The Toyota Corolla for the past couple of decades has been the poster child of the vehicle that just existed. All it was built to do was go from point a to b without any sort of enthusiasm. But Toyota is wanting to change that with the redesign of Corolla, starting with the new Corolla Hatchback. Has it worked?
The Corolla Hatchback falls in line with recent Toyota models with a shouty design. A sloping front end features massive lower grille, slim daytime running lights, and headlights that looked to be chiseled in. My SE tester lacked the 18-inch alloy wheels and a huge rear wing that is standard on the XSE. But the smaller wheels and wing provide a much cleaner look.
The interior looks more expressive with a layered dashboard design and faux stitching around both the dash and transmission. In traditional Toyota fashion, controls for the various functions are within easy reach. An eight-inch screen mounted high on the dash is standard on Corolla Hatchbacks and comes with the latest version of Entune. As I have noted in other 2019 Toyotas, the updated Entune is noticeably quicker when switching between various functions. Also appreciated is the integration with Apple CarPlay which gives a driver another choice for infotainment. Those with Android phones will need to get their hands on the 2020 model. What I do wish is that Toyota had made the interface slightly more modern and added other colors that weren’t 50 shades of grey.
If you find yourself riding in the Corolla Hatchback, be sure to nab the front seat. Those sitting in the back will find space for their legs to be quite small. This isn’t helped with the narrow rear door openings. At least no one will have any complaints with the headroom as the hatchback has plenty of it. It gets even worse when you open up the rear tailgate and you’re presented with a minuscule 17.8 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats. The new Mazda3 offers more space at 20.1.
Power comes from a new 2.0L four-cylinder producing 168 horsepower and 151 pounds-feet of torque, a noticeable increase from the outgoing Corolla iM - 137 HP and 126 lb-ft. This has moved overall performance impressions from poor to adequate as the hatchback is noticeably quicker around town. Country and highway driving are still a weak point as you’ll need to jam the gas to get any real movement from the engine. I would like to see either Toyota introduce a small turbo engine or figure out how to have torque readily available at a lower rpm.
My test vehicle was fitted with an optional CVT; a six-speed manual is standard. This CVT is different from others as Toyota fitted a fixed first gear ratio that it uses when leaving a stop. This reduces the rubber-band-type delay when accelerating and makes it feel more like a conventional automatic.
EPA fuel economy figures for the Corolla Hatchback with the CVT are 32 City/42 Highway/36 Combined. My average for the week landed around 36.1 mpg.
One area that the Corolla Hatchback’s predecessor impressed me was the handling. It felt planted and had surprising reflexes when going through a bend, but the rubbery steering did let it down. The Corolla Hatchback carries this torch as it feels even sharper with less body roll and a nimble feel. Steering is improved as well with a more natural feel when turning. I’ll still put the last-generation Mazda3 and Volkswagen Golf as the best-handling models in the class, but Corolla Hatchback isn’t too far behind.
Despite its sporting intentions, the Corolla Hatchback coped very well on Detroit’s shambolic roads with most bumps and ruts being smoothed over. Part of this comes down to the SE having 16-inch wheels, allowing for more sidewall. Road noise is kept out, but there is a fair amount of wind noise that enters when driving on the freeway.
Toyota pulled most of the stops out when working on the Corolla Hatchback and their efforts have paid off. It is the best looking Corolla in quite some time, offers surprising handling characteristics, and comes well equipped for the money. The SE begins at $21,090 and that includes adaptive cruise control, pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, eight-inch touchscreen, and LED lighting. Where the Corolla Hatchback loses ground is rear-seat space and cargo room which trails competitors by a significant amount. That’s the make or break decision as to whether you should or shouldn’t consider one.
Nevertheless, Toyota has done the seemingly impossible: Made the Corolla interesting.
Disclaimer: Toyota Provided the Corolla Hatchback, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas
Model: Corolla Hatchback
Engine: 2.0L DOHC 16-Valve D4S Four-Cylinder
Driveline: Front-Wheel Drive, CVT
Horsepower @ RPM: 168 @ 6,600
Torque @ RPM: 151 @ 4,800
Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 32/42/36
Curb Weight: 3,060 lbs
Location of Manufacture: Toyota, Aichi, Japan
Base Price: $21,090
As Tested Price: $23,639.00 (Includes $920.00 Destination Charge)
SE Preferred Package - $1,400.00
Carpet Mat Package - $229.00