2005 Toyota Corolla
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Some people think the Ford Model T—or the old Volkswagen Beetle—holds the "world's top-selling car" title. But the durable, economical Toyota Corolla is the bestseller and continues to be improved for 2005.
More than 27 million Corollas have been sold in 142 countries. The car was introduced in Japan in 1966, and in America two years later. A large number of Corollas have been sold here, where it's been a conservative economy car with a nice ride and a "run-forever" reputation.
The current model is the ninth-generation Corolla. It was given a major change for 2003 to make it more alluring to young drivers in the face of greater competition from South Korean economy cars with more equipment and lower prices.
Hot Rod XRS
The $17,555 XRS is a step up from the sporty $14,825-$15,525 Corolla S, which has such items as a leather-wrapped steering wheel, fog lights and upgraded tires on 15-inch wheels.
However, compared to the GTS engine, the XRS 4-cylinder is more refined and has a broader and stronger midrange torque curve for better response during average driving. For hard charging, the XRS engine has a variable valve timing and lift system that produces a rush of power from a high 6000 rpm to a race-car-style 7800 rpm.
Good Fuel Economy
Other Corollas deliver 30-32 mpg in the city and 38-41 on the highway, with the higher figures obtained with the manual transmission.
The 130-horsepower Corollas come with either a 5-speed manual gearbox or a 4-speed automatic transmission, but the XRS is available only with a 6-speed manual gearbox. It generally shifts well, but must be worked a lot because of the car's small engine, which works with a light but long-throw clutch.
The gears are so close together in the shift gate that it's easy to accidentally slip into sixth gear when you want fourth gear, or into fourth gear when you want second gear—and so on. The XRS thus is a chore to drive in congested stop-and-go traffic.
Like all 2005 front-wheel-drive Corollas, the XRS has only a 1.8-liter engine, which must be shifted a lot in any Corolla with a manual gearbox for the best acceleration. Regular Corollas are best off with the automatic transmission for the most driving comfort.
The high-performance XRS engine revs at a fairly high 3100 rpm at 70 mph in sixth gear, although the engine never sounds strained.
Special XRS Equipment
A power steering rack was specially developed for the XRS to allow better steering feedback, but steering is a little heavy at low speeds.
The XRS also has an under-hood connecting rod damper mounted between the shock absorber towers that improves ride and handling without causing the XRS to feel harsh—a fault of some small high-performance cars.
The XRS has standard anti-lock disc brakes that provide short stopping distances. Handling is especially sharp, and the ride is supple.
Special XRS items include supportive front bucket seats, silver instruments and a leather shift knob. There's also a color-keyed rear spoiler, special badging and an aerodynamic body package with color-keyed front and rear underbody spoilers, rocker panel extensions and rear mud guards for a sportier look.
Newly offered are $655 head-protecting side-curtain airbags, which come with front-seat side airbags.
Roomy and Solid
The trunk has a low, wide opening and offers decent room. Rear seatbacks fold forward nearly flat to allow more cargo room.
However, unlike other Corollas, the XRS doesn't have a split-folding rear seat. That's because a fixed rear seat helps stiffen the body structure to accommodate the car's extra horsepower.
Toyota has done a good job turning the utilitarian Corolla into a higher-performance auto, and conventional Corollas remain above-average in most respects.