2009 Toyota Corolla XRS – Click above for high-res image gallery The Toyota Corolla hasn't stirred passion since the AE86, so it's forgivable to greet an all-new version with a yawn. The Corolla recipe has been refined to the point of grand success for so long now that changes must be approached carefully. A new version must not upset the car's combination of refinement, value, and durability. To be sure, the 2009 Corolla is likely to continue the model's grade point average full of red circles from Consumer Reports. Objectively, it's tough to top - subjectively, not so much. %Gallery-20668% Photos Copyright ©2008 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc. New duds certainly help. The Corolla has gone from blobby to "baby Camry," and it's one of the handsomest pieces of sheetmetal in Toyota's U.S. lineup. Like the last-gen Corolla S, the 2009 Corolla XRS gets extra body frippery, and the visual appeal of the Corolla XRS rates high. Toyota is still a little flummoxed when it comes to making the track appropriately wide for the bodykit, but it's harder to catch the 2009 model looking uncomfortable in its skin. The red on our test car didn't hurt matters either, and the XRS gets further niced-out with alloy rims, a black mesh-pattern grille, black headlight housings and foglamps for visual distinction. The trunklid spoiler is the only boil we can find on this car. On the spec sheet, the Corolla XRS pleads its case convincingly. There's four-wheel disc brakes, a firmed up suspension, a strut tower brace, and most importantly for the sporty overtures, a bigger engine. The Corolla XRS uses Toyota's 158-horsepower 2.4-liter four cylinder in place of the 1.8-liter, 132-horsepower standard unit. Nearly 500cc of extra displacement chews the fuel economy numbers down to 22/30, each off by 5 mpg from the 1.8L without delivering a gee-whiz increase in performance. The torque is welcome, but we'd trade it in a second for better control feel and a more supple ride. The leather-wrapped wheel and shift knob bode well, but only the shifter offers some mechanical feel. Steering feel is largely absent, though the weighting is good and action linear from the electrically boosted rack and pinion. The clutch friction point is equally smothered, making smooth driving a deliberate practice. Drive by wire strikes again, too, making strange things happen on the tachometer upon clutch engagement. At least the chassis can keep up when you get frisky, though it's only feigning interest and the ride can be a jigglefest on some surfaces. The Corolla XRS is not a pocket rocket in the vein of the Civic Si or Mazda3. If it's not a star athlete, what exactly is the Corolla XRS? A handsome, well-trimmed, economical car. All the safety gear is there; airbags left, right, center, and curtain. Seatbelt pretensioners, active head restraints, and stability control. Leather upholstery is available on the decently bolstered seats, though we tried the cloth. It would be stretching to call the chairs sporty, and …
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