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car review

Along with its kissing cousin – the Matrix – Toyota's Corolla sedan accounted for almost 40 per cent of the company's Canadian sales in 2009. By this time, the compact four-door sedan had also been at or near the top of the heap, sales-wise, in the compact car category for two decades. Still is.

And by 2009, more than 33,000,000 Corollas had been sold worldwide since the company started building them in 1966. Toyota's Cambridge, Ont., plant had been pumping them out since 1988, and was second only in manufacturing volume to Japan.

In 2009, the company introduced a new edition of its bestseller, still built in Cambridge, and offered with two engine choices: 1.8- and 2.4-litre four cylinders, with five-speed manual, and four- and five-speed automatic transmission options.

Styled in part in Turin, Italy, this edition of the Corolla received a complete restyling job, but was still unmistakably a Corolla. Instantly recognizable, the new body style was a racier version of its predecessor and Toyota did not go out on any stylistic limbs here. Traditional Corolla buyers were still uppermost in the thoughts of company stylists during the re-do.

Four models were offered: CE, LE, S, and the "high"-performance XRS. The base engine was an all-new 1.8-litre four-banger that developed 132 horsepower, while its larger brother, the 2.4-litre, put out 158 horsepower. This latter engine was taken directly from the Camry, as was the five-speed automatic transmission, with a slight reconfiguration.

The new Corolla was also built utilizing some of the same technologies found in Toyota's Lexus models. For example, the body structure featured 130 welding points, compared to just 40 on the previous version, and the car's torsion rigidity was dramatically superior to its predecessor.

Standard equipment level was high, with telescoping steering, 60/40-split folding rear seat, anti-locking brakes and a full complement of front, side, and side-curtain airbags on all models. Extras include larger 205/55R 16 wheels and tires, fog lamps, satellite-ready audio system, cruise control and steering-wheel-mounted controls.

Surprisingly perhaps, Transport Canada has four safety recalls on file for the 2009 Corolla. One concerns a possibly flawed drivers' side power window master switch that could fail because of inadequate lubrication during assembly. Owners are cautioned not to try to lubricate this switch themselves, as that could result in it overheating, and possibly melting. A specialized grease is required, which dealers will apply. There are also two recalls regarding the infamous floormat/accelerator pedal imbroglio, and another for issues with the PCV valve that could lead to inferior brake performance.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has these four on file as well as 16 technical service bulletins. These range from charcoal canisters within the emissions control system that may take on water, glitches with the charging system, problems with the "feel" of the steering mechanism, trunk lids that won't stay fully open and a variety of electrical gremlins associated with cold weather driving conditions.

Unsurprisingly, Consumer Reports likes this one, giving it top marks in most categories. There are problems with the cooling system, brakes, and paint and trim; otherwise, it's mostly sweetness and light and the magazine gives the 2009 Corolla a "better than average" used car prediction rating. The 2010 edition fares better, receiving a "much better than average" grade. There are few differences between the two years. Some comments from owners: "Would buy another one," "It does everything well, but nothing is outstanding," "Good value for the money" and "Did not expect a Lexus … did not pay for one." C.R. also gives the 2009 a "good bet" designation.

Although market research firm J.D. Power likes the '09 Corolla, it isn't over the moon about it. It gets top marks for body and interior dependability and features dependability, but falls short in terms of style and instrumentation. It receives a "better than most" rating for overall dependability but an "about-average" grade for overall quality.

Corollas have always held their value, so don't expect any bargains with this one. From a base price of $14,500 three years ago, it's still fetching anywhere from $10,000 to the mid-teens on today's used-car market. The top-of-the-range XRS is priced at $5,000 more than a base CE, with the popular LE somewhere in the middle.

Tech specs

2009 Toyota Corolla

Original Base Price: $14,565; Black Book: $12,325-$15,775; Red Book: $8,825-$13,675

Engine: 1.8-litre and 2.4-litre four-cylinder

Horsepower/Torque: 132 hp/128 lb-ft for 1.8; 158 hp/162 lb-ft for 2.4

Transmission: Four- and five-speed automatic and five-speed manual

Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 7.5 city/5.6 highway (1.8-litre with five-speed manual); regular gas

Alternatives: Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Mazda3, Dodge Avenger, Volkswagen Jetta, Nissan Sentra, Kia Spectra

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