas mileage is no longer exceptional, either. Several competitors do about as well.

My wife- who owned a '96 Corolla - though the interior of the '09 I had for a week looked low-rent, especially for the price. Perfectly functional (and Toyota now offers GPS as well as some high-zoot audio gear). But for a car that starts out at $15,250 and easily sails up into the $18k range, it only seemed so-so to me, too

QUALITY & SAFETY

On safety, the Corolla still excels. Every trim level comes with side impact and curtain air bags, as well as ABS and active head restraints designed to limit potential injury from whiplash. Some - or even many - of these features are extra cost (or not available at all) on lower priced competitors. The fact that these things are included does help make the Corolla's higher price easier to swallow - at least, if you're a buyer who considers such features "must haves."

In fact, the only safety gadgetry not standard in the Corolla is electronic stability control. It's available, though. (If you buy the higher trim XRS, it is included.)

Some reviewers have derided the base Corolla for having drum rear brakes (only the XRS gets four-wheel-discs). But this is a very debatable point. Drum brakes are durable and inexpensive; no worries about warped (and expensive to replace) disc brake rotors, for example. Drums are virtually indestructible - and last virtually forever (unless you drive like Dale Earnhardt, Jr. you should be able to make them last for 100,000-plus miles). And drum brake shoes are super cheap, too.

Just FYI.

As far as "quality." Well, this used to be the Corolla's (and Toyota's) ace in the hole. It was - and may still be - the reason why nearly half a million people buy a Corolla every year. And it was certainly warranted/deserved.

Or rather - was.

As mentioned earlier, Toyota has been slipping on the quality control front. It had a huge problem with its V-6 engine, for example - which it ignored/denied for long time until the denials were no longer sustainable. The company has been trying to make it right - but still. This is the kind of thing GM used to be infamous for - not Toyota.

Now, it's certainly true that Toyota vehicles continue to enjoy low depreciation rates - based top a great extent on past performance and consumers' high regard for the brand. That is a definite selling point - no doubt.

However, in fairness to other brands (Mazda, Suzuki, Mitsubishi, Hyundai, Kia, etc.) anyone looking at the Corolla should take into account the higher up-front cost of the Corolla. Maybe you are someone who buys a car for keeps - and don't really care about the resale value in five or eight years. In that case, the math might work against the Corolla - "rep" or no rep.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

I was underwhelmed. It's not that the Corolla's a bad car; it's just no longer an exceptional car - especially for the money. It's slower/less fun to drive than many other vehicles you could buy for less coin that are otherwise quite comparable on features/equipment (and thus, value). It is a perfectly pleasant, quiet, solid-feeling small car. But so are many others. Indeed, so is just about everything today. The best kept secret in the auto biz is that no one makes a genuinely crappy car anymore - at least, not in the Western world. Sure, some are weird - or pitiful - looking. But you won't find the kind of about-to-fall-apart/made out of tinfoil feel that was pretty common among bottom-feeder economy cars as recently as the early 1990s.

Cars in the Corolla's price range - mid to high teens - are all damn good. Relative to what you'd get even ten years ago for the equivalent coin, they are magnificent.

So - while the Corolla's still very good, others have caught up. Several have arguably lapped it, frankly.

To give you just one "case in point" -

The Corolla I tested cost almost $19,000. Yet it still had manual roll-up windows. I had to do a double take on that. On a stripped-down $12,000 Kia - ok. Maybe. But c'mon. $18,500 (and change) and no power windows? Seriously?

That says a lot about where Toyota is right now.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Loyalists will probably continue to shop Toyota for the same reasons that GM (and Ford and Chrysler) loyalists continued to buy domestics - even when it had become fairly obvious that brands like Toyota and Honda were offering better cars for less money. It took time to break the bonds of brand loyalty - and probably still will. But Toyota is whistling past the boneyard if it thinks it can maintain its position (and massive sales success) indefinitely based on the legacy of former glory.

The Corolla's still worth a look if you're looking at cars of this type. But you should also look at others before you buy.

It's been years since such a caveat with a Toyota product was needed. And that is no small thing.

END

chiph
03-31-2008, 01:49 PM
The odd feature mix on the Corolla (roll-up windows? Really???) is not the fault of the engineering team, but rather Toyota product management. They somehow feel that a signficant portion of their customers either don't want, or can't afford power windows. But like you said, on a nearly-$19k car, it ought to have them as a standard feature.

I agree with all your points -- especially the suspension settings. Corollas I've driven in the past have been perfectly functional, but do not excite me. It's part of why I like Hondas better -- they're sportier than Toyotas or Hyundai. Hondas often come with better suspensions, too -- double wishbones instead of plain MacPherson strut & control arm.

Chip H.

Disco Man
04-01-2008, 01:32 AM
Just posted this article on the main site with pictures:

http://www.ericpetersautos.com/home/images/stories/automotive/toyota/corolla/09corolla-b.jpg


http://www.ericpetersautos.com/home/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=490&Itemid=10848

swamprat
04-02-2008, 12:12 AM
Toyota Corollas have never been exciting automobiles, but I can't tell the difference between this and any of the later model cars.

The last Corolla I liked was the 1983 model, the last year of RWD. There are virtually none of them around today.

I like the lack of power windows. That's a plus.

The car is still too expensive, however. It should be priced at about $12000, not 15k.

Eric
04-02-2008, 08:13 AM
"
I like the lack of power windows. That's a plus.

The car is still too expensive, however. It should be priced at about $12000, not 15k."

If you got a credit for a "delete option" - ok. That would be cool - and I'm all for it. But I still argue it's pretty shocking to find you don't get standard power windows on a car pushing $19k...