What's New for 2010
After a complete redesign last year, the 2010 Toyota Corolla adds standard stability control but otherwise holds its ground.
There's an obvious reason why the 2010 Toyota Corolla is bound to be one of the country's best-selling vehicles this year: Since its debut more than four decades ago, the Corolla has become synonymous with dependability. That alone, we suspect, is enough for many. But if these shoppers did venture over to their local Hyundai or Mazda or Honda dealers for some test-drives, they'd likely realize that the Corolla is far from the class leader it once was. It's not a bad car by any stretch of the imagination -- it's just that its rivals have gotten better, while Toyota has largely stood pat.
On the bright side, the Corolla provides impressive fuel economy with the volume-selling base 1.8-liter engine, and its ride is more compliant than the typical compact sedan's. Its controls are also intuitive, though most cars these days can claim the same. In other respects, the Corolla ranks anywhere from "unremarkable" (acceleration, seat comfort) to "below average" (handling) to "memorably poor" (the vague and artificial-feeling steering). Even the interior materials aren't anything to write home about -- a departure from Corollas past.
Like some other small sedans, the Corolla offers a more powerful optional engine -- a 2.4-liter four-cylinder borrowed from the Camry that generates 158 horsepower. It's available only in the sport-themed Corolla XRS, which boasts quicker steering, bigger wheels and a front strut tower brace for sharpened handling. Unfortunately, this model also fails to impress. Despite decent grunt from the larger engine, the XRS doesn't provide a particularly exciting driving experience, and its fuel economy is a significant downgrade.
The 2010 Toyota Corolla generally gets the job done. But the Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra and Mazda 3 are similarly priced compact sedans that do it better, and all have similar (or even better) modern reputations for reliability. We'd also give the Mitsubishi Lancer a look, and the Honda Fit is another intriguing alternative, combining superior cargo space with a smaller footprint. In all likelihood, the Corolla will maintain its status as the world's best-selling automotive nameplate -- but not because it's the world's best compact sedan.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2010 Toyota Corolla small economy sedan is available in five trim levels -- base, LE, S, XLE and XRS. Base Corollas come standard with 15-inch steel wheels, air-conditioning, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, power mirrors and an MP3/WMA-capable CD stereo with an auxiliary audio jack. The LE gains power windows and locks, along with body-color exterior mirrors. If you select the Corolla S, the LE's equipment upgrades become extra-cost options, but you get 16-inch steel wheels, underbody spoilers, foglights, sport seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and an extra pair of stereo speakers.
The Corolla XLE also gets the 16-inch wheels and an upgraded stereo while adding accoutrements like a sliding center armrest, wood-grain interior trim, electroluminescent gauges, keyless entry and variable intermittent wipers. The XRS forgoes some of the XLE's standard conveniences, but it boasts a larger engine, 17-inch alloy wheels, sport-tuned suspension and steering, a rear deck spoiler and chrome interior trim. Cruise control is also standard on the XRS; it's optional on other Corollas.
Heated mirrors are optional across the Toyota Corolla line, while the S, XLE and XRS are eligible for a sunroof, an upgraded JBL sound system (with satellite radio and Bluetooth connectivity) and a navigation system with real-time traffic. Leather upholstery is available on the S and XRS only.
Powertrains and Performance
Other than the XRS, all 2010 Toyota Corollas are motivated by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 132 hp and 128 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission driving the front wheels is standard, and a four-speed automatic is optional. The manual returns 26 mpg city/35 mpg highway and 30 mpg combined, according to the EPA, while the automatic squeezes out 27 mpg city. We recorded a 10.1-second 0-60-mph time for the 1.8-liter four-cylinder and automatic, which is about average for this class of engine.
The XRS muscles up with a 2.4-liter engine good for 158 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed manual is standard and a five-speed automatic is optional. We recorded a 0-60 time of 9.1 seconds with this engine connected to the manual. Fuel economy drops significantly, with a 22/30/25 rating for both transmissions.
The Corolla comes standard with antilock brakes, stability control, front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and active front head restraints. Notably, only the XRS has four-wheel disc brakes; other Corollas have rear drums. In government crash testing, the Corolla earned four out of five stars for its protection of occupants in frontal collisions. Side impact testing resulted in a perfect five stars for front occupants and four stars for rear passengers. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the Corolla scored a top rating of "Good" for its performance in frontal-offset and side impact collisions.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2010 Toyota Corolla's cabin is pleasant enough, but it doesn't stand out in any particular way. Unlike previous Corollas, this one has a telescoping steering wheel, which helps longer-legged drivers find a comfortable position. In back, the Corolla offers plenty of space for children and just enough for adults. The control layout is intuitive, as you'd expect in a modern compact sedan. A double glovebox increases storage up front. Materials quality is adequate, but no better than the norm in this class. The trunk measures an average 12.3 cubic feet, but boasts a usefully wide opening.
The Corolla's base 1.8-liter engine should satisfy most shoppers in this segment, delivering sufficient acceleration and very good fuel economy. The four-speed automatic on non-XRS models works adequately well, but rivals are increasingly offering five-speed automatics, particularly on higher trim levels. In any trim, the 2010 Toyota Corolla's softly sprung ride is perfect for commuting, and wind and road noise are nicely quelled, even at highway speeds. Handling is on the soggy side, even in ostensibly sporty XRS trim, a natural consequence of the Corolla's compliant suspension tuning. The electric steering is so vague and numb that you may find yourself making repeated corrections simply to keep the car traveling in a straight line.