The virtuous, pock-faced Toyota Corolla apparently got lost recently in the golden dust and glitter of cut-and-buff California.
It probably knows all about body-pumps, Bosu balls and avocado-smoothies now.
I mean, how else can you explain the chiseled, tasteful transformation of one of blandest tea-sippers in the land?
Gone for 2019 are the Corolla’s gaping mouth and its ambling, awkward body, replaced by – get this – a double-shot of sleekness and a touch of muscle.
Actually, the 2019 Corolla Hatchback XSE I had recently got the same sort of careful carving and shaping that Toyota bestowed on its big brother last year, the Camry.
Don’t ask me why conservative Toyota would so thoroughly reinvigorate the Corolla and Camry at a time when cars are steadily losing ground to crossovers and trucks, but my eyes thank them for it. After all, good design ages a bit more gracefully – no small consideration when you’re stroking checks on something for the next 72 months.
Hey, maybe someone could sprinkle some of that pungent California dust on me.
Right up front, the robin-egg blue Corolla I had flashed lots of fresh lines and attitude – and I’m not generally a fan of Toyota or Lexus styling.
Although still burdened with an overly substantial grille, the car’s new mouth is trimmer and shaped better, topped by a broad, strong hood with light sculpting.
Slender, extremely horizontal headlamps above the grille cut hard into the Corolla’s short front fenders, while two crisp character lines tightened its sides.
A rounded hatchback and Euro-looking rear roof-pillar also contributed to the contemporary look, brightened by bold wrap-around tail lamps.
Meanwhile, real tires and wheels – 225/40s on nice-looking alloy-and-black 18-inch wheels – protruded from the Corolla’s wheel-wells. It was a good start – even doused in a shade of blue that probably belongs on the boots shuffling along Sixth Street in Austin.
My Corolla XSE came equipped with a stronger 2-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 168-horsepower, 28 more than last year’s model.
It even boasted a slick-shifting six-speed manual transmission and rode on a taut new platform tuned for better handling.
While not as ambitiously sporting as the Honda Civic, the front-wheel-drive Corolla seemed to kind of like being tossed into hard corners, leaning a bit but remaining pretty firmly planted.
Moreover, the 3,000-pound hatchback rode smoother and steered more precisely, its suspension effectively absorbing bumps and curves.
Though not as quick as some of the stouter Civics, the Corolla can comfortably contend with fast moving traffic, hitting 60 mph in a reasonable 8.5 seconds from a stop, according to Car and Driver.
The new, slightly larger engine in the Corolla felt lively and was happy to rev past 6,500 rpm, but lacked some of the snappy surge that its competitors’ turbo-motors exude.
However, it can scratch out 28 miles per gallon in city driving – a bit short of the Civic’s 32 mpg rating, but still pretty decent.
Probably more impressive was the sedan’s light-gray interior, which is considerably improved and surprisingly attractive for a compact sedan with a window-sticker of less than $24,000.
A flat-shaped black dashboard, for example, curved gracefully over the instrument panel, offering faux “stitching” on its edges.
It dropped down to a second tier in light gray dominated by a tablet-sized 8-inch display screen with simple buttons and knobs for the audio and climate systems.
Not only did the mid-dash area look clean, it also was highly functional and included Apple CarPlay compatibility.
Similarly, the door panels – frequently a neglected area in relatively low-cost cars – featured light-gray tops with slightly padded black armrests and a sweeping door-pull trimmed in aluminum.
They nicely complemented the seats, which offered light-gray bolsters with textured black centers.
A bench-seat in back provided limited legroom, but reasonable head-room – meaning if you have long-legged teens, you may need to trade them for shorter models.
The new Corolla makes a pretty strong statement – and that isn’t necessarily the norm for Toyota.
The automaker has long been really slow to thoroughly restyle and upgrade its vehicles, often coasting on its reputation and brand-power, but first the new Camry and now the Corolla show some youthful spirit that I haven’t seen from Toyota in decades. What’s next – body-piercings and tattoos?
2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE
- What I liked most: The Corolla’s total transformation – new platform, finely restyled body and interior, and livelier engine.
- What I would change: Even more steam, please, with an engine powerful enough to better match the new platform and suspension.
- MSRP: Base price, 19,990; as equipped, $23,910.
- Fuel economy: Rated at 28 miles per gallon in town, 37 on the highway and 31 combined with filler on left.
- Official color: Blue Flame. Odometer reading when tested: 784 miles.
- Weight: 3,060 pounds.
- Length-width-height: 169.9 inches long/69.9 inches wide/57.1 inches tall.
- Fuel-tank capacity: 13.2 gallons.
- Towing capacity: Not applicable.
- Spare tire: Temporary compact.
- 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback in a few words: One of Toyota’s best – and most thorough – revisions of a bread-and-butter sedan.
- Warranty: Three-year, 36,000-mile overall warranty and five-year, 60,000-mile powertrain protection.
- Final assembly location: Aichi, Japan.
- Manufacturer’s website: www.toyota.com
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- Up next: 2019 Kia Sorento V-6