Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Review: 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback in Blue Flame

When I heard Toyota was bringing back a Corolla hatchback, admittedly, I was intrigued. After all, I’m a hatchback guy. They’re practical, sporty, and I simply prefer the style. But with my intrigue, I prepared for reality to kick in. I assumed the new Corolla Hatchback would probably be equipped with the same-old 2ZR-FE 1.8-liter found in the  Corolla sedan and mated to a fun-killing CVT. It’d be solid but pedestrian method of transportation. Meh.

I'm here to say that I assumed wrongly.

Toyota’s been on somewhat of an automotive image revamp lately. Arguably, first, there was the Scion FR-S/Toyota 86. Then, seemingly overnight, the Camry went from basic four-door transportation to a sexy sedan. Then the CH-R, with its wild styling, debuted. And when I laid eyes on the new ’19 Corolla XSE hatchback in the Blue Flame color, I only hoped the car would drive as good as it looks, and it does thanks to a new free-revving 2.0-liter direct-injected engine and a smooth-shifting six-speed manual transmission. Plus, it all ride on a chassis that's quite tossable and sporting. Mind blown. Slow clap for the "Big T."


2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE front

First things first—styling. I think the car has great lines; there’s something about it that reminds me of a rally car. Maybe it’s the aggressive angle on the rear spoiler, maybe it’s the overall shape. The front end treatment isn’t my all-time favorite—I’m not a huge fan of fish-mouth grille shapes—but I can live with it here. On the back, you’ve got dual exhaust ports built into the rear fascia providing a cohesive, premium look. The car rolls on 18” wheels and thin side-walled 225/40/18 Yokohama Avid tires. I don’t love the wheels, but I’ve seen worse. Overall, I really like the car’s looks. And if I were to choose a color, it’d have to be this Flame Blue. It has a hint of metallic in it, as well. And I'm going to type what some of you have already told me: It does look a little like a Ford Focus RS. Whatever. I really dig it.


2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE dashboard

On the inside, the XSE is modern, comfortable, and feels very solidly built. Ergonomics are quite good. The infotainment system works easily (and sounds great). Toyota opted to use tactile buttons and knobs on the screen’s perimeter, which I like. The buttons are simply rectangular plastic nubs, kind of like what you would’ve found on a 1980s TV remote or maybe an '87 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera's Delco stereo. But, nonetheless, they work very well with one exception. I regularly found myself going for the volume knob in the lower-left corner and bumping the screen with my hand which would make it change menus. Minor gripe.

The instrument cluster is a mix of true analog gauges and a digital color screen that mimics an analog speedometer. There are multiple menus showcasing fuel economy, radio displays, and more. It’s simple, effective, yet modern. Nicely done. Also nicely done are the seats. They’re sporty without being too highly bolstered. Sure, highly bolstered sport seats are great for track days or time in the twisties, but not so much long trips. These buckets are a good combination of comfort and sport. I really thought the interior design was done well. From the upright touchscreen display and analog/digital climate control, to the interior fabrics and seating position—this isn’t just another bland Corolla. There’s ample rear legroom, generous cargo carrying ability in the back, and damn it, all of it just works.

There’s no lack of tech, either. There’s adaptive cruise control, lane keeping, blind spot detection, and a host of other safety features that keep this compact current on the safety specs.


The Corolla’s engine is the all-new 2.0-liter Dynamic Force M20A-FKS with dual VVT-i (variable valve timing - intelligence as well as VVT-iE, which employs an electric motor on the intake side) and direct injection; it makes 165 hp and 151 lbs/ft of torque. It’s sewing-machine smooth and the noise/vibration/harshness levels feel low. The engine is free-revving for sure, however, it does take a while to get to the upper revs, and that’s where most of the power feels like it’s made, too.

This engine takes me back to the first time I drove a quick car with a high-revving, low-torque engine. Specifically, the 1999 Honda Civic Si. It revved easily, had a fairly high redline, didn’t have much torque, and didn’t feel that fast. In actuality, it was faster than it felt, and that’s likely the case with the Corolla Hatchback, too. Yes, you have to row the gears quite a bit to stay in the powerband, but it’s a hoot. The good news is the shifter is smooth and well-gated. The clutch, unfortunately, has nearly zero feel. It’s almost impossible to tell where the uptake is. It’s a bit heavier than I anticipated, too. The first few days, I felt like it was my first time driving stick, as I’d rev the engine, hunting for the clutch’s friction point. This is the worst part of the driveline. This car has Toyota's iMT, or intelligent manual transmission feature. When engaged, it automatically matches engine revs when you downshift—no need to blip the throttle with the accelerator. I'd driven much more expensive cars, such as the Nissan 370Z, with this feature in the past, but this is the first car at his price point that has such a feature. I used it every time I drove it, and it's great for spirited downshifts.

Acceleration feels brisk, but not rocket-like, and you must keep the revs up for any rapidity. While smooth and rather quiet, the noise the car does make is good. I kept thinking that this thing would sound great with a custom intake and cat-back exhaust system. In fact, if you remember the Corolla XRS from the early 2000s, this is sort of its more refined sequel. Back then, the power was stratospherically high, there was a point where the valves more (the VVTL-I system), and the engine was very loud and harsh. Thankfully, the XSE is not that way.

A couple of oddities: This is the first vehicle I’ve driven that takes 0W-16 oil. Before this vehicle, I’d never heard of it (turns out it’s been in use in Japan for some time). Good luck finding it locally—especially if you're in a small town—at least until (and if) it gets traction in North America. Next, the engine is naked. And by naked, I mean there is no engine cover whatsoever. So many cars' engines hide under some massive plastic shroud these days. Not this one. It's all just there.

When it comes to the corners, I was very impressed. Cornering is flat, sporty, and confident. A couple of times, say going around my favorite cloverleaf on-ramp, I was shocked at how well the chassis absorbed bumps and turns at speed. The weak spot is definitely the 225/40/18 all-season Yokohamas. With a stickier set of rubber, this thing would be truly outstanding, even in stock form. The highway ride is very good—just sporty enough without being punishing. Plus, the cabin is remarkably quiet and there is very little wind noise, even at 70+ mph. Toyota’s done a great job of mixing highway cruising and corner carving with the Corolla Hatchback.


The new Corolla hatchback isn’t too bad on fuel, although it's not a miser (nor was I expecting it to be). It’s EPA rated at 28 city, 31 combined, and 37 highway MPG. I drove the XSE about 70% of the time in the city, and got very near 28 MPG on 87 octane fuel.

The Corolla Hatchback in XSE trim starts at $23,910 including the $920 destination fee. This XSE featured $415 adaptive LED headlights; $65 wheel locks; a $358 protection package which includes carpet floor mats, carpet cargo mat, rear bumper protector, and cargo net; and a $375 spoiler. The brought the grand total as tested to $25,123.

This Corolla Hatchback is probably the most fun and enjoyable new compact car I’ve driven in some time. With its slick-shifting transmission, fun-to-rev engine, great styling, and that awesome blue color, this is a car that I would consider putting in my driveway if I were in the market. There may be more powerful options out there, such as the Hyundai Elantra GT Sport or the more expensive VW GTI, but Toyota has put together a very compelling package that might get driving enthusiasts back into Toyota dealers for a vehicle other than the GT86.

THE BASICS: 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE
MSRP As Tested: $25,123
Engine: 2.0-liter 16V DOHC four-cylinder with direct injection
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Horsepower: 168
Torque: 151 lb/ft
Curb Weight: 3,060 lbs.
Wheelbase: 103.9"
Overall Length: 169.9"
Suspension: F: MacPhearson strut
R: Independent Multilink w/stabilizer bar
Brakes: F: 15" Vented disc w/ABS
R: 15" Solid disc w/ABS
Wheels: 18" alloys
Tires: 225/40/18 Yokohama Avid
Fuel Economy (MPG): 28 city, 31 combined, 37 highway
Fuel Type: 87 octane gas
Final Point of Assembly:Toyota, Aichi, Japan


Socarboy said...

I decided a few months ago when this car came out on the radar that it would be the car to finally replace my 2008 Suzuki SX4

Avonni said...

Thanks for bringing my attention to this car, I never would have thought a Corolla would be a worthy choice for an enthusiast. I love the styling, the color, and interior, but wondering if it can stand up against the similarly priced Veloster when it comes to driving. Looking forward to trying them both.

Christian Morales said...

I'm very interesting car. It looks simple and elegant. Worth it to buy this car.