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2005 Toyota Corolla XRS test drive

An entertaining sportster -- all it needs is a lower price

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating
User Rating 5 Star Rating (1 Review)

By

2005 Toyota Corolla XRS

2005 Toyota Corolla XRS

© Toyota Motor Corporation
This writer's daughter was driving a Toyota Crown back in 1968 when the Toyota Corolla replaced it in the U.S. market. The Crown, like some other Japanese cars, seemed to last forever--or at least until the body rusted off it. The Corolla promised even more. It promised the body would stay in one piece for years. The wife bought one soon after. It lasted and lasted. Prices: US $17,455 base; as tested, $19,853.94. Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles.

First Glance

Here's a bit of trivia older drivers might answer incorrectly: Which car model has sold the most in history? Model A? Nope. Model T? Nope. VW Beetle? Nope. Toyota Corolla? Bingo. Worldwide, the Corolla is the top seller of all time. It was first introduced into Japan in 1966 and came to the U.S. in 1968. Within five years, it was the second best-selling car in the country. And this was a time when Detroit Iron was mostly big, V-8-powered icons with names like Chevelle SS, Road Runner and GTO. But with a gas crisis in 1972 and insurance rates on muscle cars rising, many Americans were ready for a smaller, much less costly to operate car. The Corolla filled the bill as Detroit stumbled to downsize cars that choked on newly mandated pollution controls. Today, the Corolla is in its ninth generation and for 2005 the Corolla XRS is the hot news. With its lowered stance and a wing on the rear deck, this one isn't as invisible as other Corollas. It promises to deliver more driving excitement--and thanks to a retuned 1.8-liter four-cylinder borrowed from a Celica GT-S, it does exactly that. Yet it also returns 26 mpg in town and 34 mpg on the highway (using premium gasoline), sells for under $20,000 and seats four.

In the Driver's Seat

2005 Corolla XRS:

2005 Corolla XRS: The interior of Bob's test car was plagued by annoying vibrations

© Toyota Motor Corporation
As with many models from Japan, the Corolla has grown over the years. If you remember, not long ago the Toyota Camry was a compact car. Then Toyota increased its size and it became a mid-size car. The Corolla was a subcompact. When the Camry moved to mid-size, the Corolla grew to become a compact car. That's the case today. It's not too small, not too big. Compact it is. Enter the four-door sedan and notice how high you sit in the manually adjustable driver's seat. There's a good view in most directions but the front hood slopes too sharply out of sight. A driver sees only the windshield wipers. Two problems result: the road movement can create nausea at the apparent close distance; and a driver can't tell where the front of the car is. Now get ready for another shock. There are window cranks here! A coworker of mine who fears power failure should her car plunge into water would appreciate these. Most folks won't in a car that costs just under $20,000. Our tester also had an optional sunroof packaged with essential side air bags. The sunroof/safety option was $1,400. That's a pity. These need to be separated and priced that way. The side air bags are needed; the sunroof is suitable only for tall dogs.

On the Road

The real news with this Corolla is its hopped-up engine. The 1.8-liter with 170 horsepower begs to be revved high and driven hard. A stiffened suspension system on the XRS model adds handling prowess to this performance package. The only transmission available is a six-speed manual, with gearing that jerks passengers around if shifted less than judiciously. It's very close ratio and you'll shift frequently. The drivetrain is front-wheel drive, which doesn't help performance driving. But torque steer is fairly well controlled in hard launches or coming out of a corner under full acceleration. A very real problem, however, is that the high-revving engine--which feels like a supercharger kicked in from 7,000 to 8,000 rpm!--buzzes everything on the car. The vibration is atrocious. In the tester, audible vibrations in the interior began at just under 4,000 rpm and continued from that point up. Every passenger heard it and commented on it. All tried to locate the source of the vibrations. No one did. The engine just shakes this compact body to pieces. Without these high revs, you might as well save thousands and forego the XRS model. If I owned this car, it would be back in the shop until that buzzing was gone.

Journey's End

2005 Toyota Corolla XRS rear view

2005 Corolla XRS: Lots of fun, but Dodge SRT-4 offers stronger performance for the same price

© Toyota Motor Corporation
Imagine a flow-through exhaust system on this one. The 2005 Toyota Corolla XRS reminded me of the Honda S2000, which is very easy to drive slowly around town, but becomes a screaming banshee at high rpm. Same here. Only the sound from this high-revver is too muffled. Get some flow-through on this and it'll sound like a Kawasaki Ninja motorcycle going through the gears at midnight on a back road. The 2005 Toyota Corolla XRS has a lot of promise. What it has going for it is the Toyota reputation that says this is the most reliable compact car made. Many consumers will value that. And it does provide a real kick from that variable-valve timing engine. It handles well. But that buzzing vibration is a real annoyance. And no way can this XRS keep up with a similarly priced Dodge SRT-4. It also has competition for young buyers with the new Scion offerings. So I don't expect this particular model to sell all that well. Those who buy it will like it. Those most interested in bang for the buck will covet the SRT-4 or another fast and furious little import. Sounds strange to say about a sub-$20,000 car, but this Corolla XRS is a bit too costly for what you get.
User Reviews

Reviews for this section have been closed.

 5 out of 5
The original XRS is still the best Corolla, Member AnthonyMarc

I have a 2005 Corolla XRS. Actually, it is one of the first of the XRS trim ever built. The factory build date is 04/04. This is by far the most fun Corolla you can buy. I know that people don't buy a Corolla just to have fun, but if you are going to drive, then you might as well enjoy it. I used to own a 1999 Acura Integra GSR. I sold that car in 2005 to purchase a new car and I have regretted it ever since. It was a fuel efficient and fun car to drive. Then along comes the opportunity to buy an '05 Corolla XRS. I did some research on it and found that the performance numbers were identical to the GSR. I had to have it. This car definitely meets my expectations. Sure it was more expensive than a couple other options out there, but here are some interesting facts that you can look up if you want. The insurance on this car was half as much as a Civic EX of the same year. Civics are one of the most stolen cars in America and they are frequently modified and wrecked by young drivers. Why would I want to pay more for insurance on a car that has more than 40 horsepower less than the XRS? If I'm going to pay more for insurance, then it better be a faster car. The same holds true for buying the SRT-4 Neon. Call it what you want, but it is still a neon with a turbo. It screams 'Boy Racer' and is a very poorly built car. How many of them to do you see out there on the roads still? Most of them have either been wrecked or stolen and parted out. The insurance is ridiculous on that car too. Don't even get me started about buying a Nissan. If I were President of the US, the first thing I'd do is make it illegal to even own one of those pieces of garbage. I hate Nissans. The Corolla XRS is the ultimate sleeper car. They only made 6000 of them, so it is really rare to see them. Most people don't even know the difference between the XRS and the S trim. Visually there is very little difference at all. The grille trim is body matched on the XRS. The XRS is a little lower and the wheels are an inch larger. Other than that and the badge on the back, you wouldn't be able to spot an XRS in a crowd. Interiors on the XRS stand out from the base models and the S model for sure. The two tone seats are very cool and the dash is the coolest of all. The steering wheel is the classic TRD three spoke design and definitely one of my favorite things about the whole interior. Seeing the six speed shifter there is also very exciting. The only downer of the whole interior is that the rear seat doesn't fold down, but I seriously can't think of a time in the last three years that I have wished that it would. The engine is where this car really shines. Sure there are rattles, but what car doesn't have rattles? Every car has them. Sure it revs high, but that is what I like about it. The extra power that kicks in high in the rev line is a lot of fun on on-ramps and when you want to play with how fast you can accelerate. The suspension upgrades make the handling really nice too. I'm just a normal guy who doesn't have a lot of high end cars to compare this to. Sure, if you compare the spirited driving experience of the XRS to a turbo 4 cylinder you will have a different experience, but that isn't why you buy the XRS. You buy it because you want a sleeper car that will hold its own against most of the rest of the cars in the same class out there on the road. This car has the balls to get you out of the way when you need to and to get you caught up to traffic when you want to. It blends in and disappears and it is absolutely forgettable. ...unless you are the one driving the car. Then the experience is much different and will redefine your expectations for compact NA four cylinder cars. Don't get this car confused with the latest monstrosity that is wearing the XRS badge these days. This car has 170 hp. The new XRS has 158 hp and just a five speed. There is little to differentiate the new XRS with the base models or the S trim other than a little more power and a couple painted pieces. The only XRS worth buying is the 05 and 06. If you can find one then you will have a chance to own a truely great car that is tons of fun to drive and one that won't have you worried about immature 'racers' wanting to test you at every stop light or have someone want to steal it for whatever reason. I'll never sell my XRS.

44 out of 44 people found this helpful.

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