First Drive: 2009 Toyota Corolla LE (37.9 MPG)

by Rick Harrell on May 20, 2008

Toyota Corolla Gas Mileage Review

Real World Review: 2009 Toyota Corolla LE
+ Super Efficient
+ Expected Reliability
+ Handling

– Keeps Getting Bigger Every Re-design (how many times do I have to write this)?
– Low-quality interior feel
– Painful Seating Position in lower-end models

Introduction: The 10th Generation, 2009 Corolla is already out, and it was ripe for the picking. It’s rare anymore to find a variety of FE-friendly vehicles on the lot, so it was selected. I wonder how it’s changed since its redesign?

For Toyota, the Corolla has been the solid poster child of efficiency and simplicity for decades, and all over the world. It sells and sells. As expected this year, it gained some weight – 200 lbs. The base 1.8L now has dual variable valve timing and likely some tweaks to make it more of a fuel sipper. At a glance, the Cd seems to have improved.

If you want more power, a 2.4L engine sourced from the Camry is available. Furthermore, leather, Sat-Nav, and a nifty stereo system can be added. The model tested was the “Rental’s Choice” LE, thankfully without the gaudy fake wood trim.

One note before we get started – you can tell Toyota is slipping on quality. The Interior is one place to easily note this. Secondly, a faulty fuel gauge indicated ¾ tank instead of full on pickup. I immediately went to the pump only to squeeze 0.8 gallons into the tank. Later I noticed the gauge at full, after driving a while. Not good.

This could all be stricken from the record after you see the gas mileage…

On the Outside: I think this is where they spent the most money on the redesign. The exterior has a sporty new looks and a younger feel. The 15” wheels shown are standard. Otherwise, the slab-sided sedan looks run-of-the-mill.

The rear shot seems to be the most attractive, with inset reflectors and a stylish lamp wraparound. The test vehicle was “Blue-Streak Metallic”, which was a striking color and spiced up the overall look and impression. Heated mirrors were equipped with this trim level.

On the Inside: Well, a bit of a disappointment. In this area, it appears as if the Korean makes could be overtaking interior quality. Fit and finish is clunky, and would it kill them to put some padding on the armrest! There’s nothing like driving down the highway resting your elbow on a cinder block. Don’t get me started on the “Park Bench” driver’s seat. You get the picture…

Optional Equipment Shown

Controls were placed within an easy reach, and the instrumentation average. The A/C was frigid and finally, the vents were redesigned to not blow cold air into your eyeball. But the center stack looks like it was taken out of the Kia/Hyundai Spectra/Elantra. Storage bins, nooks, crannies, and a double-door glove box make it practical.

One complaint: the clock was part of a “select-one” instrument cluster menu (and who knows how to set it)? I just used my cell phone or the GPS. Speaking of which, the SG had to be discluded from MPG and speed tests since the speedo was about 5% off. For the first time, though, the speedometer was spot-on with the GPS.

More on the instrument cluster – the display at the left cycled through: Instant FE, average FE, Time of Day, Timer, and Outside Temp. The tripometer had 2 memory positions.

The trunk is good for the car’s size, with a wide opening. Rear seat passengers have little room and a dual cupholder. If the driver is short, you might squeeze 4 people in there. It’s rated for 5 – I call dibs on the window.

Safety: Side-curtain airbags are standard on all models, which will likely earn it a top safety pick. The driver’s bag is deployed based on the weight of the driver. 4-wheel ABS is also standard. Optional are traction/stability controls.

Efficiency: The FE is definitely an improvement over the last model, which says a lot. The outbound leg was calculated at 43.1 MPG. This could be artifact based on the overfill, so the average from the car’s readout and the pump will be taken for both legs. The total averaged FE was 37.9 MPG! This could very well be the most efficient, non-hybrid tested.

The Drive:: Standard compact car fare here. Handling is superb, but the ride is a bit unsettling. Chassis rigidity is up, but there’s a shudder over bumps – similar to a convertible, but less pronounced. The feel is rather “large-car”, with soft responses to dips and undulations. The car is still tossable in the corners. I would recommend some additional tweaking for a more solid feel.

For the Energy Conscious: A manual transmission is available in the “S” and Base models with the 1.8 engine. The S adds sporty touches like ground effects and smoked headlamps and foglamps, and 16-inch wheels. This also opens the door for leather and satellite navigation. The base model is likely the best option with smaller wheels and less overall weight of options.

Consider the size of vehicle you need. This car may fit the bill for young families looking for an efficient, compact sedan. Others out there: Mazda 3, Civic, Kia/Hyundai Spectra/Elantra, Lancer, Sentra.

Raw Data — Specs:
Model: 2009 Toyota Corolla
Trim: LE
Class Size: Compact Sedan
Transmission: 4-speed automatic with lock-up torque converter
Engine: 1.8L DOHC, 16-Valve, I-4 with dual, intelligent variable valve timing
Rating: 132 hp at 6000 RPM and 128 lb-ft torque at 2400
Performance: 0-60 in 9.1 seconds; Skidpad – 0.83g; Slalom – 63.3 MPH
Drivetrain: FWD
Seating Capacity: 5 (very snug) at 2+3 or 4 more comfortably at 2+2
RPM @ 60 MPH: 2400
Price as Tested: $16,750 USD (May, 2008)
ECU Target Coolant Temp: 190F
Curb Weight: 3523 lbs.
EPA: 27/35
EPA Average Fuel Cost per Year: TBD
Emissions: ULEV-II

Raw Data — Stats:
EcoModder Tested Mileage: 37.9 MPG
Speed Avg: 63 MPH
Time of Operation: 2.6 hours
Distance Driven: 446 Miles
Ambient Outside Temp: 60-80F
Cruise Speed: 70-75 MPH
Test Loop: Kansas City – Des Moines – Kansas City
A/C Usage: ~10% of time
Wind/Weather: Outbound – humid, sunny, slight tailwind; Inbound: Party Cloudy, 15 MPH Headwinds gusting to 20
Driving Style: Average

If you liked this post, sign up for out RSS Feed for automatic updates.

Popularity: 9% [?]


1 Nerys May 21, 2008 at 6:07 pm

Nice only complaint is classifying it as super efficient. It does not even fall in the median for say anything on the eurasian continent (many cars with over 40mpg)

I would call it “moderately” efficient not super efficient by any stretch 🙂 37.9mpg is just not that good 🙂

2 Rick Harrell May 24, 2008 at 1:52 pm

Excellent point, Nerys. Truthfully, “super efficient” is relative to my testing. Over the last 8 years of renting vehicles an average of 1 vehicle every 2 weeks, this one achieved the highest FE for any vehicle other than the Prius.

The car was driven like the “average Joe” to see what can be expected: A/C used. Drove 70-75 MPH on the highway. Brisk acceleration in town. Tires at stock pressures. All adds up to a impressive total, Stateside.

We do still have a long way to go for your definition — and I hope it’s not too far off.

3 Josh July 10, 2008 at 6:25 am

I purchased one of these and am currently getting 41 mpg in a stop and go commute… mostly from taking my time.

My biggest complaint is the manually adjustable seats don’t allow for an adjustment of the lower lumbar support… when I contacted Toyota, they told me that they were sorry and they thanked me for choosing Toyota. My family has purchased Toyota’s for 25 years now (2 – 84 camry’s, 86 camry, 91 camry, 98 camry, 2003 camry, 2005 highlander, 2006 prius and now my 09 corolla), and I felt that this was not a good response on their part.

I may choose to modify the seat myself or take it to a specialist, but other than that I’m happy with the car.

4 jim young July 13, 2008 at 5:53 pm

I purchased my 09 corolla because of the trouble I had with my avao. I currently have three thousand on it and can say that it gets better MPG than the avo with a bigger car. I am spot on with my gps and took family to Graceland, we got 44.7 mpg, and when driving around stop and go we get 37. for this size car that is about as good as it gets. I do have one problem, I filled it up from dead empty and the gas guage only went to a quarter, slowly over eight miles it went up to full, I shut it on and off and it snapped back to full after it had went slowly up. I dont know if this will be a problem in the future. If it is I hope it goes under war.

5 Charlie Longstaff July 14, 2008 at 3:20 pm

Gas guage is slow after fill up on Toyota Camrys as far back as 91″ that I know of.
Honda Accord as far back as 94″, it’s just the way it is or have we just had a bunch of bad ones?
They eventually make it to FULL!
As far as the seats go have you ever tried the Civic?
Not good!

6 Andrew August 17, 2008 at 10:18 pm

I absolutely love my ’09 Corolla S. I am nearly 5,XXX miles into my ownership. Currently I drive a 66 mile a day commute with a touch of city and a dash of highway. I seem to stick around 36-38 MPG no matter how the car is driven. I have hypered’ it to a combined AVG of 40 MPG, but I find that the effort is simply not worth the minimal cost savings. I can’t wait for a K&N filter to come out! Any tips or tricks for better MPG? Feel free to e-mail.

7 RH77 August 18, 2008 at 5:32 pm


Check out the links at the top of the blog for links to the EcoModder website — you’ll find discussion and tips to improve your everyday fuel economy.

Best FE to ya…

8 steve November 24, 2008 at 8:42 pm

my 09 corolla S has 3000 miles on it and I’m only getting 29mpg…. And the K&N air filter made it worse, dropped to 26!!!!! WTF is going on?

9 steve December 27, 2008 at 10:26 am

09 toyota corolla.. why does toyota corola webiste say 35mpg.. How fast are you guys going to get 38 or is it underrated?

10 RH77 December 29, 2008 at 2:31 pm

Hi Steve:
Most of my reviews are based on speed averages in the 60 mph-range, over 300+ miles (long Interstate runs). As a result, many figures may seem inflated due to the “highway mileage effect”. Take a look at the raw data stats and comments to get a feel for the route.

I am re-testing vehicles using a city-heavy circuits, to get a better handle on what you might expect. If you’re doing mostly highway driving, you could expect the number reported. If not, they would very likely be somewhat lower.


11 Tony January 8, 2009 at 7:21 am

This is my observation on the mpg of my corolla LE 09. When I just bought it, I was getting around 41 mpg on the highway driving 65-70 miles per hour and I believe it has synthetic oil on the engine. When I had an oil change, and the dealer put regular oil, I was getting only 38-39 on the highway driving 65-70 miles per hour. Thus, I concluded it is best to use synthetic oil for the new Toyota Corolla 09.

12 joseph salazar January 15, 2009 at 8:17 am

I drive about 3500 miles a month. Bought my ’09 corolla S in Apr’08. I have 25K on it and love to drive it hard. Cornering, punching it out off the block, braking at the last minute, oh, and my favorite… Back road foothill driving. Cornering and swerve and turn and bank and lean. Oh it the best car I could have wanted. I test drove a lot of cars before I chose this one. Fusion, altima, 6, yaris, alantra, satern… You want to talk about bad seats. Satern was the worst.
MPG wise, I average 32 over my whole ownership. With my job I have to log each mile but if I drive nice and a little under the speed limit. I can get this bad girl to sip down 34 mpg in the city and 44 on highway. If I draft a truck, 53mpg on a 140 mile trip. LoL iLOVE THIS RIDE!!!

13 Lee March 27, 2009 at 11:51 pm

I’ve had a 2009 Toyota Carolla LE since November, 2008. I love the car!!! It has 8000 miles on it. In maneuvering the bumper to bumper winter traffic of suburban Boston, I am getting, according to the FE gauge, an aggregate of 31.7 mpg (60-40 highway/city). I expect that in the warmer weather with better traffic flow to improve on that.

14 HowDoYouSetTheClock September 7, 2009 at 5:52 pm

2009 Corolla … Avis Rental …. Out and back to Mall of America… 300 miles each way… 38mpg @ 65mph avg… Ride is good… Handling is a little twitchy on bumps or uneven pavement… Kudos to Toyota engineering. Now, How Do You Set the Clock on the Speedo? It’s been 45min off for the whole week – Sheesh!

15 Kim October 10, 2009 at 7:08 am

Test drove many vehicles before purchasing 2009 Toyota Corolla S!! Comfy ride!! I,m at 5300 miles. City driving I’m getting 34 mpg! I got 38 on highway trip doing 80mph. I haven’t driven it through the winter–anyone drive a winter yet?

16 Jon December 5, 2009 at 4:15 pm

My wife and I got in an accident on Thanksgiving day and now we have to get a new car with the money. I have been looking at the 09 and 10 Corolla and also the 09 civic. Any suggestions? My main want is FE that and not being squished into a tight space. I am 6’3 and 280 so I am a big guy. What should I get?

17 Elliott March 11, 2011 at 7:56 am

The Raw Data info says the vehicle was tested at 2.6 hours with an average of 63 MPH. I’m trying to figure out how you got a Distance Driven total of 446 miles. That’s over 170 MPH.

18 Benjamin Jones March 11, 2011 at 8:46 pm

Obviously, you’ve found a typo. I am not the original author, so I can’t say if the typo is in the distance or the time, but one of the two of them is off. Given that this article is quite old, I doubt the original notes are still around, so unfortunately we probably won’t be able to correct this typo.

Comments on this entry are closed.