Back in the day I owned a Toyota Corolla, but then again, nearly everyone did at the time. The Corolla was to the 1980s what the Chevy Nova was to the 1970s, namely an inexpensive reliable car.
While much has changed in the ensuing 35 or so years, the Corolla remains its steady self, still offering high value to another generation of first-time car buyers. However, while a modest sedan still leads the Corolla lineup, a new hatchback has just been launched as a 2019 model, replacing the Corolla iM, a former Scion hatchback.
This new Corolla Hatchback looks more muscular, yet remains angular and sporty. It reminds me in looks, and color (this one was bright Electric Blue), of Ford’s Focus RS. It’s nowhere near as racy, but with its slim LED headlights and flared fenders it looks more aggressive than the iM it replaces.
The base SE hatch starts at $20,910 delivery included. That’s right, just less than $21 grand for a well-equipped car that will carry four adults, and a reasonable stash of luggage. The SE, like the tested up-level XSE, features a 2.0-liter Dynamic Force I4 with dual fuel injection and variable valve timing. That results in a peppy 168 horsepower and 151-ft.lbs. of torque.
The Corolla also offers a Sport mode as is found in many pricier cars. This allows the Dynamic Shift CVT, an automatic continuously variable transmission, to imitate holding lower gears longer to increase initial acceleration. This helps when pulling away from stoplights or accelerating up to freeway speeds.
Using the Sport mode definitely boosts power to give the car a peppier feel. However, around town the hatch can still be left in Normal mode to save fuel. Acceleration is mild at that point, but fine for city driving.
Good news for buyers looking for more value beyond price, the gas mileage is stellar too. The tested XSE with its automatic CVT is rated 28 mpg city and 37 highway. The test car managed 33.7 mpg in a roughly even mix of city and highway driving and sparing use of the Sport mode.
Note that both the SE and XSE come with a 6-speed manual transmission, so you also could go that route, although automatics now achieve similar gas mileage to manuals, sometimes better. But driving a manual is more fun.
Handling is light, easy and responsive, no matter the trim level. The car weighs just a bit more than 3,000 lbs., so is easy to toss about and easy to park. I always like small cars and hatchbacks in particular because they are so much fun to drive. Plus the hatch simplifies piling cargo in back.
Ride is pretty typical small car, which means it’s fairly stiff. Toyota upgrades this with independent front and multi-link rear suspension. The sedan has a torsion-beam suspension in back. It’s some better to be sure, but with our area’s crumbling roads, you notice the jostling. The test car also featured R18 tires, so going with a less performance-oriented tire could help ride and maybe quiet the tires some.
You’ll certainly notice a fair amount of road noise on the highway. In an effort to keep costs down there’s not as much sound deadening material in a Corolla, as say a Camry. So you hear tire and pavement noise, mostly at 40+ mph. Wind noise is not a problem, part of that aided by a noise-reducing acoustic windshield.
Safety is a strong point for the Corolla too as the Toyota Safety System is standard and includes a back-up camera, smart cruise control and blind-spot warning system. There’s also an automatic bright lights feature that self-regulates once the bright lights are engaged. Wouldn’t expect that or smart cruise on most cars in this price range.
Inside, the XSE model includes some upgrades from the SE. Most noticeable are the leather trimmed seats. The test car’s interior was black with gray on part of the dash and white and charcoal seats with leather around the outer edges and charcoal cloth inserts. It looked sharp, but might get dirty looking more quickly than a gray or black interior.
The front seats also are heated, with two settings and the driver’s seat is powered with a power lumbar too. The passenger’s seat is manual, but both seats are well formed and comfortable with good hip and back support. These don’t feel like econo-car seats.
The back seat has plenty of room for a couple adults, if the front seat folks are not extremely tall and needing to slide the seats all the way back. Headroom is fine and the rear seat splits to allow it to be folded forward to extend the cargo area.
Other pluses include a manual tilt/telescope steering wheel with the usual assortment of cruise control, radio, phone, and information buttons on the hub.
Mid-dash is a large infotainment screen that sticks up from the dash, maybe a bit too high. This is roughly an 8-inch screen that looks like an iPad and is two inches larger than the SE’s screen. The screen and info system was easy to figure out and use as were all the other dash controls. Sadly there was no navigation system here, but then this is an economy-minded car.
If you need nav, there is a Preferred Package available for the Corolla Hatchback. It includes navigation, plus a JBL sound system with 8 speakers, Entune (Toyota’s infotainment system) and Clari-Fi, which improves sound quality. A wireless phone charging system is also included in the $1,600 preferred package. This car was a pre-production model and included no options.
The Corolla hatch XSE also includes a dual climate control system and remote key fob with remote start. Plus there’s a nice 7-inch multi-information display among the gauges on the XSE.
The Corolla has a small storage box/armrest between the front seats, and another in the rear seat. Up front are the usual audio hookups, an auxiliary port, USB media port and 2 USB charging ports. Plus the hatch comes with a CD player, while overhead are sun visors that include extenders.
Again, the base hatch starts at $20,910, while the XSE lists at $23,910 including delivery. The tested XSE with automatic transmission starts at $25,010, with delivery. That’s still among the leaders in the compact car market.
The Corolla sedan also remains available and is likewise a high-value car with low entry costs and good repair record so you’d expect it to be economical for the long-run.
If you’re going to compare a Corolla hatch to others on the market, consider Honda’s Civic, Hyundai’s Elantra GT and the Mazda3. Of those, the Civic has a bit more horsepower and the Corolla gets better gas mileage than the Elantra.
The best news is that buyers now have another excellent choice for a low-cost and stylish hatchback. Millennials rejoice!
FAST STATS: 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE
Hits: Sharp-looking hatchback, great mpg, good handling and power in sport mode. Big info screen, easy controls, Toyota Safety system, comfortable seats and power driver’s seat with 2-level heated front seats.
Misses: Stiff small car ride, no navigation system and annoying road noise on highway.
Made in: Japan
Engine: 2.0-liter Dynamic Force I4, 168 horsepower
Transmission: Dynamic Shift CVT automatic
Weight: 3,060 lbs.
Length: 169.9 in.
Wheelbase: 103.9 in.
Cargo: 23.3 cu .ft.
MPG: 33.7 (tested)
Base Price: $25,010 (includes delivery)
Major Options: None
Test vehicle: $25,010
Sources: Toyota, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage