Nobody asked me, but . . .

Is it possible for a car to get too big for it’s britches?  Case in point: the new for 2009 Toyota Corolla XRS. The 2009 Corolla is the 10th generation of the best selling passenger car in history and the longest-running Toyota car model sold in America.  Note the word car here because the Toyota Land Cruiser has the distinction of being the longest running name plate of all time in America having first touched our Pacific shores in 1958, 10 years before the Corolla.

Five different Corollas are available, ranging from a base 1.8-liter, 4-cylinder model at $15,350 to a sporty 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder XRS at $18,760 (Add $660 to all models for destination charges.).  Competitors include the Hyundai Elantra and Chevrolet Cobalt on the bottom end and the Honda Civic Si and the “s” versions of the Mazda3 at the sporty XRS side of the Corolla equation.

Budget-minded Corolla buyers will find manual windows and door locks on the base model, but Toyota hasn’t scrimped on safety.  All models have standard ABS and six airbags, including front-seat side airbags and side curtain airbags, and stability control is standard on XRS models and optional on all others.  Amenities including a tilt/telescopic steering wheel, air conditioning and remote releases for the fuel door and trunk are standard across the board.

As you’d expect, the sporty upmarket XRS I tested features numerous styling and performance upgrades such as a body kit consisting of front and rear lower spoilers and side skirts, a rear deck spoiler, chrome exhaust tip, 17-inch alloy wheels, front and rear disc brakes, a front strut tower brace to stiffen the chassis, more supportive front seats, and a leather-wrapped shift knob and steering wheel incorporating cruise control and remote audio switches.

Borrowing the 2.4-liter engine that’s standard in the nearly 400-pound heavier Camry CE model for the XRS, provides this model with motor-vation totally unexpected from a Corolla.  It’s not the quick aggressive acceleration of a Mazda3 but rather the smooth, refined and relaxed pull of a . . .  well . . . light-weight Camry.  If you expect something other than a Toyota attitude, look elsewhere.

The same is true of the XRS chassis.  It’s not crisp-edged like that aforementioned Mazda3 but, again, rather Camry-like: a little dull around the edges.  More responsive handling then you’d find in other Corolla models, certainly, but it’s overall character is still traditional Toyota. Additionally, the Corolla XRS’s steering is lacking in feel when the wheel is on-center.

This begs the question: When does more of a good thing become too much?  I like the XRS’s power.  But it comes at a price: It’s nearly 150 pounds heavier than the 1.8-liter Corolla and I’ll bet much of that weight is up front, which adds to the XRS ‘s nose heavy feel.  The XRS gets to 60 miles per hour a half second faster than its 1.8-liter siblings, but is that worth an EPA estimated loss of 5 mpg in city and highway driving to 22 and 30 mpg, respectively?

The XRS tries hard to be sporty but in the end this sportiness is overshadowed by traditional Toyota virtues such as a roomy, functional interior and trunk, exemplary quality inside and out, solid construction, a smooth engine and a ride that is noticeably devoid of noise and vibration, but not harness: the XRS can be a bit jarring over sharp bumps and dips because of its more sporty suspension.

My bottom line?  If you want a compact sedan and like Toyota, spend less money on one of the 1.8-liter Corolla models and consider the higher fuel economy a big bonus.

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