The biggest upgrade to this more expensive trim comes with the engine. The base Toyota Corolla’s 132-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder is replaced with a 158-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder, and the larger engine can be teamed with a smoother five-speed automatic transmission rather than the base model’s somewhat-outdated four-speed. A five-speed manual is standard for both engines. The new engine translates to a much more enjoyable driving experience compared with the rest of the Corolla lineup, but that’s like saying a Big Mac is more impressive than a 59-cent hamburger. It should be.
Mileage obviously takes a hit because of the upgraded power. The XRS gets 22 city mpg and 30 hwy mpg, compared with an extremely frugal 26/35 mpg for the base model with the manual transmission. The Civic Si gets 21/29 mpg but has nearly 40 hp more than the XRS (actual mileage may vary).
A highlight of the XRS trim is its appearance. The somewhat boring look of the standard Toyota Corolla is tarted up here with more aggressive body moldings, larger wheels — 17-inchers replace standard 15-inch wheels — and a rear spoiler. Front-wheel-drive red test car did indeed look sharp, and a little less like the economy box it is than does the base Toyota Corolla.