Stylish and fun to drive haven’t traditionally been the first words that come to mind when it comes to Toyota vehicles. Instead, they get stamped with the words reliable, good value and, less flattering, dull. However, Toyota execs, bless them, have had enough of all that boring talk. We’ve seen it most recently with the new 2019 Toyota Avalon and 2018 Toyota Camry. Now it’s the 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback’s turn to further the brand’s battle cry to build more exciting, dramatic vehicles that actually make you, well, feel something.
2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback
Two trim choices make it easy for the indecisive: XE and XSE. My test model is a pre-production XSE model equipped with a Continuously Variable Transmission. A 6-speed manual is also available. The Hatchback rides on Toyota’s new, stiffer TNGA platform shared with the new Avalon, Camry and upcoming redesigned RAV4.
Thus, it’s on a longer wheelbase, sports wider tracks and sits lower to the ground than the Corolla iM it replaces. It looks good, too. All trims are outfitted with LED headlamps and taillights, a chrome rear diffuser, and a rear window spoiler. My Blue Flame XSE rides on sporty-looking 18-inch machine finished wheels and adds Bi-LED headlights, LED fog lights and chrome trim surrounding the grille. As you might guess, those fake chrome exhaust ports are for looks only.
My XSE’s two-tone Cool Gray minimalist cabin is well done with soft-touch materials on the dash and door panels. Sculpted, supportive, leather-trimmed sport seats are quite comfy with bolstering that keeps you planted in place. The eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat also has power lumbar support.
Look up from the tilt/telescopic leather-wrapped steering wheel and you see a colorful 7-inch digital tachometer clearly aimed at someone younger than my 40-something self. The driver display font was on the small side, but, hey, at least it was bright. The center console is cleanly laid out with a tablet-like 8-inch Entune 3.0 Audio touchscreen protruding from the top. It’s surrounded by glossy black accents that Toyota is quite fond of but I find too reflective for my taste. Beneath the XSE’s dual-zone climate controls, you’ll find buttons to activate the seat warmers. The center console houses the easy to use gear shifter, parking brake, and brake hold button. One-touch power windows for all four windows are also noteworthy.
It’s roomy up front for a compact sedan with a nice amount of headroom for all. But glance in the back seat and you’re in for a shock. It’s pretty tight back there without much legroom. Back seat passengers also have to do without air vents or USB ports. But there are cupholders in the door armrests. There’s a 60/40 split and its limited trunk space might not make it the best vehicle for trips to Costco. Visibility isn’t all that great out the small rear window.
Performance, Handling, and Ride
The 2019 Corolla Hatchback arrives without a performance version, so don’t expect a hot hatch like the Ford Focus RS or Golf GT. Still, the Hatchback’s 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder’s 168-horsepower is competitive with the turbocharged engines in its segment. But it lags behind in terms of its 151 lb.-ft of torque.
Now to the transmission. Toyota’s CVT isn’t known for being sporty. But Toyota is giving it a new first launch gear and it works rather brilliantly. It gives the CVT an actual first gear (not normal for a CVT) for faster acceleration off the line. You’ll hear a slight drone when the CVT kicks in, but it’s not deal-breaking. Handling borders on fun when you select Sport mode enhances driving and makes the transmission shift more aggressively. You can also shift using optional steering wheel paddle shifters.
Ride quality is excellent thanks to new multilink rear suspension. It’s also surprisingly pleasant to drive with smooth and responsive steering. It hugged the highway roundabouts quite nicely.
All Hatchbacks come standard with Smart Key, push-button start/stop, backup camera, heated power mirrors, tire pressure monitoring system, electric parking brake, brake hold, leather-wrapped steering wheel, Bluetooth, two USB ports, one 12 Volt, and 8-inch touchscreen.
Both trims are also equipped with Entune 3.0 that offers Apple CarPlay and Alexa voice-command compatibility for the first time. No Android Auto yet. A ho-hum six-speaker sound system is standard. An available $1,600 XSE Preferred package upgrades to a JBL 8-speaker system and includes navigation and wireless charging.
Toyota is a leader when it comes to providing a high level of standard safety features to all trims. The Hatchback comes with TSS 2.0, the second generation of Toyota Safety Sense which includes Pre-Collision Assist (Automatic Emergency Braking) with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert, Dynamic Cruise Control, and Automatic High Beams along with new Road Sign Assist. Blind Spot Monitoring is standard on XSE and available on SE, but the XSE CVT is the only model that offers adaptive swiveling headlights.
Toyota made the right moves with the 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback. It’s an option for drivers looking for an alternative to a small crossover that’s sporty without going full throttle into hot hatch territory. All of Toyota’s standard driver assistance technology make it a great value, too, for the price point. But as with any hatchback, don’t expect to fit an army in the back seat.