2009 Toyota Corolla XLE

Ideal for Urban Traffic

As new cars go, the Corolla is relatively light: 2745 pounds. Its modest curb weight enhances fuel economy and performance. Though the suspension feels soft, the sedan is easy to maneuver through traffic. Engineers added stabilizer bars to the MacPherson front and torsion beam rear suspension to reduce roll in the corners.

A lighter, more rigid rack and pinion assembly has an electric steering pump in place of mechanical components. The electric pump minimizes mass under the hood. Steering effort varies according to speed. There is more steering assistance at low speeds for maneuvering around parking lots:  stiffer setting at high speeds enhances the car's on-center feel.

Front disc and rear drum brakes are standard on all but the performance-driven XRS grade. Though most braking on front-wheel drive cars takes place over the front axle, I don't like drum brakes. They don't stop evenly on wet surfaces, and they're harder to service. Antilock braking is standard on all models.

Versatile Interior

Inside, the Corolla has ample room for four adults. Since the Corolla is a front-wheel drive car, there's no transmission tunnel through the back. Three-across in a subcompact is a stretch, but it's possible for three to sit in the rear bench seats on a short drive.

Front-row passengers have ample leg, hip and shoulder room. The XLE has manual front seat adjustments: the seats have good lower back support. A standard tilt and telescoping steering wheel allows smaller drivers to maintain a safe distance from the front airbag.

The center stack includes the audio and temperature controls, all of which are easy to reach from either seating position. The steering wheel also has redundant audio and telephone controls. There is a 12-volt plug in on the center stack for charging electronic devices, as well as a MP3 plug-in. Cupholders in the floor console are large enough for water bottles. All four doors also have bottle holders molded into the map pockets.

A two-piece glovebox provides extra storage space for maps and other documents. The center console bin has a small upper shelf for storing cell phones and PDAs.

Legroom for second-row passengers is minimal, but adequate for smaller adults. Pop-out cupholders in back of the center console will hold cups or small cans but not bottles.

Spacious Trunk

The Corolla has a surprisingly spacious trunk, that will easily hold several golf bags or the family's luggage. Release levers in the trunk allow the second-row seats to fold flat, extending the cargo floor. The seatbacks don't fold flush with the trunk, making it more difficult to fit a bicycle in. People who travel routinely with their bikes are better served by the Corolla Matrix hatchback.

Standard Safety

All cars come equipped with front, side and side curtain airbags, antilock brakes and daytime running lamps. Vehicle stability control with traction control and a cut-off switch is available as an option.

Pricing for the 2009 Corolla begins at $15,520 for the front-wheel drive Standard grade. Drivers who want to venture off-road can opt for an all-wheel drive model. The Corolla is produced at Toyota's NUMMI assembly plant in Fremont, California.

2009 Toyota Corolla XLE

Likes: An affordable, well-constructed sedan with a versatile interior, good fuel economy and exceptional reliability.

Dislikes: Rear drum brakes. Vehicle stability control is not standard equipment.

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