Toyota Corolla XRS adds a touch of rush

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Toyota Corolla is the world’s best selling car. That may be news to some people. But for the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have owned a Corolla in recent times, that won’t come as a surprise.
They know about the compact car’s build quality, reliability, excellent resale value and good gas mileage. And consequently it should come as no surprise, too, that this year, J.D. Power and Associates named the Corolla the most dependable compact car sold in America.

Although this news did not make front-page headlines it was very predictable because Toyota has stuck to a winning formula of quality and reliability resulting in more than 28 million Corollas sold worldwide since it was introduced in 1966.

Over the years the small Toyota has been sold as a hatchback, coupe, wagon and sedan. In the recent past, the Corolla has come in just the sedan format.

While the Corolla has never broken any new ground in design, it has always displayed a rather conservative yet handsome stance. While Corolla styling has never turned heads, it seems unfathomable that it has ever turned anyone off, either. To say that this is the car equivalent of a kitchen appliance that you can plug in and forget for many years might not be doing it justice. But like a refrigerator, the Corolla offers little excitement, just solid value in refrigerator white or a number of other standard colors.

Toyota has decided to do something about the excitement factor for the 2005 model year, at least in a small but noteworthy way. It has produced a higher performance model for 2005 called the XRS. We won’t call it high performance. We’ll call it somewhat entertaining performance.

It’s been many years since the Corolla came with more than the standard base 4-cylinder engine under the hood. When you buy a Corolla, you get acceptable power with very acceptable gas mileage. For the last few years that standard engine has been a 1.8-liter with 130 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque.

Thanks to Toyota¹s VVTL-i (variable valve timing and lift) technology, the engine gives the Corolla a solid but uninspired feel whether mated to a manual or automatic transmission.

For the XRS model, Toyota has taken that same engine and pushed horsepower to 170 while keeping torque at a rather unfortunate low 127 pound-feet. And they have mated it to a 6-speed manual transmission.

It’s the same setup as found in the two-door Celica GT-S and the Matrix XRS models.
Slog the XRS around town and it will feel almost identical to the base 130-horsepower engine until you put your foot into it and get the rpm rampaging into the 5,000 range to reach peak torque and get the most out of the engine.

We don’t have a problem with that since we are fans of small, high-revving engines. But even at its screaming peak, the XRS will not exactly raise the hackles on the back of the neck much less your blood pressure.

What it will do when rung out and shifted properly, is take the Corolla from 0 to 60 in around 7.5 seconds. You will not have to sacrifice gas mileage with the performance-enhanced engine. It is rated at a money-saving 26 miles per gallon city and 34 highway.
The upgraded engine is combined with a sport-tuned suspension and a half-inch lower ride height for entertaining lunch hours on the back-road twists.

The use of higher-rate coil springs and shocks on all four wheels improves roll and pitch control to keep the sedan planted in the corners. The upgrade also includes what Toyota calls “factory custom” exterior styling.

Translated, that means a color-keyed bezel surrounding the grille, integrated fog lamps and an aerodynamic package with color-keyed front and rear underbody spoilers, rocker panel extensions and rear mudguards.

One downside to the performance upgrade is the loss of the 60/40 fold-down rear seat.
The addition of a rear cross brace to improve handling stability forced the elimination of the fold-down seatbacks.

We think Toyota’s upgrade is modest but generally well done.

What’s not modest is the price Toyota has tacked onto this special edition. The XRS is now the highest-priced Corolla starting at $17,970 including destination charge.

You get the aforementioned performance upgrades for that price and a few extras such as air conditioning, well-done sports seats, 4-wheel ABS with Electronic Brake Distribution and tire pressure monitor, cruise control and a 6-speaker stereo with a single-disc CD player.

What you don’t get if you don’t fork over some more money is power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, 6-disc CD changer and sunroof.

How many top-of-the-line cars in 2005 at any price level come with roll-down windows and without remote keyless entry? These items are a $605 extra and a must, we think, in a car of this caliber.

Also an upgraded stereo with 6-disc changer, something most younger consumers who purchase this car will want, is another $200. If you want a sunroof, that’s another $750 add on. Now we’re talking nearly 20 grand.
A better deal, especially if you can get by with two doors, can be found on the other side of the showroom at most Toyota dealerships.

The all-new Scion tC sports coupe comes with all of the above equipment as standard in a package that retails for $16,435. In fact, the tC gives you 17-inch wheels which are not available on the Toyota, and a MP3 player as part of the stereo package.

And you won’t lose any of the fun with the tC’s very sporting 160-horsepower
4-cylinder engine as it’s every bit as fast and the tC handles as well as the XRS.
It’s a matter of getting the best deal for your hard-earned cash. Either way you are getting Toyota quality, and reliability. With the XRS (or the tC) you get a “little” excitement thrown in for good measure.