2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback – A Tepid Hatch For The Masses

You’re a young professional with enough credit to your name that you can schlep down to basically any mainstream dealer and pick out a sensible and affordable hatchback, and you’d like the option of a manual transmission. Thankfully, right now, your options are basically limitless. Disregarding Ford’s asinine decision to drop the Focus from their showrooms for a moment, you’ve got the VW Golf, Mazda3, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, and even Chevrolet will sell you a Cruze hatch with a manual. Toyota, then, has been late to this segment, but showed up with competent product at a competitive price. After the Ooops! All Scion Corolla iM that Toyota accidentally added to their product line for a year or two, they needed a car on an all-new platform to really kick things up a notch. This Corolla is large enough to be a sensible daily driver that you can cram four adults into, plus the hatch will allow some gear transport as well, without looking too stodgy for the youths or too dramatically Toyota (like the Prius and Avalon it shares the TNGA platform with) to turn off normal folks. Do you need one? Read on to find out.
In the interest of full disclosure, Toyota flew me to San Diego to test the new Corolla Hatchback (as well as the new Avalon), they also put me up in a nice hotel and fed me nice food. 

It’s amazing how technology and buyer expectations in the automotive space progress with the passing of time. If this Corolla hatchback had been released fifteen years ago, its 170-horsepower, four-wheel independent suspension (McPherson front, multilink rear), and four-wheel disc brakes would have found its place somewhere toward the sharp end of the hot hatch standings. In fact, those are very similar specs to what Honda was selling in the EP3 Civic Si back then, just furthering my point. In today’s market, however, the Corolla isn’t quite as quick as the turbocharged offerings from Civic and Golf, and that’s to say nothing of properly hot hatches like Focus RS, Golf R, or Civic Type R. Toyota doesn’t muck about with speed in the Corolla market, content to shout ‘SCOREBOARD’ while showing other brand execs sales numbers whenever they mention horsepower wars. 

For a few years it has felt like Toyota was resting on the laurels of their sales successes, pumping out ever more mediocre middle-of-the-road kind of product, but this new TNGA platform is actually pretty impressive. Much like Volkswagen has done with their modular MQB platform, Toyota has made a move toward common platform tooling to cut costs and ultimately improve product. From my time with the Corolla Hatch (and the Avalon) it seems to have worked. With styling updates come a slightly smaller car (which is always good in my book, segment creep is a real problem), as the new hatch is a couple inches shorter than the outgoing iM, and with a slightly smaller cargo area, down 2 cubic feet to the old Scion. With my seat moved all the way back (I’m tall), I would not have been able to ‘sit behind me’, as the rear seat was a little tight, but that’s not a normal situation for a car like this. Kids will fit fine, and the rear door openings are huge. 

Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 is standard on all models, making this a segment leader on safety equipment. Automatic emergency braking is possible below 37 miles per hour, which works in conjunction with cyclist detection, as well as an improved low-light pedestrian detection. Adaptive cruise control is also available (though it will not bring the car to a complete stop in the manual-equipped cars). Speaking of the manual trans, both the 6-speed manual and simulated 10-speed CVT are brand new units. If you want Toyota’s lane-keep assist software (which allegedly keeps the car dead center of the lane, rather than hunting side to side for painted lines like older systems), you’ll have to choose the CVT. Camera-based road sign detection is also standard, bringing stop, yield, and speed limit signs into the cabin and putting them right in your eyeline on the cluster. It’s a lot of standard safety equipment, to be quite frank, and some buyers will value that dearly. 

Getting down to brass tacks, nobody reading this will want to buy the CVT-equipped model. I’ve never met a CVT I liked, and this one doesn’t change that. Simulating nine gear shifts on my way up to highway speed is dumb. Changing shift points and ‘gear ratios’ when switching to Sport mode is dumb. Having flappy paddle shifters for a CVT is dumb. Just don’t do that to yourself, and order a Corolla Hatch with a really nice 6-speed manual in the center console. It performs quite nicely for a Japanese-developed gearbox, experiencing very little of the vagueness and lightweight flywheel issues that are normal in other models. It’s easy shifting, nicely gated, and firm, while clutch takeup is quite nice. The car has enough torque (151 ft-lbs) to pull away from a stop without accelerator pedal application. Interestingly, it’s the only ‘normal’ car I’ve ever experienced with automatic rev-matching on downshifts, a technology previously reserved for Porsches, Corvettes, and Nissan’s 370Z. I like it!

Handling is reasonable for a 3000 pound hatchback, considered lightweight in today’s market. It’s not something you’d call inspired or even above average, but this car has more lateral grip than 99% of Corolla Hatch buyers will ever exploit. It corners reasonably flat, and doesn’t wallow or dive like you might expect. Given the stiff competition in this segment, I’m not sure I’d buy one of these over a comparable Golf 1.8t or Mazda3, but it’s certainly the best iteration of Corolla I’ve ever come across, which says a lot considering how quickly Toyota moves these things. 

I drove the base model with 16″ wheels and a manual transmission in the morning, and an XSE model with a CVT in the afternoon. Aside from hating the CVT, the XSE was a nice upgrade over the base model, adding 18″ wheels, LED fog lights, leather insert power seats, dual-zone climate control, premium audio, and a full-width screen in place of the analog gauges. Toyota has *STILL* not released pricing information for the Corolla Hatch, but expect it to start around 18 grand. Depending on the price increase for the XSE package, I’d swing for it. The digital gauges are nice (even if there was no numeric readout for speed, just the sweeping needle), and the 18″ wheels are stylish. It’s a tough choice, but if you really want a Toyota, this is probably the best normal Toyota there has been in years. 


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28 responses to “2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback – A Tepid Hatch For The Masses”

  1. Sjalabais Avatar

    That’s a pretty neat Toyota, and it will probably sell well whatever they try to stick on it. But…this is the first hood I have seen in…forever?…that has zero visible sound insulation:
    What’s that about?

    1. outback_ute Avatar

      It’s interesting that this model has less room than the previous one, which had less interior space than the much taller model before it. I wonder why this is happening in the face of the move to more practical SUVs? Surely the number of buyers wanting a functional car is higher than those wanting a sporty one, but then that was boring which is a sin at Toyota.

      1. Bradley Brownell Avatar
        Bradley Brownell

        Segment creep. Compacts (Civic, Corolla, Mazda3, etc) are getting to be as big as the mid-size sedans (Accord, Camry, Mazda6) used to be. It seems Toyota is making their small car smaller to avoid developing a new car below it (Yaris, which didn’t sell well), while giving a larger incentive to step up to the more profitable Camry.

        1. Eric Rucker Avatar

          Looks like the spam filter ate a reply after I edited it to add things a few times, BTW.

          1. outback_ute Avatar

            Agreed Eric. (Saw your reply but it’s gone now)
            From what I can see the Australian spec is 40mm longer wheelbase and overall length, 30mm wider, 25mm lower. What is unusual is they have reduced front overhang by 20mm and added that to the rear. The US bumpers are no doubt different and perhaps that’s where the difference lies.
            Two rounds of lowering the hip point have fundamentally changed the car (back to where it was in the 90s perhaps?). Toyota is on a big “not boring, no really” kick, but I think they are on a hiding to nothing; the Toyota=boring crowd won’t change their minds and existing customers won’t care about the changes.

          2. Eric Rucker Avatar

            I think you’re looking at Corolla iM specs, not the new Corolla Hatch/Auris specs – AFAIK, the shortest wheelbase TNGA-C cars are 2640 mm wheelbase, and are the C-HR, Gen 3 Auris/whatever gen Corolla Hatch, and Lexus UX.

          3. outback_ute Avatar

            Definitely the new car, the old one was 2600 wheelbase for the hatch and had been since the 2000 E120 generation.

    2. Dominique Guenette Avatar
      Dominique Guenette

      It’s a prototype/test vehicle… The production model will of course be fitted with the hood insulation pad in its obvious location.

  2. Maymar Avatar

    I drove a CH-R for a couple days and didn’t hate it, so that with more power, less weight, and a normal ride height should be a perfectly pleasant car pretty much guaranteed to last slightly past the heat death of the sun (and the day after, it’d still sell within about an hour of posting it online).
    Plus, derivative as it is (I guess they threw a Mazda3 and Cruze hatch in a blender?), it’s relatively subdued, which is appreciated (*COUGH*HONDA!*COUGH).

    1. Bradley Brownell Avatar
      Bradley Brownell

      CH-R is the most godawful car I’ve ever seen.

      1. Zentropy Avatar

        It’s not the most, but it’s certainly ridiculous. Somehow they made it uglier than the Juke that apparently inspired it.
        I think Maymar nailed it when he summed it up with “didn’t hate it”. That’s how I used to feel about Toyotas, but these days I wouldn’t want to be seen in one.

  3. Fred Avatar

    I haven’t seen a pic of the “trunk” I hear it’s less than spectacular, but a picture would be nice?

      1. Fred Avatar

        Actually it looks bigger than I expected. Really all I want is to be put a larger piece into the trunk.

      2. Sjalabais Avatar

        Very shallow.

  4. dukeisduke Avatar

    I have read that this is a real improvement over the Corolla iM, especially horsepower.

    1. Bradley Brownell Avatar
      Bradley Brownell

      Big horsepower jump. I think it’s got 30 more.
      Suspension is a huge improvement.

  5. Dabidoh_Sambone Avatar

    As long as it says “Corolla” on the tailgate it’s dead to me. Toyota would do better licensing the name Ambien for their entry level boredom-boxes.
    Sorry everyone, I usually try to be more positive, but can’t muster it today …

      1. kogashiwa Avatar

        I support this

      2. Vairship Avatar

        Only if they can cheat again, like in the olden days: https://jalopnik.com/how-the-best-racing-cheat-of-all-time-worked-1792828060

  6. kogashiwa Avatar

    Can one get the manual in the XSE or is it poverty-spec only?

  7. outback_ute Avatar

    The fake gear CVT operation is a tricky decision; is it worse than the drone of a standard CVT? Maybe too many fake gears, but done to more closely get the CVT benefits.
    Did you notice the new launch gear of the CVT Brad?
    I have driven the old Corolla and Focus, Golf, old i30, old Cerato but not Mazda 3, and I would lean towards the 3 still which has good reliability and driving feel from what reviews say. It is a pretty competitive segment and there is relatively little to choose between the main players IMO; note the Ford DCT has been replaced by a torque converter auto here.

  8. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

    I really like the front end design of these, but white really isn’t the colour. The metallic bronze shown on the Auris (Euro market Corolla) at the Geneva motor show looks far less Hertz.

  9. Zentropy Avatar

    Considering the Mazda3’s seductive lines, tossability, and driver feedback, and the Golf’s conservatively handsome styling and overall competence, I don’t see the Corolla as much of a threat. They’ve never been fun drivers (the new one appears no different), and that monstrous grille continues Toyota’s hell-in-a-handbasket approach to front-end styling. It’s not as ugly as the current Prius, but certainly no looker.

    1. Zentropy Avatar

      Agreed. These just suck. Did they run out of ideas, and just decide to make the front one big gaping hole?