2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback Review

Liz Kim | Aug 18, 2018

Introduction

In a world gone mad with a multitude of crossover type vehicles in every size and price point, a sane alternative cries out in the dark, touting almost as much utility, greater fuel economy and, in many cases, a lower price point.

We’re talking about hatchbacks. They’ve never waned in popularity in other parts of the world, but here in the US, the hatchback body style somehow got linked with lousy little econoboxes, and image-conscious consumers have stayed away.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback
2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback

But what is a crossover if not a taller hatchback? Aside from the option to add all-wheel drive, there isn’t much difference. Carmakers are betting that modern customers will view the practical hatchback with a fresh pair of eyes, and they’re introducing a slate of new models to compete on value with similarly sized crossover vehicles.

Enter the 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback, which replaces the short-lived Corolla iM. Plopped onto Toyota’s latest global vehicle architecture, equipped with a new drivetrain, loaded with the latest tech, and offering snappy styling along with the automaker’s reputation for reliability, the new Corolla Hatchback comes in two flavors: SE and XSE.

For this review, J.D. Power evaluated a 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE equipped with a continuously variable transmission, adaptive headlights, and a carpeted mat package. The price came to $25,654, including the $920 destination charge.

What Owners Say…

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the new Toyota Corolla Hatchback, it is helpful to understand who bought the previous Corolla iM, and what they liked most and least about their vehicles.

Corolla iM owners, according to J.D. Power data, are evenly split between men and women, with 49% female. This represents greater gender balance than is seen in the Compact Car segment as a whole, where 45% of owners are women.

People who choose the Corolla iM are, however, older and less affluent. Based on the small J.D. Power sample size, this Toyota’s owners are, on average, 54 years of age (vs. 48 for the segment) and earn an annual median household income of $51,250 (vs. $70,279). This is particularly interesting given that the Corolla iM was originally marketed through Toyota’s youth-oriented and now defunct sub-brand, Scion.

As is true of the Compact Car segment in general, most Corolla owners identify as Price Buyers, and 44% agree that they prefer to buy a vehicle from a domestic company (vs. 42% for the segment). While the Corolla sedan is manufactured in Blue Springs, Mississippi, the Corolla iM was sourced from a Japanese factory.

Corolla owners are more likely to strongly agree that they avoid vehicles they think will have high maintenance costs (74% vs. 67%) and that their first consideration in choosing a new vehicle is reliability (74% vs. 65%). Furthermore, they are more likely to agree that their first consideration in choosing a new vehicle is fuel economy (87% vs. 77%).

If keeping costs low motivates Corolla owners to choose Toyota, style and performance does not. They are less likely to agree that they like a vehicle offering responsive handling and powerful acceleration (17% vs. 14%), less likely to agree that they like a vehicle that stands out from the crowd (43% vs. 35%), and more likely to agree that a vehicle is just a way of getting from place to place (64% vs. 53%.)

Owners report that their favorite things about the Corolla iM were (in descending order) the exterior styling, interior design, climate control system, seats, and driving dynamics. Owners indicate that their least favorite things about the Corolla iM were (in descending order) the infotainment system, visibility and safety, engine/transmission, storage and space, and fuel economy.

What Our Expert Says…

In the sections that follow, our expert provides her own perceptions about how the new Corolla Hatchback measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the 2018 APEAL Study.

Exterior

My test vehicle was wrapped in an eye-searingly bright Blue Flame paint job. It was a head turner, mostly because that color doesn’t exist in nature.

As far as the design is concerned, it looks a bit nose-heavy due to a long front overhang, but, save for its gaping maw of a front grille, its futuristic visage works better than what’s used on Toyota’s other hatchbacks – the Prius troika. The character lines that run along the side lend some visual interest, leading to what is a comparatively simple rear end, accented by a protuberant roof spoiler.

Sporting 18-inch machine-finished wheels, the Corolla Hatchback XSE has an athletic flair, even if its performance doesn’t necessarily live up to its appearance. Owners of the old Corolla iM loved how it looked, and the exuberant 2019 Corolla Hatchback should continue to attract positive attention.

Interior

Stepping into the Corolla Hatchback produced one pleasing surprise after another.

My test vehicle had the Moonstone color scheme, a glowing light gray standing in sharp contrast to the cabin’s underlying black surfaces. Warm and illuminating, the color lent the Corolla a stylish and upscale look, giving the car an agreeable point of differentiation.

Most of the materials exuded quality, too, with admirable fit and finish despite my test car’s pre-production status.

Interior design was second on the list of favored aspects of Corolla iM ownership, and that trend should continue with the impressive new Corolla Hatchback.

Seats

The Corolla Hatchback XSE comes with heated seats, and the driver is able to find a proper position thanks to 8-way power adjustment. The front passenger is less fortunate, as there is no seat height adjuster in this car. Because the seat is mounted pretty low, you’re stuck with your legs splayed in a rather unseemly manner.

Rear seat passengers will find tight quarters, with less shoulder space than they would in a Corolla sedan. Even my kids found the space to be lacking. Therefore, unless short people are sitting up front, the Corolla Hatchback’s back seat is an ‘occasional use only’ zone.

Climate Control System

My XSE trimmed test vehicle came with dual-zone automatic climate control, which proved reasonably effective during a blisteringly hot July week in Southern California. The buttons and knobs for controlling it, running along the bottom of the center stack, are clearly marked and easy to use.  

Infotainment System

For the first time, Apple CarPlay makes its debut in a Toyota, and the automaker is rolling this out to selected additional models for 2019. Android Auto is in the works, too, though no timetable has been set. Toyota, which has resisted smartphone projection technology mightily, has ultimately succumbed to consumer desire for it.

It is included with a new Entune 3.0 infotainment system, which includes an 8-inch floating tablet-style touchscreen at the top of the center of the dashboard. The setup is well designed and equipped, with primary buttons flanking the screen, and separate power/volume and tuning knobs at each lower corner. Personally, I prefer knobs that are a bit meatier and better articulated, but a weak knob is better than no knob, so kudos to Toyota.

The Entune 3.0 system’s functions are intuitive and easy to access and utilize, though my mid-grade version of the technology did not include the available embedded navigation (which replaces a navigation app running off your smartphone) or the optional JBL premium sound system.

Storage and Space

The point of a hatchback has always been greater utility, especially in terms of cargo versatility, but the Corolla Hatchback seeks to upend that chestnut.

Pop the hatch and Toyota claims that you’ll get 17.8 cu.-ft. of space, which is larger than the trunks of most full-size sedans. However, in reality this is improbable. Loading up my haul from the local big-box store, I was dismayed by how little space is behind the Corolla Hatchback’s rear seat.

Fold the 60/40-split rear seats, and Toyota says that the car will only give you a scant 5.3 cu.-ft. of extra space. That’s hardly physically possible, and a bit mysterious. Perhaps there is an error on the Corolla Hatchback’s specification chart that is easily corrected by an alert copy editor?

In any case, folding the rear seats down solved my loading problem at the store, which is the point of this car in the first place.

Visibility and Safety

At the time I tested the new Corolla Hatchback, neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety had performed crash tests on the car, so I cannot comment on how it might protect you in a collision.

Hopefully, the standard Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 (TSS 2.0) suite of active safety features will help you to avoid one in the first place. Impressively, it’s quite comprehensive, and includes full-speed-range adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with pedestrian and cyclist detection, and automatic emergency braking. It also includes three lane discipline systems: lane departure warning, lane keeping assist with Road Edge Detection, and lane centering assist.

But wait, there’s more!  The TSS 2.0 suite also equips every Corolla Hatchback with automatic high-beam headlights and road sign recognition technology. Additionally, as an option for SE trim and as standard equipment for XSE trim, a blind spot monitoring system is available for the Corolla Hatchback. Curiously, though, you can’t get a rear cross-traffic alert system on this car. Typically, that goes hand-in-hand with blind spot monitoring.

Finally, as a part of the Entune 3.0 infotainment system, Toyota provides a complimentary 3-year subscription to its Safety Connect services package. This includes automatic collision notification, SOS emergency assistance, a stolen vehicle locator, and quick access to roadside assistance.

Engine/Transmission

The motivating force behind the Corolla Hatchback is a 168-horsepower, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine. While that figure represents decent power for a compact vehicle, its relatively meager 151 lb.-ft. of torque, which peaks at a high 4,800 rpm, sucks away the potential joy of zipping around in a little car.

Still, the optional continuously variable transmission (CVT), which replaces the standard 6-speed manual gearbox, made the most of what spirit the engine’s got. Notably, this is the world’s first CVT to boast an actual first gear, in addition to 10 simulated gears, in order to make the Corolla feel peppier off the line. It resulted in acceptably satisfying launches from a standstill.

Toyota, in a rare move, offers a 6-speed manual transmission for both SE and XSE trim levels. This is a smart bid to attract enthusiast types who prefer to row their own gears, and might make a Corolla Hatchback feel more responsive and fun to drive. Most people will pony up an extra $1,200 for the CVT, however.

Fuel Economy

On my test loop, I averaged 29.2 mpg in mixed driving. While that’s a high number overall, it fell quite a bit short compared to the EPA-rated number of 33 mpg.

That won’t please the plurality of Corolla owners who consider fuel economy the most important aspect in choosing a vehicle, nor will it assuage previous Corolla iM owners who thought that real-world fuel economy was the least pleasing aspect of owning their vehicle.

Driving Dynamics

If the Corolla Hatchback projects the appearance of being sporty, its driving characteristic snuffs that notion pretty quickly.

Its slow-to-a-fault and numb electric steering lacks any kind of crispness or feel, especially at highway speeds. And its suspension tuning allows the car to wallow along like an overweight Labrador. Sure, this car’s soft, absorbing suspension is great for peaceful commutes around town, as it swallows up bumps and almost glides down a freeway, but it’s not particularly fun to coax this Corolla down a curvy road.

Toyota says that it has improved body rigidity, as the Corolla hatch rides on Toyota’s new TNGA (fun to say!) platform. Still, driving this car is rather dull, with none of the zesty flavor that competitors like the Mazda 3 and Volkswagen Golf possess in droves. Perhaps the automaker will see fit to offer more Toyota Racing Development upgrades aside from the air and oil filters available at the time of testing.

As a daily driver, the Corolla’s tidy exterior dimensions are a boon on crowded city streets, and neatly tuck into tight parking spaces. Additionally, the car’s brakes are nicely calibrated and effective, even under duress in high-heat driving conditions.

Final Impressions

The Corolla name carries weight and power. Some people get new ones every few years, based solely on the strength of a Corolla’s reliability, familiarity, and value.

This new hatchback iteration of the Corolla should cast a wider net for the company, appealing to a broader customer base with its appealing design, attractive interior, and additional utility over the sedan version. New customers to the brand will also be happy to find that Toyota offers two years of free scheduled maintenance visits.

With that said, a bumper crop of compact hatchbacks beckons, several of which deliver greater functionality, livelier driving characteristics, and even all-wheel drive for battling winter blizzards.

As impressive as the new Corolla Hatchback is, it meets rather than exceeds expectations.

Toyota supplied the vehicle used for this 2019 Corolla Hatchback review.









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