2009 Toyota Corolla XRS
2009 Toyota Corolla XRS. Click image to enlarge

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2009 Toyota Corolla

North Vancouver, British Columbia – After a year and a half hiatus, the redesigned Toyota Corolla XRS returns with a number of significant changes, including a significant drop in price, a larger 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine (replacing the previous 1.8-litre engine), a new five-speed manual transmission (replacing the six-speed manual), and for the first time, an optional (five-speed) automatic transmission.

As well, the new XRS offers a wider, roomier cabin with new standard side and curtain airbags, active front head restraints, and split folding rear seatbacks; beefier 17-inch tires (replacing 16-inch); larger disc brakes with ABS, EBD and Brake Assist; electric steering with variable power assist; and new standard stability and traction control.

2009 Toyota Corolla XRS
2009 Toyota Corolla XRS. Click image to enlarge

You can distinguish the XRS from other Corollas by its wider 17-inch tires and alloy wheels, chin spoiler, black mesh grille with prominent XRS badge, darker headlight surrounds, front fog lights, side sills, rear skirt, and trunk spoiler.

But though the XRS remains the performance model in the Corolla line-up, the ’09 model is no longer the racy, high-strung, rev-happy, shift-intensive sporty sedan the 2006 XRS was. Drivers won’t have to work quite as hard to ring the performance out of the new XRS – and for most drivers, that’s probably a good thing.

Driving impressions

While the 2009 Corolla CE, S and LE models have a new 132-horsepower 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine, the XRS features a 158-horsepower 2.4-litre DOHC 16-valve VVT-i four-cylinder powerplant mated to a five-speed manual tranny, and for the first time, a new optional five-speed automatic transmission with sequential manual shifting capability.

2009 Toyota Corolla XRS
2009 Toyota Corolla XRS. Click image to enlarge

The previous generation 2006 Corolla XRS had a 1.8-litre VVT-i engine that developed 170 hp at a very high 7,600 r.p.m. and 127 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 r.p.m. While the new XRS develops less horsepower, it offers significantly more torque at lower engine revs (162 lb-ft at 4,000 r.p.m.). What this means for ’09 XRS drivers is improved throttle responsiveness at lower revs, more comfortable cruising, and less gear changing. The move to the larger 2.4-litre engine brings the XRS in line with other cars in its class, such as the Nissan Sentra SE-R, Mazda3 GT, Chevrolet Cobalt Sport, and Pontiac G5 GT. Only the Honda Civic Si sedan continues to use a small, high-revving 2.0-litre VTEC engine.

The fact that the new XRS has been “urbanized” to appeal to a wider customer base is not necessarily a bad thing: racy, high revving engines without much torque really aren’t compatible with today’s driving conditions – there’s not a lot of opportunity to wind the engine up to 7,000 r.p.m. on the way to Safeway without attracting unwanted attention. And the availability of a new five-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode is likely to increase the XRS’ appeal to city dwellers.

Still, there are a number of areas where the 2009 Corolla XRS has improved its performance over the previous version: notably handling and stability. With a significantly wider track and lower body height, and new standard 17-inch low profile radials, the ’09 Corolla XRS corners flatter and feels better planted on the road. The ride is still stiffer than regular Corollas though, particularly over uneven surfaces. Ride comfort might have been improved if the Corolla XRS had the same independent rear suspension as the Matrix XRS, but for unknown reasons, Toyota chose to stick with the standard torsion beam rear suspension for the Corolla.

2009 Toyota Corolla XRS
2009 Toyota Corolla XRS. Click image to enlarge

Electronic stability control and traction control, previously unavailable, are now standard equipment on the XRS, increasing the safety margin should the drive wheels begin to slip or the car begin to slide out of control. As before, XRS models include standard four-wheel disc brakes with ABS while other Corollas have rear drum brakes.

With its heavier curb weight and larger engine, you’d expect the ’09 XRS’ fuel consumption to be worse, and it is – but not by much. Official NRC 2009 fuel consumption figures (L/100 km) are 9.5/6.7 City/Hwy, while the 2006 XRS offered 9.2/6.4 City/Hwy. After a week of driving the ’09 XRS, I averaged 8.3 L/100 km (34 mpg Imperial), surprisingly close to its official combined rating of 8.1 L/100 km. Still, the 2009 Corolla with the 1.8-litre engine beats them all with just 7.5/5.6 City/Hwy.

The standard five-speed manual transmission is easy to row back and forth and clutch pedal effort is light. However, I found clutch engagement a bit sensitive, resulting in some driveline lurching when changing from first to second gear. As I mentioned, the 2.4-litre engine’s extra torque means you don’t have to shift down as often when throttle response is needed, but I did find myself missing that extra sixth gear on the freeway – I saw about 2,800 r.p.m. on the rev counter at 100 km/h, although the engine is still quite smooth and quiet at that speed.

The Corolla’s new body is very strong and rattle-free – XRS models have an exclusive lateral cross brace between the front strut towers to add stiffness – but I found the suspension’s shock absorber damping stiff over pavement breaks and potholes. The upside is that the Corolla XRS corners very flat and has high cornering limits, making it more fun to drive.

2009 Toyota Corolla XRS
2009 Toyota Corolla XRS
2009 Toyota Corolla XRS
2009 Toyota Corolla XRS
2009 Toyota Corolla XRS
2009 Toyota Corolla XRS
2009 Toyota Corolla XRS. Click image to enlarge

My car was fitted with Goodyear Ultragrip 215/45R-17 all-season radials which performed well in the damp weather typical of Spring on the west coast. The XRS’ new electric rack and pinion steering with variable power assist provided low-effort steering when parking, but I found the car’s turning circle of 11.3 metres (37.1 ft.) wide for a small car.

Interior impressions

After getting in to the driver’s seat, there is an immediate impression of more space created by a cabin that is now 50 mm wider. The black plastic and silver trim on the dash has a look of quality and sophistication, as do the cloth front seats which have generous side bolsters to keep the driver in place when cornering and a unique honeycomb contrasting pattern in the seat inserts. The driver’s seat has a manual height adjuster and there’s a new tilt and telescoping steering wheel: combined, they give drivers of all sizes a variety of seating positions to choose from.

Rear passengers up to about 5 ft. 10 in. (178 cm) in height will find adequate headroom and legroom, and generous rear footroom is provided under the raised front seat cushions. As well, the rear floor is now flat. The wider cabin makes three rear passengers abreast more comfortable, although not by much. My only complaint is that there isn’t a rear centre armrest.

Behind the attractive leather-wrapped, three-spoke steering wheel are large, backlit “Optitron” gauges which are clearly visible and in the centre stack are sensibly large buttons and dials for the radio/CD/MP3 player and heater/air conditioner – they’re easy to reach and dead simple to operate. The stereo includes audio controls on the steering wheel and six speakers.

Noteworthy interior features include a new auxiliary jack below the heater; a 12-volt power outlet behind the cover in front of the shift lever, and another one inside the storage box between the front seats; an overhead console storage bin; small storage pockets on the sides of the centre console; driver’s coinholder; upper and lower gloveboxes, and bottle holders in the doors.

For safety, there are dual-stage front airbags, side airbags in the front seats, and side curtain airbags for both rows of passengers; five height adjustable head restraints with the front ones designed to tilt forward in a rear-end collision to help prevent neck injuries. As well, there are three-point seat belts in all positions, with front seatbelt pre-tensioners and force limiters and adjustable front pillar shoulder belt anchors; rear door child locks, and rear tether and anchor points for child seats.

The driver has good visibility to the rear despite the rear spoiler and centre rear head restraint, which is smaller so that it doesn’t impede visibility.

Though the new XRS’ trunk is slightly smaller than the previous model’s (12.3 vs 13.6 cu. ft.), it’s fully lined and includes a plastic jug container on the right side, and access to the interior through the folding rear seatbacks.

Features designed for Canadians

As the Corolla is built in Cambridge, Ontario, and is one of Canada’s best-selling cars, there was an opportunity for Toyota engineers to incorporate some features designed specifically for Canadians. For example, the spacing between the accelerator and the centre console wall, and accelerator and brake pedal is sufficient to accommodate the average Canadian male’s winter boots; the door pockets are designed to fit hand-held ice scrapers; the storage pockets are designed for the larger mobile phones and PDA devices favoured by North Americans; and the cupholders will fit cups from Tim Hortons.


Though less racy than the previous Corolla XRS, the new 2009 model is easier to drive, includes more standard safety and comfort features, and is priced about $2,800 less. And the cupholders are designed for Tim Horton’s coffee cups!

Pricing: 2009 Toyota Corolla XRS

Base price: $21,655

Options: None
A/C tax: $100
Freight: $1,140
Price as tested: $22,895
Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives

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