2010 Toyota Corolla LE
2010 Toyota Corolla LE; photo by Michael Clark. Click image to enlarge

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2010 Toyota Corolla

There are features in the 2010 Toyota Corolla LE that that may surprise you. They’ll be even more of a shock after I tell you that you won’t see them in a $50,000 Highlander Hybrid.

You see, the Corolla LE, at $21,165, features automatic climate control and fog lights; the former being a rarity at this price point. But the $49,790 Highlander Hybrid? Nope. It’s only when you move up to the $55,075 Limited version that these premium features make an appearance.

And while that’s perhaps more a statement about a lack of expected amenities in an expensive vehicle, Toyota hopes new-car buyers will appreciate finding these goodies in a car priced at the lower end of the spectrum. Other less surprising, yet equally impressive items on the LE standard equipment list include vehicle stability control, a cabin air filter, push-button start, a tire-pressure monitoring system, and 16-inch alloy wheels.

The Corolla scores highly when graded on all of the expected metrics: it’s fuel-efficient, comfortable, reliable, and well-equipped. With the exception of comfort, these are all objective categories; ones that don’t require any sort of emotional connection to gain approval.

But pragmatic considerations and emotional appeal need not be mutually exclusive. Take my personal favourite in this class, the Mazda3, for example. A comparably priced Mazda3 GS with automatic transmission rings the register at $20,595. Stability control is optional (part of a $1,595 package that also includes a moonroof); option both the Toyota and Mazda with a moonroof and the prices become $22,680 and $22,190 respectively.

2010 Toyota Corolla LE
2010 Toyota Corolla LE
2010 Toyota Corolla LE
2010 Toyota Corolla LE
2010 Toyota Corolla LE. Click image to enlarge

Push-button start and climate control are not available on the Mazda (step up to the 3 GT to get those goodies). However, the 3 GS does have Bluetooth connectivity, an increasingly important feature in new automobiles at any price point. The Corolla does not, and that $50K Highlander is also lacking in the hands-free connectivity department (this is now a dealer-installed accessory at your neighbourhood Toyota store).

So depending on which features you are looking for, both cars represent an equally compelling value. The difference, though, lies in the driving experience. If you’re looking for something sporty with quick reflexes and more of a connection with the road, the Mazda will suit you better. But if you want a car that feels refined and behaves like a larger, more expensive car going down the road, the Corolla is the one to watch.

Most Corolla models are powered by a 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine producing 132 hp and 128 lb-ft of torque (the XRS model gets the gutsier 2.4-litre). This is an engine that quietly goes about its duties, being neither enthusiastic nor lethargic about making that journey from A to B. It has a smooth, robust torque curve for an engine this size, and is remarkably quiet while making use of it. The four-speed autobox is equally impressive in its execution, if not in its cog count.

Where the car loses ground to its sportier competition is in its lazy steering response. It’s as if the Corolla’s designers went out of their way to filter out any information from the road or immediacy on turn-in. Call me crazy, but I’m pretty sure customers wouldn’t complain about a little more communication through the wheel to make the car a more competent performer.

The car’s interior has a clean design, with a legible white-on-black gauge set and an intuitively organized and attractive centre stack. The only turn-off for me was the abundance of woodgrain trim, which I don’t like as a general rule, but it looks even more forced when installed in an economy car. There’s interior storage a-plenty, with a small covered compartment ahead of the shifter (which at one time was known as an “ash tray”), and small open bins on each side of the centre stack. Two cup holders and a covered centre armrest make good use of the space between the front seats, while generous map pockets with built-in bottle holders (found on front and rear doors) and a two-tier glove box keep wasted space to a minimum.

2010 Toyota Corolla LE
2010 Toyota Corolla LE. Click image to enlarge

The sound quality coming from the car’s six-speaker audio system is strictly average for this class, but it does have an auxiliary audio input jack and is wired for satellite radio. The tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel would benefit from audio controls (available on S and XRS models), but it’s nice to see the same four o’clock positioning of its cruise stalk that is found on virtually every Toyota and Lexus model.

Something I wish Toyota would change is the mouse-fur velour of the seat fabric in the Corolla. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, there weren’t too many alternatives for those who didn’t opt for leather. But today there’s a variety of more appealing fabrics in both appearance and texture.

Toyota has plunked its compact sedan right in the thick of its market segment. The Corolla won’t win over younger buyers or those who enjoy driving a well-balanced and responsive set of wheels. But for those who value refinement and reliability and want to go about their business with little fanfare, it just might be the ticket.

Pricing: 2010 Toyota Corolla LE
  • Base price (CE): $15,460
  • Base price (LE): $21,165
  • Options: None
  • A/C tax: $100
  • Freight: $1,320
  • Price as tested: $22,585
    Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives

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