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2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback Test Drive Review
With the 2019 Corolla Hatchback, Toyota takes a big leap forward in terms of small car style and sophistication.
Hatchbacks are hot right now. At the moment, it seems like every car company offers one, and that means the new 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback faces lots of competition. There is no doubt that the new Corolla Hatchback is more stylish, more sophisticated, and better to drive than the Corolla iM it replaces. But, is it better than the alternatives?
Look and Feel
Toyota keeps it simple with the Corolla Hatchback, offering the car in SE and XSE trim. The base price is $19,990, not including the $920 destination charge.
My test vehicle was the XSE trim, which costs another $2,000. If you can’t drive a stick, you need to get the Dynamic Shift CVT for $1,200. A handful of options and packages are offered, but my test car doesn’t have anything extra except for a set of carpeted mats. That brought the window sticker to $25,239.
That’s a reasonable price tag for what the Corolla Hatchback XSE offers. You get appealing design, a stylish interior, plenty of technology, lots of features, and added utility in a quality car that is likely to last for a long time.
Personally, I think the Corolla Hatchback carries too much of its visual weight forward of the center roof pillar, but that’s true of all hatchbacks. And do I detect a little vintage Mazda3 in the rear end, or am I seeing things?
Aside from the wonky visual balance, I think Toyota has done a great job of incorporating its current design themes into this car, which cannot always be said for some of its recent restyles. For example, on the Corolla Hatchback, Toyota’s angry-eyed, gaping maw face looks absolutely appropriate. On a Toyota Avalon, it doesn’t.
Inside, the Corolla Hatchback is equally appealing, especially in my test vehicle’s Moonstone over Black 2-tone treatment. It looks modern and trendy without sacrificing practicality or the user experience.
Plus, everything looks and feels like quality. Especially compared to a Corolla sedan, this new hatchback’s cabin represents a huge leap forward in terms of fit and finish.
With this redesign, the Corolla moves to a new vehicle platform and architecture specifically engineered for greater driving pleasure and improved safety.
There's a new engine under the hood, too. It’s a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with direct and port fuel injection. Power measures 168 horses at a lofty 6,600 rpm and 151 pound-feet of torque at 4,800 rpm.
A 6-speed manual gearbox is standard for both trim levels. If you don’t know how to work a clutch pedal, you can get a legitimately sophisticated continuously variable transmission (CVT). Toyota calls it a Dynamic Shift CVT, and it boasts several key attributes.
This is the first CVT in the world to use a “launch gear,” which helps the car get off the line with something approaching responsiveness. It also has ten pre-programmed ratios that are designed to make the CVT sound and feel like a traditional automatic. Eco, Normal, and Sport driving modes calibrate the drivetrain to specific needs, and if you’re really seeking a sporty drive, the CVT includes a manual-shift mode with steering-wheel paddle shifters.
Aside from the drivetrain, the new Corolla Hatchback has a sport-tuned independent front and rear suspension, and ventilated front and solid rear disc brakes. With XSE trim, you get18-inch aluminum wheels wearing 225/40 Dunlop SP Maxx 5000 tires. It also has electric steering, which is the most dissatisfying mechanical element of the car.
Lifeless on center and too heavy and numb off-center, the electric steering is the worst thing about driving the Corolla Hatchback. And with the lane-keeping and lane-centering-assist systems engaged, it is a constant source of irritation.
On a positive note, there’s no sloppiness to it. In fact, it’s actually fairly responsive and accurate. The problem is that it feels 100% artificial, lacking feel, sharpness, and crispness. And the faster you go, the worse it gets.
The racy-looking Corolla Hatchback looks and sounds promising, and it is definitely better to drive than either the outgoing Corolla iM or the current Corolla sedan. But compared to the best cars in its class, it strikes me as dynamically bland. There’s nothing here that thrills a driver or that sets this car apart in a meaningful way.
Although the CVT does its best to mitigate the engine’s lofty power peaks, especially when switched to Sport mode, the 2.0-liter can’t match a turbocharged engine for zing and zest. And I got no better than 29.2 mpg on my test loop, falling far short of the EPA rating of 33 mpg in combined driving.
On the other hand, this CVT is officially one of my favorites. At nearly all times it operates transparently, and when manually shifted it is actually somewhat satisfying. Especially when driving hard in Sport mode, upshifts are accompanied by what I can only describe as a “shove” of extra power as the transmission moves to the next ratio. It is a unique sensation—and rather enjoyable.
There is goodness in the chassis, too, though the suspension is too softly tuned for true sport-compact hijinks. On the flip side of that, the Corolla Hatchback XSE delivers a supple ride on the freeways and urban roads that make up the typical commute.
I beat hard on the brakes in high temperatures, and they nevertheless faithfully executed a full-ABS panic stop without fade or smoke. It would be nice if Toyota recalibrated the pedal response in traffic situations, where it feels a little sticky depending on conditions, but that’s a small complaint compared to the steering.
Form and Function
Choose XSE trim and the Corolla Hatchback includes an 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, and a combination of leather and fabric upholstery.
With the exception of the center-console's super-thin armrest padding, comfort is exceptionally good, and the car is reasonably easy to climb into and out of despite having a lower seating hip point than the old Corolla iM.
The front passenger is not as lucky. The seat is mounted low in the car, but it provides decent comfort. I suspect climbing out will be easy if you spend all your free time in the gym doing crunches.
Backseat room is cramped. If you need to carry passengers on a regular basis, get a Corolla sedan. Thankfully, Toyota thickly pads the front seatbacks to help make this area as comfortable as possible.
Cargo space is limited, too. If you need to carry lots of luggage at the same time as passengers on a regular basis, get a Corolla sedan.
Toyota says the Corolla Hatchback offers 18 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat. By the numbers, that’s more than a full-size Toyota Avalon offers. Yet a single full-size suitcase takes up an inordinate amount of the available space. Weirdly, according to Toyota, folding the rear seats down only adds 5.3 more cubic feet of space, for a maximum of 23.3 cubic feet, which makes no sense whatsoever.
The passenger compartment does, however, offer a decent amount of storage, although the center-console bin is fairly small. In particular, I like the smartphone tray forward of the transmission shifter, located close to the USB port.
My advice is to take whatever luggage, things, or people you plan to carry, and try loading them up at the dealership before you buy this little guy.
Toyota includes a new Entune 3.0 infotainment system as standard equipment, and it represents a much-needed change of direction for Toyota.
An 8-inch touchscreen display is standard, sitting high on the dashboard with a power/volume and tuning knob for the stereo and system menu shortcut buttons on either side of the screen. The basic version of the system includes everything you need, including… Apple CarPlay! Toyota says it is working on a plan to also incorporate Android Auto, but for now that technology is off the table.
In addition to Apple CarPlay, Entune 3.0 equips the Corolla Hatchback with fast-charge USB ports, a connected navigation app, Wi-Fi Connect service, Safety Connect service, Siri Eyes Free, Amazon Alexa integration, and more.
My test vehicle had the mid-grade version of Entune 3.0, which is standard for XSE trim. It adds SiriusXM satellite radio, HD Radio with weather and traffic reports, and an expanded roster of subscription services. With Apple CarPlay, the Scout GPS connected navigation app, and satellite radio, this version gave me everything I needed. Except for a decent sound system.
Optional only for the XSE with a CVT, you can get a top-shelf version with a dynamic navigation system, dynamic voice recognition, dynamic point of interest search, and a premium JBL sound system. That might be worth the upgrade, because my test car’s six speakers sounded pretty muddy. You’re not going to want to power the windows down and crank the music up without the JBL upgrade.
Toyota also makes its next-generation Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 suite of driving-assistance and collision-avoidance systems standard on every 2019 Corolla Hatchback. The exception is that if you want maximum adaptive cruise-control capabilities, you have to get the CVT.
For the most part, Toyota Safety Sense works well. The adaptive cruise is fairly refined, and you can turn the lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, and lane-centering-assist systems on and off. That’s good, because they occasionally provide false alerts and perform actions that the driver must override. Plus, they make the steering feel even worse in your hands.
You can also get a blind-spot-warning system for the Corolla Hatchback, but it does not include a rear cross-traffic alert function. So be sure to make good use of the standard reversing camera.
Also, don’t forget that a free 3-year trial of Toyota’s Safety Connect service is standard, providing access to automatic collision notification and an SOS emergency assistance function.
Given my test car’s reasonable price and interior quality, Toyota’s longstanding reputation for durability, and its impressive list of infotainment, connected services, and driving-assistance and collision-avoidance systems, the 2019 Corolla Hatchback unequivocally represents value. Plus, it comes with free scheduled maintenance for the first two years of ownership.
Simply put, you cannot argue with the Corolla Hatchback’s cost effectiveness.
What you can argue with is its cramped cargo space, limited backseat room, lifeless steering, still-missing Android Auto smartphone projection, and lack of a front passenger-seat height adjuster.
Also, if you’re looking at the Corolla Hatchback’s rakish styling, big wheels, aggressive tires, and oversize roof spoiler and expecting an authentic sport-compact driving experience, this Toyota might put a frown on your face.
Coming full circle: Is the Corolla Hatchback competitive in its segment? Well, that all depends on what you value. Let’s say that in critical areas it is on par with models such as the Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra GT, Mazda3, Subaru Impreza, and Volkswagen Golf.
Christian Wardlaw has nearly two decades of experience reviewing cars, and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, Autobytel, and J.D. Power and Associates. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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