The 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback is a fresh, adventurous take on the historically tame classic economy car.
After more than 50 years in production, the Corolla still serves its purpose as a function-first commuter car, but the newest iteration does so with more style and a closer eye on its driving experience than it ever has before. With the Corolla Hatchback, Toyota has struck a careful balance between the practical roots of the car and the evolving demands of younger consumers, and its hard work has paid off.
I spent a week with the 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback SE, even taking it on a weekend trip with the wife and kids. The expectation for a car of this size is that there will be some degree of pain involved in daily driving, but there are some surprises with this new Corolla. The first is that the hatchback design brings a great deal of flexibility to cargo space and storage, which meant that bringing a stroller and all of the other junk needed to tame two- and six-year-old kids for a weekend was relatively straightforward. The second is that the Corolla’s driving experience is now actually an… experience. There’s still a hard distinction between this car and anything even resembling a hot hatchback, but Toyota has done enough here to appease enthusiast-leaning consumers without alienating the traditional Corolla base.
For most of its life, the Corolla’s styling has reflected its role in the market: a conventional-but-unstoppable commuter car. That has changed in recent years, as most of Toyota’s vehicles have moved toward sharper lines and bolder styling, albeit with varying degrees of controversy.
The new Corolla Hatchback distills all of the best elements of Toyota’s newfound design confidence into an athletic, sculpted form that is eye-catching and attractive from all angles. A wide-mouth grille, sharp LED-flanked headlights and chrome accents frame the Corolla’s front end and bring a lower, more aggressive stance to the car.
The Corolla’s 18-inch wheels enhance the speedy aesthetic of the car without looking goofy or too big, and the carved sheet metal between front and rear wheel arches helps elongate the hatchback’s profile. Our SE model came without the available rear spoiler that sits atop the rear window, adding a rally car feel. It’s purely cosmetic, but the visual effect is striking.
This Corolla isn’t so much about outright speed as it is the sensation of speed and the car’s ability to mix old and new technology to achieve it. The 168 horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and continuously variable transmission (CVT) in our test car work together well and help the Corolla feel faster than it is. This CVT has been tuned to act like a normal gearbox, with distinct “shift points” and a responsive manual-shifting mode. It’s a novel feature that helps the car achieve a much more engaging driving experience, but it did cause a few stutters when quickly jabbing the throttle to pass or pull out into traffic.
With the SE Preferred Package, our 2019 Corolla Hatchback was laden with an eight-inch touchscreen, which brings with it Apple CarPlay. Toyota opted for a tablet-style screen perched atop the center stack. It’s a risky choice that doesn’t always “fit” in other vehicles, but in the Corolla the screen has near-perfect placement and great visibility. Owing some thanks to its small cabin, the Corolla’s sound system is plenty loud and well-balanced. Even without the optional upgrade to a higher-wattage system, the audio is clear and never sounds washed out.
Toyota Safety Sense P is standard on all Corolla models this year, which brings lane departure alert, pre-collision warning, traffic sign recognition, lane departure alert and automatic high beams. The application of advanced safety features in this car is unobtrusive – a welcome change from loud alarms and warnings found in many other vehicles today.
When I first receive a vehicle, there are a few moments of mental hopscotch to determine where to install my kids’ car seats to optimize interior space, especially when I receive anything smaller than a mid-size SUV. The full-size car seat for my two-year old won’t always fit behind the driver’s seat and allow me to drive without my knees in the dash, but I tried it here on a whim and found no issues with the large front-facing seat on the driver’s side of the car. Some will notice the sloping roof cuts away headroom in the rear seat, especially when loading and unloading larger car seats. Kids’ heads are hard, right?
Normal, non-kid-having people will find plenty to like inside the 2019 Corolla Hatchback’s interior as well. The front seats are generous in both their width and depth, making longer trips easily tolerable, and though the cabin is compact it never feels too small.
There is more road and wind noise than expected, but the Corolla’s suspension does a decent job of soaking up all but the worst of Northern New England’s back roads. The jolts that do make their way through un-damped are a harsh reminder that this isn’t your grandparents’ Avalon.
All of this adds up to a solid package, both in terms of value and performance. The 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback is nimble, acceptably comfortable, and it offers enough at the base level to entice buyers typically interested in vehicles at a higher price point. Small families and younger buyers are the sweet spot for this car, though my experience proved that a family of four can make do with few sacrifices.