2009 Toyota Corolla XLE

How many cars have had the staying power of the Toyota Corolla? Toyota's subcompact sedan arrived stateside forty years ago. The tenth-generation Corolla that rolls into dealerships this spring continues the tradition of dependability, value and fuel economy that rivals some hybrids. The test car averages 35 miles-per-gallon on the highway.

The XLE is one of five available grades. Power comes from a new 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine and four-speed automatic transmission. Engineers applied variable valve timing to both intake and exhaust cams to maximize fuel economy and engine power.

One hundred thirty two horsepower isn't going to win any races, but it's enough to keep up with traffic, and give the driver an extra margin for evasive maneuvers. The engine reaches peak torque at 4400 rpm: the engine speed during hard acceleration. The sedan merges into high-speed traffic with ease. The Corolla tows up to 1500 pounds: not enough to meet our ALV standards, but adequate for hauling a small trailer.

An available four-speed automatic transmission performs seamlessly in most situations, though it downshifts hard at wide open throttle. A five-speed automatic would have lessened the distance between gears for more fluid performance.

Don’t Fix What Ain’t Broke

While many models grow bigger with each generation, the '09 Corolla maintains the same modest footprint as its predecessor. Wheelbase is just over 102 inches. The new car is slightly longer and significantly wider than the outgoing model. It is also lower, giving it a sportier appearance and reducing the coefficient of drag.

Designers from Toyota collaborated with a studio in Turin, Italy to give the new Corolla a European flair. Wrap-around headlamps in the front and tail lamps in back soften the sedan's corners. Designers moved the front pillar forward to give the profile a more aerodynamic shape.

Sixteen-inch wheels on the XLE are sportier than the fifteen-inch rims on the Standard grade: they also give the car a more stable footprint. I prefer alloy to the steel wheels on the test car. The wheel covers are attractive, but I've seen too many end up in the hands of neighborhood thieves, or take flight when a wheel encounters an especially vicious pothole.

A five-layer windshield contains two sheets of acoustic material to reduce wind noise. As subcompact cars go, the Corolla is remarkably quiet. Having driven on the highway on some windy late spring afternoons, I was impressed by the lack of noise around both the windshield and side mirrors.

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