For 2005, the Toyota Corolla receives minor changes: better side-impact safety, electronic throttle control, a rear centre head restraint, and some restyling of the front fascia and taillights.

The big news is the new-for-2005 Corolla XRS, a tuner-car steroid version that takes the 1.8-litre four-cylinder found on other Corollas but pumps it up by 40 horsepower. It’s mated exclusively to a close-coupled, six-speed manual transmission taken from the Celica GT-S, and features 16-inch Michelin performance summer tires, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, narrow but supportive sport seats, a skirt package, a power sunroof, sport-tuned suspension, and for some reason known only to Toyota engineers, an incredibly annoying and exclusive-to-XRS warning system that beeps inside (but not outside) the vehicle whenever it’s put into reverse. The company trusts us with all that go-fast performance stuff, but doesn’t think we know when we’re backing up?

The perennially-popular Corolla comes in CE, Sport and LE trim. The base CE includes 15-inch steel wheels, CD player with four speakers, cloth seats, 60/40 split rear bench seat, tilt wheel, floor mats, power mirrors, and intermittent wipers.

The Sport adds air conditioning, six speakers, “sport fabric” seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, 15-inch alloy wheels, power locks with keyless entry, and fog lamps.

The LE adds premium cloth seats, power windows, Optitron electronic gauges, woodgrain trim, shifter-actuated automatic door locks, and cruise control.

The XRS also includes a leather-wrapped shifter knob, metallic dash accents, and XRS-embossed scuff plates; its back seat does not fold down, but the trunk is large and the low liftover makes it easy to access.

The compact sedan marketplace is a tough one, with many admirable contenders; the Corolla has to face the Honda Civic, Chevrolet Cobalt, Mazda3, Ford Focus and Nissan Sentra, among others. The Honda gives it the best run for the money, in quality and driving capability, but its base price tag is $585 higher; the Mazda3 offers better styling and more horsepower and is $680 more in base configuration. Still, the price differences are narrow enough that it’ll probably come down to personal preference.

The Corolla is built in Cambridge, Ontario.

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