Although one might think that the most-important vehicle in the Toyota lineup is the Camry, given that model’s top-of-the-tops appearance on U.S. sales lists for a considerable number of years, arguably the car that is more important is the Corolla. After all, the Corolla is more of a world product than the Camry. Since it was introduced in 1966 (in the U.S. in ’68), there have been more than 30 million Corollas sold. Thus, the importance of this subcompact to Toyota. The 2009 Corolla is the 10th generation. Although there has been considerable attention paid to big vehicles—think the Toyota Tundra or Sequoia—the execution of the Corolla is key for the simple reason that it is a product that is available in the home market, where there is fierce competition between subcompacts. One of the key differentiators is design, so Toyota designers even traveled east, to Turin for four months, to help give the vehicle’s design some more entusiasmo. After all, this is a vehicle that is known for quality, reliability and durability more than for its visual verve. Chief engineer Shinichi Yasui admits that the two areas focused on during development were: “creative style and packaging and improvements in sensitivity and performance.” Put another way, they were looking at exterior design, interior design, and driving performance. When looked at from a global POV, there was actually a greater focus on Europe as regards design (“a style that was youthful and sporty and far more European” than the previous models, which were based on “the traditional and conservative influence of the Japan domestic market”); the interior was influenced by the U.S. market (“roominess, cargo capacity, and functionality were based on the demands of the U.S. market, by far Corolla’s largest”—it should sell on the order of 360,000 units in ’07) and the handling, Europe (“where the driving conditions are the most demanding,” although the “ride comfort” was predicated on U.S. tastes).
Outside, the lines are more taut and pulled back than in the past: there are character lines on either side of the hood that sweep up to the A-pillars, the bottoms of which are moved forward. These lines carry through to the C-pillars which, like the A-pillars, are pulled further back for a sharper angle. The height of the vehicle is reduced by 0.8 in. (to 57.7 in.) compared with the previous model while the width is increased 2.4 in., (to 69.3 in.) to give a sportier stance overall. (The wheelbase is the same as the outgoing model, at 102.4 in., and the length is bumped up 0.4 in., to 178.7 in.) Inside, they’ve increased the passenger room to 92-ft3 (up from 90.3-ft3). They’ve developed new front and rear suspensions for the car. In the front, there is an L-arm type MacPherson strut setup with a stabilizer bar. In the back there is a coil-over-shock arrangement with a torsion beam. There is electric motor power assist for the rack-and-pinion steering system. There are two engines: a new 1.8-liter in-line four that produces 132 hp @ 6,000 rpm and 128 lb-ft of torque @ 4,400 rpm and a 2.4-liter four that provides 158 hp @ 6,000 rpm and 162 lb-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm. The former can be matched to a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic; the latter can have the five-speed manual or a five-speed automatic.
The Other Three Grades.
There are five grades for the Corolla. Or you could count differently and say there are eight, because there are three grades for the Corolla Matrix, the five-door that is more commonly simply referred to as the “Matrix.” It is similar to the Corolla as regards the platform, but there is a key exception that goes beyond the hot(ter) hatch styling, which is an electronic all-wheel-drive system that was first deployed on the 2006 RAV4 SUV. Unlike the RAV4 application, this has no 4WD lock mode. Yes, there is better foul-weather performance, but if the front wheels begin to slip (as in hard start-up acceleration), the torque split can go from 100:0 to 55:45. The target of the Matrix is a single male, 20 to 35 years old. While there is probably something to be said for the 61.5-ft3 cargo area (with rear seats folded) that may be appealing, chances are the AWD or the XLS model with the 2.4-liter and five-speed manual appeals to the less utile urges of drivers.