Just spent a week in Minnesota visiting family. Put about 1200 miles on a rented Corolla. Mix of city and highway driving, and put on some of the miles carrying a loaner bike to various mountain biking destinations. Had to fold down both rear seatbacks to get the bike in and out, but once the bike was in I could put the left seatback back up and put the child seat back in.
Mpg was good, even with the automatic (rated 27/30/35). I got 37mpg on the first tank, which could have been drained a bit by the previous renter after filling. That first tank was all "in-town" driving, but much of it on the Twin Cities' vast overbuilt network of deserted freeways, which helped keep the numbers up. What didn't help were the seemingly uncoordinated and (to me) unpredictable light timing in Minneapolis proper, and the insanely long signal cycles in the suburbs, both of which have frustrated me for many years.
Got 40.5mpg on each of the next two tanks, mostly highway (up to Duluth and up the North shore a ways, then back down to the Cities, with maybe 1/3 to 1/4 city driving sprinkled in).
Overall a very nice car except for the steering. Plenty of power in the two passing situations when I stomped it. The ride/handling balance was better than I expected from Toyota, and the limit of adhesion was pretty good considering the squirmy ContiProContact tires (at least after I got them up to 45psi), but the steering itself drove me insane. There's just no 'feel' to it whatsoever. The slightest distraction found me drifting out of the lane. I usually associate that kind of behavior with very light, overassisted steering, but that's not the case in the Corolla. Driving it was like stirring molasses with a wooden spoon - it's not a light effort, but there's absolutely no feedback as to what you're doing. On that basis alone I would find it hard to live with this car.
Minnesota content: I have relatives in both the Twin Cities and Duluth, and I've done the drive via I-35 many dozens of times. The last couple of years I've taken to getting off the freeway at Sandstone and taking MN 23 into Duluth. Absolutely beautiful drive with zero traffic along the way, and easy to maintain a nice 55-60mph pace without hassle. So this time I decided to drive the quiet highways the whole way:
- From the eastern suburbs, up to Stillwater, then MN 95 north to Taylors Falls and angling over to North Branch.
- County roads 30 and 61, which parallel I-35 just a couple miles away from it, from North Branch to Sandstone.
- MN 23 from Sandstone to Duluth.
- Returned the same route, except stayed on CR 30 at North Branch until it turned into the northern terminus of US 61, and took 61 into town from there. Also skipped CR 61 from Sandstone down to Hinckley since it goes a couple miles out of the way, so I did end up driving a mere 7 miles of I-35.
The really nice thing about this route, other than virtually no other traffic and the freedom to drive at your own pace, is that there really aren't that many small towns you have to slow down for, consuming additional time vs. the freeway. At 55-60mph I still easily made the trip in just under 4 hours each way, even with a >half hour stop each way. Between the deer and the drunks I wouldn't want to take this route after sunset, and I wouldn't want to do it in winter if heavy snow was forecast. But otherwise the quiet 2-lanes are the
way to go from the Twin Cities to Duluth.