It’s no secret that in the past few months Toyota has been getting racked over the coals because of recalls. They’ve been dragged down, beaten and flogged by every automotive forum and publication for quality issues. People seem to forget that by and large, Toyota still builds fantastic automobiles. Yes, they’ve stumbled but in doing so they’re revamping their efforts and slowly regaining the public’s positive opinion back. On Saturday I completed the 2010 One Lap of America in my 1968 Dodge Charger and to say it was a difficult event would be an understatement. I drove 4500 miles in 9 days in a 42 year old car and by the end I was beat. Since the Charger was being shipped out west and I needed to get east, I had two options. One was to fly, the other was to rent a car. Since I had luggage, tools and racing gear the car seemed to be the logical choice so it was off to the Hertz dealer I went.
When I arrived at the counter I asked for something that was compact, good on gas, but big enough to accommodate my 6’4″ 240 lb. frame and full luggage. The attendant explained there was a Nissan Cube, Nissan Altima and a brand new 2010 Toyota Corolla LE. Part of me feels bad for Toyota and all the negative press they’ve been getting so when the time came to choose a car I went for the 2010 Corolla LE. I had high hopes that this would be a good little car and one that I would be happy to drive for the 728 miles home from South Bend, IN to Queens, NY. Now as most of you know I am not an economy car type of guy so driving a little 4-cylinder Toyota is really out of the norm for me. With my right foot filled with positive thoughts I grabbed the keys and headed off to the parking lot.
At first glance the 2010 Toyota Corolla is quite handsome for a little economy car. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say it’s sporty, but from a purely visceral standpoint, it’s an attractive little guy. As mentioned, I had luggage, tools and quite a bit of racing gear with me so I was concerned about trunk size. Opening the trunk quelled my worries as the Corolla actually has quite a bit of space for a car of this size – 13.2 feet to be exact. The Corolla also comes standard with a 60/40 folding pass through rear seat, something that thankfully, I did not have to use.
Once packed I jumped in and headed for the first fuel station I could find. My first impressions of the Carolla’s interior were actually quite good. The seating position was good for someone my size with more than enough adjustment options available. Keep in mind that this is an economy car so we’re not finding leather seating or luxury accommodations here. What I did find though was a very welcoming cabin complete with everything you need and nothing you don’t. The dash greets you with a speedometer, tachometer, fuel and temperature gauge that are clearly visible and easy to read. The center dash console houses a CD/MP3 stereo system that is satellite ready and incorporates an input jack for your iPod. It also sounds great… I had AC/DC cranking and the sound that came out of this base unit was more than adequate. Underneath you’ll find very basic climate controls and a clock. The climate controls are simple, easy to use and work great. There are also two power ports as well, one in the dash and one in the center console.
Interior room was good for the two occupants in front, but would be cramped for those with anything over a 32″ inseam in the rear. Sure there was some plastic on the doors and dash, but they used it wisely making the overall interior package quite inviting. I settled in and turned the key only to be met with that “Oh shit it’s already running” grind from the starter. You see I was so burnt out from my trip that I’d totally forgotten I’d started it. This little car was quiet and I mean really quiet. In fact climbing into the Corolla after a 4500 mile trip in a 42 year old muscle car was like automotive nirvana for me. There was no wind noise, no exhaust rumble and no drama. Just a wonderful little car that didn’t want to bother me.
I headed to the fuel station, filled up the 13 gallon tank and hit the open road. My trip was to consist of about 650 miles of open interstate and 50+ miles of NY traffic (which I loath by the way). Once on the interstate it does unfortunately become apparent that you are in fact driving a compact. Power from the 1.8-liter 4-cylinder with 132 hp was sufficient, but was in no way breathtaking. I cruised between 80-90 mph without any complaints from the Corolla’s little mill. Driving inputs are predictable with no real drama to speak of. Keep in mind that I was also pushing this little guy. 85 mph resulted in about 3500 rpms from the 4-banger and not only did it not complain, but it was able to return a very respectable 30 miles to the gallon at that speed. Currently the Corolla comes with either a 5-speed manual or a 4-speed automatic. My car was equipped with an automatic that shifted flawlessly.
Handling wise the Corolla is competent with very predictable road manners and handles like I expected. The suspension was a bit mushy and soft, but again this was a Corolla not a Ferrari. I have to say though that I was not a fan of the brakes. With standard front discs and rear drums the car stopped “ok”, but in my opinion it had WAY to much pedal travel. I’ve driven other Toyota models and for some reason they all seem to suffer from this same ailment. Another item that I must mention is that the car felt very floaty at speed. Now I know some of you are going to simply tell me to slow down, but the fact of the matter is that if you find yourself on the interstate you WILL be traveling at 75-80 mph, it’s just the way it is. At these speeds the little Corolla exhibited a tenancy to wonder around too much for my liking. This could have been do to road surface, tire pressure and or wind conditions. Regardless though it threw up a red flag for me.
It took me about 10 hours to get home and in that time I came away with a few conclusions about the 2010 Toyota Corolla LE. First off let me say that this is a good little car that will provide any owner with years of reliable transport. Sure it has some faults, but overall it seems to possess great built quality and a nice list of standard options. It’s comfortable, has enough interior room for 4 adults and a trunk that is more than capable of getting you out of town if the moment arises. As equipped the Corolla LE will rid you of just over $17,500. Not a bad price, but honestly I felt that I was driving a $14,000-$16,000 car, not something that was just shy of the $20k mark. If you do a lot of intercity and suburban driving then I would definitely give the 2010 Toyota Corolla LE the Ridelust.com seal of approval. If however interstate travel is your game, then I think I would look elsewhere and try to find something a bit better suited for the long distance game.