Forget everything you once knew about the Corolla nameplate being synonymous with boring but dependable transportation. The redesigned 2019 Corolla Hatchback is updating the 52-year-old nameplate with youthful styling, sophisticated interior materials, a full integration of safety technologies and a new attitude of sporty drivability.
It might now be the benchmark in this segment of compact, five-door non-sedans, which includes the Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Hyundai Accent, Kia Forte, Mazda3, Nissan Versa Note and VW Golf.
The completely re-engineered hatchback replaces the previous Corolla iM hatch and is on Toyota’s new global platform for cars. The chassis is 60 percent stiffer and the footprint is a little lower and a wider and about a half inch shorter.
The hatchback’s speed-line body styling might compromise some cargo capacity, but it is a head-turning trade off. And it follows through to the rear with a pair of horizontal dual-exhaust outlets that are integrated into the fascia. It’s not about performance but it does look cool at the curb.
The Corolla Hatchback is sold in two well-equipped trim levels in front-wheel drive with one powertrain of a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and a manual transmission or continuously variable automatic. Starting prices range from $20,820 for the entry SE with six-speed manual to $25,010 for the XSE with CVT. Today’s tester is an SE with CVT that was $23,410 with the SE preferred package ($1,400), which adds a blind-spot monitor and Entune 3.0 audio upgrade with app suite.
The hatchback is a step up in content from the basic Corolla four-door and includes such standard equipment as smartkey locking and push-button ignition, six-way manually adjusted driver seat, electric parking brake, seven air bags and Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, LED headlights and taillights, an 8-inch multimedia touch screen and six-speaker audio system, a phone-accessed Scout GPS Link and 16-inch alloy wheels.
The XSE is a tech-step upward with adaptive (turning) headlights, LED foglights, leather-and-fabric upholstery, heated front seats, eight-way power driver’s seat, 18-inch wheels and more soundproofing.
There are only four factory option packages: adaptive front headlights $415; the SE preferred package, $1,400, includes a blind-spot monitor and Entune 3.0 audio upgrade with app site Toyota Connected Services; the XSE preferred package, $1,600, includes a navigation system, wireless phone charging pad and 800-watt, eight-speaker Entune JBL audio upgrade.
The 168-hp engine has 31 more horsepower than the 1.8-liter it replaces and 25 more foot-pounds of torque, now at 151 lb.-ft. torque at 4,800 rpm. The entry SE with CVT gets the top mileage ratings of 32/42/36 compared to 28/37/31 mpg for the manual and 30/38/33 for the XSE CVT. I was averaging 27.7-30 mpg in mostly city driving.
It is an enjoyably nimble car to drive with a well soundproofed cabin and a forgiving independent suspension that is sporty enough for fun, but comfortable for everything else. Braking is well executed with four-wheel discs, 11.5-inch vented rotors front and 10.5-inch solid rear.
The Dynamic-Shift CVT is groundbreaking for its fixed first gear for a solid launch from the traffic light without a wail of motorboating as the transmission tries to catch up with the engine revs. The transmission simulates 10 sequential steps and has a Sport mode and paddle shifters with rev-matching downshifts. With active cornering assist there is more grip in hot turns and the transmission will downshift on hard braking.
And with the addition of Toyota Safety Sense as standard equipment, the Corolla hatch outdistances the competition and most of those in the luxury class, too. Yet, blind-spot alert is still an option.
The safety-sense suite is the foundation for semi-autonomous driving and it features several driver-assist aids. The pre-collision and pedestrian-detection system uses a forward-facing camera and monitors the road for a preceding vehicle or pedestrian — day or night — or a daytime bicyclist. The adaptive radar cruise control has been enhanced to match speed and distance control and to watch for cut-in by other drivers.
The safety-sense suite is the foundation for semi-autonomous driving and includes:
Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection. It uses a forward-facing camera to detect a preceding vehicle or pedestrian — day or night —or a daytime bicyclist. If the driver does not respond to audible and visual alerts, the system will hit the brakes to help avoid a collision with the help of forward collision warning, brake assist and automatic emergency braking.
Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control: For use on the highway, the adaptive system works between 0 to 110 mph and allows stopping and acceleration. It is a well-calibrated aid that has been enhanced to match speed and distance control and to watch for cut-in by other drivers.
Lane-tracing assist keeps drivers between the white lines of sweeping highway curves and exit ramps. While Road Sign Assist identifies signage for speed, stop, yield and do not enter.
The light steering touch, braking refinement and gentle dip of the suspension will be the first hints that the new Corolla hatchback does not share much with its econobox sibling.
The cabin has contemporary styling with a charcoal-tone fabric headliner, reserved use of piano black trim and a neatly stitched dash top, seats and door trim. All controls are easy viewed and adjusted. The little sliding-top armrest has a storage box with a charging USB (2.1 amp) and a 12-volt plug. The shift console includes a handy place to lay a phone with adjacent USB and audio input ports. Visors have extenders and covered, lighted mirrors.
Sightlines are good at the side mirrors, which have a quarter pane for a snip more cornering view (rather than a solid panel at the wide base of the mirror). Rearward views are more complex at the wide wrap of the rear roof pillars, but the head restraints can be folded for a better view and the rearview camera is helpful with guidance lines.
Back seat space has a comfortable seatback angle but requires a limber squeeze through the door. There are no USBs for guests to use but a fold-down armrest has cup holders and there is a cup holder in each door.
There is a lot of open space in the cargo capacity when the seats are folded, which form a contiguous flat space. The 60/40 seatback folds for about 5 ½ feet of length by 41 inches wide. The cargo floor is somewhat shallow at 23 ½ inches at the opening, but there is room below the floor for a temporary spare.
Toyota appears hopeful that young drivers will pay up for a car that supports their lifestyle without killing their paycheck. But what works for young people, works for all.
2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback
- Body style: compact, 5-pass., front-drive 5-door hatchback
- Engine: 168-hp, direct- and port-injection 2.0-liter 4-cylinder; 151 lb.-ft. torque at 4,800 rpm
- Transmission: CVT
- Fuel economy: 30/38/33 mpg city/hwy/combined; 87 octane
- Fuel tank: 13.2 gal.
- Cargo space: 18 cu. ft.
- Front head/leg room: 38.4/42 in.
- Rear head/leg room: 38/29.9 in.
- Length/wheelbase: 169.9/103.9 in.
- Curb weight: 3,060 lbs. *base model
- Turning circle: 37.4 ft.
- Standard equipment includes: keyless entry and push-button ignition, rearview camera, 4.2-inch multi-information gauge display, power mirrors with turn signals, power windows (with auto up-down for all), acoustic laminated windshield, LED running lights, bi-LED combination headlights
- Safety features include: 7 air bags, brake assist, brake-force distribution
- Base price: $22,010, including $920 freight charge; price as tested $23,410
- Options on test vehicle: SE preferred package $1,400
- Where assembled: Takaoka, Japan