2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback Review

The First Corolla Worth Owning in Years

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback Review

It may have just debuted at the New York International Auto Show a few short weeks ago, but Toyota is readying its 2019 Corolla Hatchback to go on sale a lot sooner than you might expect. Ahead of its arrival at dealerships, here’s our full review of this fresh-faced five-door.

Like other recent models, this versatile small car rides on a version of Toyota’s new global architecture, the TNGA C platform. Along with a new multi-link rear suspension, this underlying structure gives the car 60 percent more torsional rigidity than the current Toyota Corolla iM hatch, which is a huge increase and one that pays numerous dividends, from greater safety to enhanced driving dynamics.

Dimensionally, the ’19 model is slightly lower, wider and longer than its forebear, while the tracks both front and rear have been increased, as has the wheelbase. For improved forward visibility, the hood has been dropped by about two inches. Curiously, the rear hatch is composite, made from a combination of ABS plastic and a proprietary material, Toyota Super Olefin Polymer.

Aiming at the more premium end of the compact-car segment this car will only be offered in two trims, at least for the time being. The SE model serves base duty, though don’t let that scare you; it offer ample standard equipment. Stepping up from there is the XSE variant, which comes with even more goodies.

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Furious Four-Cylinder

Motivating the new Corolla Hatchback is a 2.0-liter naturally aspirated four-banger, the M20A-FKS in Toyota parlance. Technologically advanced, this engine is fitted with both intake and exhaust variable valve timing, three dedicated oil jets per cylinder for enhanced efficiency and reduced noise as well as direct and port fuel injection, because if one fuel-delivery system is good twice that many must be better!

With an under-square design, meaning the bore (80.5 mm) is smaller than the stroke (97.6 mm), this engine delivers plenty of torque, cranking out a maximum of 151 foot-pounds; horsepower clocks in at 168, increases of 25 and 31, respectively. Aside from greater output, this new engine also has smaller exterior dimensions and is lighter than the 1.8-liter unit found in today’s Corolla iM. How’s that for progress?

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Choose Your Own (Transmission) Adventure

Despite the lack of engine choice, Toyota is offering two transmissions in this hatchback, and the one that will undoubtedly be most popular is an all-new Dynamic Shift CVT. This advanced “gearbox” features numerous innovations designed to improve both performance and efficiency.

For starters, it offers 10 simulated ratio steps to help reduce the dreaded slipping sensation inherent to continuously variable transmissions. It also benefits from a dedicated launch gear, the first application of this technology in a passenger-car CVT. This fixed gear is used when taking off from a stop, helping improve launch performance and low-speed efficiency, it also reduces input loads, which allowed engineers to reduce the size of the belt-and-pulley assemble, further improving efficiency.

If you prefer dancing the three-pedal shuffle (And let’s be honest, who doesn’t?), a six-speed manual transmission is also available in the 2019 Corolla Hatchback. The so-called iMT is 15 pounds lighter and physically shorter than the unit it replaces. This gearbox also has a few clever tricks up its sleeve, including automatic rev-matching for perfectly executed downshifts. It also fine tunes engine rpm for smoother gearchanges and reduced stalling, things that are ideal for novice drivers.

A Premium Small Car

In case you haven’t noticed, the new Corolla hatch is dressed in tastefully aggressive styling. There’s an elegance to its design that’s been lacking in other recent Toyotas. For once the brand’s big-honkin’-grille motif doesn’t seem grossly out of proportion. Its triple-element headlamps look great as does the expressively sculpted rear.

But what impressed me even more is the interior. The dashboard is elegantly simple with strong horizontal cues. The surfeit of soft plastics have luxury-car squish and are attractively textured. The rear seat is also unexpectedly spacious, able to accommodate a pair of six-footers without cramping.

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If this car’s interior falls short in any area it seems to be practicality. Lacking an official figure, the cargo area seems pretty tight. Short and shallow, there’s just not much real estate here, though the rear backrest does fold flat, opening up significantly more space.

Satiating today’s tech-hungry drivers, this new Corolla offers abundant features. For starters, an 8-inch touchscreen is standard, though two different infotainment systems are available: Entune 3.0 Audio and Entune 3.0 Audio Plus. Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa integration is baked right in like chopped filberts in a brownie. An upscale JBL audio system, automatic climate control and Qi wireless charging are all optional. LED head, tail and back-up lights are standard.

Dual-zone climate control is included in the XSE model as are heated front seats, an eight-way power driver’s chair and a seven-inch color display in the instrument cluster.

The Drive

Likely thanks to its TNGA underpinnings, which are shared with a variety of other Toyota models like Camry and Prius, this new Corolla Hatchback offers big-car refinement. Underway, surface imperfections are absorbed and digested nicely, with minimal harshness or noise making its way to the cabin. Snaking through corners, it always feels sturdy and planted, with no shudders or rattles to cheapen the experience.

Unfortunately, this upscale feel doesn’t translate to the steering, which could be livelier. It’s too light and isolated, transmitting little feel from the front tires. Honda’s new Civic, the Mazda3 and even Ford Focus, as old as it is, all seem to provide a more engaging drive.

The second generation of Toyota Safety Sense suite of driver aids is standard in every version of this small car. It bundles things like adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, road-sign recognition and much, much more into one neat little package. These are welcome additions to any vehicle, let alone a compact model.

With class-competitive power, the Corolla Hatchback accelerates as quickly as you’d expect, sprinting to 60 miles an hour probably toward the higher end of the eight-second range, though no official figure has been released. Acceleration is certainly adequate, even if the engine feels a bit gritty at higher rpm; more giddy-up would be appreciated. Perhaps Toyota can shoehorn its larger 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine in here to give buyers a bit more choice.

But the tradeoff for somewhat slower acceleration should be excellent fuel economy. Official figures for this 2019 model have yet to be announced, but we expect them to be competitive for the segment.

The Verdict: 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback Review

Even though it’s affordable, efficient and more reliable than the weather Southern California I find today’s Corolla sedan abjectly dreary, and the iM model isn’t much better. Basically, if you need a car, it is one… and that’s it. But overall, the 2019 hatchback model is a pleasantly surprising piece of work, roomy, premium and loaded with great features. To me, it’s the first Corolla worth owning in years.

This car is set to go on sale soon. Production gets underway in June, with deliveries kicking off the very next month. Base price for an SE model with a manual transmission is $20,910, including $920 for delivery. Expect to get a loaded-up XSE model for around 25 grand.

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