Car Reviews First Tests

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback First Test: Haute, Not Hot

Moving beyond vanilla

Moving beyond vanilla

Mention Toyota Corolla to anyone, and the first terms they’ll likely use to describe the car would be fuel efficient, affordable, and, in the case of automotive enthusiasts, a boring appliance. With the exception of the rear-drive Corolla GT-S/AE86 (the spiritual ancestor of the Toyota 86) and the Corolla XRS of the 2000s, the Corolla never got anyone’s pulse racing. Toyota aims to change that with the 2019 model, which has an eye-catching exterior highlighted by an angry-squinty front fascia and rakish side profile. We tested two 2019 Corolla hatchbacks to see how they stack up against the rest of the class.

Riding on the TNGA platform, the 2019 Corolla hatchback has improved body rigidity over its predecessor. Motor Trend testing director and figure-eight guru Kim Reynolds found the 2019 Corolla hatchback’s agility enjoyable. Although the car takes some prodding to get through a corner, Reynolds noted that the understeer isn’t excessive and it’s sensitive to steering inputs. The independent suspension setup gives the Corolla hatchback confident handling through corners. Body roll is minimal, making the car feel planted on the road.

Although the 2019 Corolla hatchback has better driving dynamics than its plodding predecessor, it’s not perfect. The car’s chassis does a good job absorbing road imperfections and potholes; however, large bumps and dips can cause the rear suspension to bounce around, especially if you hit one when taking a turn at highway speeds. Steering feel could be improved, especially at high speeds where the weight of steering feedback barely increases. Despite its improved driving experience, the 2019 Corolla hatchback isn’t on par with the Honda Civic and Mazda3, both of which offer superior handling and more driver engagement. Furthermore, the Chevrolet Cruze and Volkswagen Golf/Jetta compact cousins offer a smoother ride.

With 168 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque, the 2019 Corolla hatchback’s 2.0-liter I-4 is no powerhouse, but it’s enough to get you up a steep incline and pass slower traffic. You do need to rev the engine toward redline, as it doesn’t have much low-end torque. The standard six-speed manual has reasonable throws, gates that are easy to find, and an automatic rev-matching system that works smoothly and can be turned off with the press of a button. The clutch is light and vague, so it’ll take time to find where it engages. Road test editor Chris Walton observed that the manual clunks when shifted fast. A CVT is optional, but it features delayed responses and jerky fake shifts when left to its own devices or using the paddle shifters to manually change between 10 preset ratios. Sport mode improves throttle response, but it’s a little too touchy. The CVT provides superior fuel economy, at EPA-rated at 30/38 mpg (7.8/6.2 L/100km) city/highway in XSE guise or 32/42 mpg (7.3/5.6 L/100km) in the base SE. Opting for the manual drops those numbers to 28/37 mpg (8.4/6.4 L/100km).

At the track, the manual-equipped Corolla hit 60 mph in a spritely 7.5 seconds and finished the quarter mile in 16.0 seconds at 87 mph (140 km/h). The CVT-equipped tester was 1.0 second slower to 60 mph, but by the quarter mile it was only 0.5 second behind at 85.4 mph (137 km/h). On the handling tests, the manual-equipped tester generated 0.81 g of lateral acceleration, and the CVT-equipped car produced slightly more at 0.83 g. Both cars finished the figure eight in 27.6 seconds averaging 0.62 g and 0.61 g for the manual and CVT, respectively. Stopping from 60 mph took 131 feet on the manual Corolla and 120 feet for the CVT-equipped car. Walton observed a firm brake pedal with lots of vibrations, but dive was minimal and stability was good. He suspects that the lack of initial bite is the reason for the manual model’s long stopping distance.

Inside, you’ll find soft-touch materials on the dash, upper door panels, center console, and armrests. Hard plastics are found in the rear passenger compartment and away from the touch points. The front seats offer good side and thigh support, keeping you in place on winding roads without making you feel confined on the daily commute. The front seats feel cozy because of the dash design, which pushes into occupants’ personal space. Rear seat space is only good for two passengers even on short trips due to the lack of knee- and legroom. Tire noise in our two testers was excessive due to the standard 18-inch wheels shod with Dunlop SP Sport 5000 performance-oriented all-season tires, and a fair amount of wind and road noise enters the passenger compartment at high speeds. Engine noise is minimal when you’re cruising, but it can get thrashy higher up in its rev range. If you find a competently produced interior to be acceptable, the Corolla Hatchback is fine, but if you want a bit more style and refinement you might want to compare it to the Mazda3.

Cargo space checks in at 17.8 cubic feet behind the 60/40 split-folding rear seats. Even with the rear seats folded, the 2019 Corolla hatchback doesn’t have much cargo capacity, meaning the car’s styling comes at the cost of practicality. The Hyundai Elantra GT, Kia Forte5, and Subaru Impreza offer more usable space with the rear seats up or down thanks to their squared-off openings and the lack of intrusions into the cargo area. Those competitors offer over 50.0 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats down and at least 20.0 cubic feet with all seats in place.

Entune 3.0 with an 8.0-inch touchscreen is standard on all 2019 Toyota Corolla hatchbacks. It now comes with Apple CarPlay but not Android Auto, meaning Android users must interact with the native system. Although the layout is straightforward, the system isn’t responsive enough regardless of whether you use the touchscreen, physical buttons, or voice commands. And the Scout GPS Link app locks you out of Bluetooth-phone voice-command functions when you have the map displayed on the touchscreen (loaded models offer an integrated navigation system). Although it’s the newest version of Toyota’s infotainment software, Entune 3.0 is still clunky, its graphics are too similar to those of the previous version, and it’s not as smooth, intuitive, or quick to respond as rival systems from Chevrolet, Hyundai/Kia, Volkswagen, and Honda.

All 2019 Toyota Corolla hatchbacks come standard with Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, which bundles together automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, automatic high-beams, and daytime cyclist detection. Models equipped with a CVT also get lane tracing assist and an upgraded adaptive cruise control system that works at all speeds and can bring the car to a complete stop. The adaptive cruise control system works well, but it leaves a larger gap between you and the car ahead than other adaptive cruise control systems. Even if you use the closest setting, impatient drivers have room to cut into the yawning gap between you and the car ahead. And the lane departure warning can get confused if you’re in a lane that’s about to split into two directions.

Our two test XSE grade test vehicles checked in at $23,910 USD and $26,610 USD for the manual and CVT versions, respectively. That gets you a long list of standard features like LED headlights, leather upholstery, heated front seats, a 7.0-inch instrument cluster display, and 18-inch alloy wheels. Base SE models make do with 16-inch alloy wheels and cloth upholstery. Options on the XSE trim include adaptive headlights, a JBL audio system, a wireless charging pad, and integrated navigation.

With a sportier driving experience and aggressive looks, the 2019 Toyota Corolla hatchback is a step in the right direction. However, from its disconnected steering to a multimedia system that’s logically laid out but slow to respond, there’s room for improvement. Add to that a cramped interior, and what you get is a compact hatchback that sacrifices practicality—what most consumers associate with hatchbacks—in favor of looks. This Corolla is an improvement over its predecessor, but it’s merely adequate. Toyota needs better tech for Android users and a less-disconnected driving experience to appeal to modern smartphone-wielding buyers.

2019 Toyota Corolla XSE (Hatchback) (CVT) (6M)
BASE PRICE $25,010 $23,910
PRICE AS TESTED $26,610 $23,910
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door hatchback Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door hatchback
ENGINE 2.0L/168-hp/151-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4 2.0L/168-hp/151-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION Cont variable auto 6-speed manual
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3,089 lb (61/39%) 3,023 lb (60/40%)
WHEELBASE 103.9 in 103.9 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 169.9 x x 69.9 x 57.1 in 169.9 x 69.9 x 57.1 in
0-60 MPH 8.5 sec 7.5 sec
QUARTER MILE 16.5 sec @ 85.4 mph 16.0 sec @ 87.0 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 120 ft 131 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.83 g (avg) 0.81 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 27.6 sec @ 0.61 g (avg) 27.6 sec @ 0.62 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 30/38/33 mpg  28/37/31 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 112/89 kW-hrs/100 miles  129/91 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.59 lb/mile  0.62 lb/mile