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Review: 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback SE

Kamil Kaluski August 6, 2018 Featured, Reviews, Toyota Reviews 31 Comments

Most of us yawn upon hearing the Corolla name. For years the North American version of the Corolla has been a rather dreadful economy box. It is driven mostly by people who just want a cheap and reliable mobility appliance and by Uber drivers who want a cheap and reliable work appliance. No one ever bought a Corolla because they were in love with its looks or performance. 

That statement is not exactly fair. Corollas are loved around the world for the solid and long-lasting vehicles that they are. Anyone who has traveled anywhere has seen them used as reliable people haulers and sometimes goat haulers. From congested big cities to third-world countries with hardly any roads, the Corollas are the worker ants of the automotive world. And no enthusiast should dismiss the Corolla FX16 GT-S or the AE86.

For 2019 Toyota decided to give us something somewhat unexpected. In addition to the typical Corolla sedan there is now a hatchback version of the Corolla, succinctly but unimaginatively called Corolla Hatchback. But this isn’t just a sedan with a slopped butt, it’s actually an all-new vehicle. And this new Corolla has a new few surprises.

Let’s start off with the fact that the Corolla Hatchback is based on Toyota’s new TNGA-C platform, which it shares with the Prius and the C-HR. It’s a different car from, or rather a newer version of, the short-lived Scion iM, which in 2017 became the equally short-lived Toyota iM in the United States. The iM, and now the Corolla Hatchback, is known an Auris in other places on earth.

The new chassis retains the front MacPherson strut suspension setup in the front and multi-link suspension in the rear. Toyota claims lower mounting points, all reworked geometry, and revised spring and shock rates. Rear shocks towers have moved forward for increased cargo space and the center of gravity is 0.8 inches lower than the iM.

There is a new engine, too. Utilizing the most overused buzzword in the industry, Toyota calls this 2.0-liter for-banger Dynamic-Force. The engine has high-pressure direct-injection and low-pressure port-injection. Once in cylinders that air-fuel mixtures gets compressed to 1/13th its volume before getting ignited. Like on just about all modern engines there is intelligent valve timing. All of this dynamic force generates 168 horsepower and 151 lb-ft. of torque.

This is the most powerful Corolla that I can think of. But it is hard to excuse the fact that all of this technology makes less peak power than Honda’s 1.8-liter (B18C1) engine from the 1990’s. Yes, the Dynamic-Force is a lot smoother, has much more low-end power, runs cleaner and more efficient. But still, one could hope for a few more ponies.

For the U.S. market, there are two transmission choices. The most popular will be the continuously variable transmission (CVT), commonly known as automatic. CVTs are generally despised by anyone with a pulse but Toyota did a really good job here. There is no audible whining or the feeling of what can be described as slipping. The oddity of vehicle speed increasing while engine speeds remains steady is minimized. For some reason Toyota felt inclined to install paddle shifters to this shiftless transmission. The really great news is that a six-speed manual transmission is standard on both the SE and XSE models, and if even has downshift rev-matching control. Unfortunately I have not driven the manual version.

The big surprise is that this new chassis, new engine, and new transmission turn the Corolla Hatchback into something that few Corollas could be called – fun to drive. Yes, this thing is almost a hot-hatch – call it warm-hatch. It’s a quick for a Corolla, the steering is direct and not over-boosted, and the suspension responds well to spirited driving. Even the CVT acts accordingly in sport mode. No one will confuse with the VW GTI but I think it drives better than the conventional U.S.-spec Golf and similar to Elantra GT, which is also surprisingly good.

For a long time Toyota received a lot of jeers for its infotainment system. But the Corolla Hatchback changes that, too. The interface of the large centrally mounted eight-inch touchscreen is typical Toyota, slightly cramped and lacking vibrant colors, but works very well. The Corolla Hatchback is one of the first Toyotas to have Apple CarPlay (but no Android Auto) integration. Toyota went further and added Amazon Alexa, too. An 800-watt JBL audio system is available on the XSE. If there is one thing that odd about the whole set-up in the location of the connected USB port, which is placed oddly in the under the radio. There is another charging USB port in the center console.

The rest of the interior is nice, too. For the last several years Toyota has increased the quality and finish of their interiors which is most noticeable on the less pricey models. Everything is logically placed and intuitive to use. Most importantly, the interior does not feel cramped. People over six feet tall will be very comfortable in the front seats. There is a good amount of space for the rear seat passengers, too. There are places for your phones, cups, bottles, and glasses. If there is an area that’s slightly too small, it’s the trunk.

Outside, the Corolla Hatchback looks kind of cool, too. It has the Toyota corporate large-undersea-monster-mouth-grille adorned by J-shaped LED headlights. The side profile is a little softer, resembling the last version of the Toyota Mertix. The butt is sort of the inverse of the front, with black bumper trim and narrow taillights. Love it or hate it, it’s the new modern design and it looks better in life than in pictures. The car in pictures is the SE model but the XSE, with bigger wheels and a little spoiler, looks a lot better. 

The 2019 Corolla Hatchback starts at $19,990 for the SE model with manual transmission. The XSE starts $22,990. The CVT will add $1100 to each model. There are also a handful of options packages for each model, mostly limited to audio and lighting systems. All the latest safety systems are standard. Depending on the model and transmission, the gas mileage varies between 28 and 32 in the city, and 37 and 42 miles per gallon on the highway.

More than anything, with this new 2019 Corolla Hatchback, Auris, if you will, it shows that Toyota has really tried. They could have just add a hatch to the conventional Corolla and call it a day, but they didn’t. It looks like they reengineered and improved everything they could. They succeeded because this is the first Corolla in the long time that does not feel like a soulless appliance. It is the first Corolla in a long time that’s entertaining to drive and also it is the first Corolla in a long that is simply pleasant all around.

Disclaimer: Toyota provided to the vehicle for the purpose of this story. Most images were provided by Toyota because I did something stupid to my fancy camera. 

  • Fred

    I’ve read reviews of the reb matching manual and they all say it’s pretty slick.

    • Zentropy

      “Rev-matching manual” to me sounds like a feature for people who can’t drive a stick.

  • FWIW, there have been more powerful Corollas/Aurises in the past – 170-190 hp 2ZZ-GEs, a 215 hp supercharged 2ZZ-GE for Europe, 177 hp 2.2 turbodiesels for Europe, and a 180 hp hybrid for the new Auris (basically the hybrid version of this engine).

    • The Pontiac Vibe with that motor and a stick (pretty sure it was available that way) was kind of a sleeper. But neither the Vibe nor the Martix was a Corolla by name. But yes, the Corolla XRS had that motor – I forgot about it. Those were interesting times for Toyota. They shoehorned the V6 into the Rav4 thus turning that into a freakin’ sleeper.

      • Gnomical

        1) Thanks for the article. 2) Have you driven the older Matrix XRS and, if so, how does it compare with this much newer iteration?

        • 1) My pleasure.
          2) I don’t recall driving it, I think I was a passenger in one at some point.

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      • outback_ute

        The 2007 Blade Master G (yes that was its name!) had the 3.5L V6! Auto only I think.

        • Rover 1

          My sister in law has a Blade Master G. As my brother put it, ‘The car couldn’t exist without the invention of traction control’

          • outback_ute

            Can you imagine the Jeremy Clarkson review? More power than the Alfa Romeo 147 GTA I think.

        • Fuck me, I didn’t notice *that* when looking through those articles…

          And yeah, given that it’s a reskinned Auris, I’ll count that as a Corolla.

          • Yes.

        • Holy crap… that’s…. AMAZING!

  • crank_case

    Looks like an Opel Astra that rear-ended a Prius.

    • Astras had excellent design, which I won’t say about Priusses

      • Zentropy

        I would agree. It’s more like a Toyota Prius that rear-ended an Opel Astra.

  • Zentropy

    I won’t just yawn, but if there’s a portmanteau of “yawn + gag”, then that’d be my reaction. I look at this and wonder why the AMC Pacer got such a bad rap.

  • Desmo

    Why does Toyota always try to outdo the germans? Result looks as always disproportional and ridiculous. The only car I remember they got it right was Lexus LS 400, but that was about 30 or so years ago.

    • Zentropy

      That was indeed a good car. Since then, not so much.

  • Tank

    This looks far and away better than the IM in the looks dept. I was in the market for a newer car recently, and I couldn’t bring myself to even test one. This, I would definitely buy… on the used market

    • Zentropy

      The IM was boring, but not unattractive. This is more exciting, but ugly. There are actually parts of Toyota’s cars that look good to me (the rear of the current Camry, for example), but from other angles, they’re a mess. Until their designers abandon the “gaping maw” up front, I’ll continue to pass on Toyotas.

      • Tank

        The wheels on the IM were the absolute worst part for me.

    • Zentropy

      This is literally what I think of when I look at the Corolla HB.

      • Tank

        You say that like its a bad thing

      • Rudy™

        Jeez, I was about to say the same thing. Recent Toyota and Lexus designs have that gawdawful GASH of a front grille, in black…absolutely terrible.

  • outback_ute

    Personally I think they have spoiled the Corolla a bit since trying to make it all Sporty! and Exciting! and Definitely Not Boring!!! No matter what they do, few people will be buying a Corolla because it is cool so why not make it practical and honest, and style it for the target market not teenagers.

  • duurtlang

    “More than anything, with this new 2019 Corolla Hatchback, Auris, if you will, it shows that Toyota has really tried. ”

    I’m not so sure. In Europe this is, and has been for multiple (car) generations, an also ran. A car you buy because you either want a more conventional looking Prius (it’s available with the Prius drivetrain) or because you want the most reliable car you believe you can buy and don’t care about the rest. Europe wide it’s easily outsold by its direct competitors from VW, Ford, Opel, Peugeot, Fiat, Renault, Seat and Skoda. All of which are arguably better (except the much cheaper Fiat Tipo maybe), as are cars like the Mazda 3 and Hyundai i30.

    It’s certainly not a bad car, but it’s not that good either. It’s just, a car.

    • Right. But Europe does not have have this version yet, so perhaps it will be different this time around?

      • duurtlang

        Not impossible, but I think it’s highly unlikely. Toyota in Europe attracts a demographic which is utterly uninterested in a sporty hatch, and this has been the case for decades. If they suddenly introduce something somewhat competent, who will buy it? Unless it’s much better or prettier than the competition, which it isn’t, I’m very skeptical. Seriously, you hardly ever see someone born after 1970 or so drive a Toyota. Except maybe the Aygo, but that’s bought because it’s so incredibly cheap.

  • Hung Nguyen

    This is a typical Japanese way of car designing. You will hardly get a perfect styling of a model in its first year.