Nobody wanted to believe me at first. They looked at me incredulously, as if they were waiting for me to reassure them I was joking. But I wasn’t. It was equally hard for me to believe at first. In our last experience with the Corolla S back in 2014, we got a hint of the prowess of the platform. It was all ruined, however, by the soul-sucking CVT. Any amount of power output from the engine seemed to get lost on its way to the front wheels. But here we are only four years later and this all-new Corolla Hatch is actually engaging to drive.
Introduced at the NYIAS only four months ago, the Corolla Hatch joins a generation of fresh and feisty models. We live in a world now where you can walk out of a Toyota dealership with an orange Tacoma, a white and black Camry with 300hp and red interior, and now a “Blue Flame” Corolla hatchback with white and black interior. This new Corolla Hatchback can even be had with a manual transmission! Our pre-production tester arrived in the show-stopping blue hue, but came equipped with a new CVT. To improve responsiveness at low speed, Toyota developed this new transmission to include a physical launch gear. All but admitting the weakness of the continuously-variable transmission in a performance application, this physical gear benefits performance off the line and even allowed engineers to program a launch control feature. Beyond first gear, the CVT has an additional ten simulated gears. The entire array can be controlled with wheel-mounted paddles. If left to its own devices, the CVT still manages to swallow up some of the 2.0L engine’s mid-range power. Shift for yourself, however, and this Corolla Hatchback has a bit of pep. The little engine loves to be revved, making 168 hp at 6,600 RPM. If you have any self-respect, you’ll opt for the manual transmission.
The Corolla Hatchback may be a bit smaller than some of its competitors, but it’s hard to tell without sitting in the rear seats. The greenhouse offers excellent visibility in all directions and makes for a bright cabin. The optional two-tone interior covers many of the Corolla’s interior surfaces in a bright white trim. It lightens the cabin and serves to give the interior a modern feel. The materials are also trop-rate and give the Corolla an up-market feel. The new infotainment system is as good as we found in the Camry and the digital dash is a first for the segment. Our only interior disappointment came from a center console that felt too high and made for some uncomfortable ergonomics in longer drives.
Behind the wheel, this new Corolla is tight and nimble. While it isn’t powerful by any measure, it rewards every attempt at maintaining momentum. The compact platform is sprung on the stiffer side, reducing body roll but transmitting some of the harsher bumps into the cabin. The steering is well weighted and gives a decent sense of the car’s grip. That grip can quickly prove inadequate if you push the Corolla too hard. We pondered how much more fun the Corolla Hatchback could be with a decent set of summer performance tires in place of the standard eco-minded all-seasons. What a time to be alive. When you aren’t thinking about the next local autocross event, the Corolla is a capable commuter. With ample interior cargo volume and fuel efficiency in the mid-30s, it is as versatile as it is fun.
Toyota’s take on the classic hatchback shape also does this car well. The aggressive front fascia fits with the flowing lines of the car. It’s not over-styled and abstract as the C-HR. The rear hatch, a design so complicated it couldn’t be stamped out of metal, is the most unique design element. Unfortunately, it’s finished off with fake plasti-chrome “exhaust tips” in the plastic diffuser. In a design that was so close to thoughtfulness in every detail, Toyota comes that close.
The all-new Toyota Corolla Hatchback has expanded on the Corolla’s name and relegated the Scion-inherited iM to the history books. This 2019 model is thoroughly Toyota, but not the stereotypical Toyota that you might think. There’s been a change in the winds lately, both visually and dynamically. That leaves this Corolla with lots of potential. Perhaps we’ll see the reemergence of the XRS trim at some point in the future. Until then, the Hatchback XSE is the best Corolla you can get.
|2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE
|XSE Preferred Package||$1,600|
|As Tested MSRP||$26,610|