2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback Review: More Tech, More Vroom, Less Room

The 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback is an improvement on the best-selling Corolla sedan. It looks sportier, has a better engine and innovative transmission, improves the technology with integrated telematics and useful apps, adds Apple CarPlay, and boosts safety with LED headlamps and the first North American 2.0 version of Toyota Safety Sense.

All this won’t impress passengers three and four, the ones in the back seat. Unlike the Corolla sedan, the second row passengers will find the hatch suitable only for short trips around town.

The Corolla Hatchback is not just a liftgate grafted onto the existing Corolla sedan, which over 11 generations spawned more than 2 million sales. Toyota says the Corolla Hatchback actually replaces the Toyota Corolla (nee Scion) iM, a  hatchback that goes away. This new Corolla model is built around a small-car Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform. At 170 inches long, the hatch is an inch shorter than the iM and 13 inches shorter than the current Corolla sedan. Most likely the next Corolla sedan will arrive circa 2020 and will use TNGA also, stretched by a foot or so more than the Corolla Hatchback.

The cockpit is open and spacious-looking; the hood sits two inches lower (than on the Toyota Corolla iM) for better forward visibility.

Corolla Hatchback on the Road

Tromp the throttle and you get decent acceleration from the Corolla Hatchback. You can get either a six-speed manual or a continuously variable transmission with a mechanical (cogged) first gear. With the throttle floored on the CVT version, the first gear gets the car past 30 mph before handing off to the CVT. Why CVT? Toyota’s chief engineer for Corolla, Yoshiki Konishi, says a CVT is more efficient that automatics except from a stop, thus the physical gear added for initial startup. The CVT gets paddle shifters and offers a 10-step geared transmission feel. There is a sport-tuned suspension that improves on both the iM and Corolla sedan.

The new 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is direct-injected (meaning fuel is sprayed directly into the cylinders), produces 168 hp and 151 pound-feet of torque, and allows for compression ratios of up to 13:1. Translation: It’s loads quicker, and more fun, than the 137-hp engine on both the Corolla iM and Corolla sedan. It’s no turbo Honda Civic (let alone Civic Type R). Toyota says it’s judging interest in a sportier, quicker version that would be called the Corolla GR.

The seats are decent for a sub-$ 20,000 car, as is the upholstery trim. The 8-inch center stack display is huge for a car that’s barely out of the subcompact class. At highway speeds, the Corolla Hatchback is quiet for a small car, and it pitches a bit on highway expansion strips, owing to its 104-inch wheelbase. The analog-and-digital instrument panel is cool and different, but the fonts are small, it’s hard to read with sunglasses (including non-polarized), and suffers from glare.

The Corolla Hatchback gets the most advanced version of Toyota Safety Sense, including lane tracing assist that keeps the car centered between the lanes when adaptive cruise control is on. It is assisted, but not autonomous, driving.

Class-Leading Safety Equipment

The Corolla Hatchback is the first to get the Toyota Safety Sense (TSS) 2.0 system that includes steering assist on highways, giving you a rudimentary form of self-driving. TSS 2.0 comprises these standard features:

  • Full-range adaptive cruise control (“dynamic radar cruise control” in Toyota terminology). Manual-transmission Corollas get a simpler system that doesn’t go down to zero.
  • Lane keep assist (“lane departure alert with steering assist”). In addition to detecting the lane markings and steering back, it also attempts to detect road edges and steer back.
  • Lane tracing assist. A new feature that, combined with ACC and the driver’s hands on the wheel, gives a measure of autonomous driving. It “actively tracks the center of the lane … [recognizing] white or yellow lane markings or the path of a preceding vehicle if lane markers are temporarily not available.”
  • Pre-collision system. It now detects a preceding vehicle or pedestrian day or night or even a bicyclist in daytime. It will warn, brake to slow, or brake to avoid (in most cases) an accident.
  • Automatic high beams.
  • Road sign reader (“road sign assist”). Identifies and posts in the instrument panel stop, yield, do not enter, and speed limit information with a visual and (some cases) audible alert.

While not part of TSS, blind spot detection (“blind spot monitor”) is available on the lower SE trim line and standard on the higher XSE trim line. It does not, however, include rear cross traffic alert. Usually, the two use the same sensors and come together.

We’ve made the point before: Toyota (and also Honda) have been industry leaders in making key safety equipment standard on most of their cars now, sometimes excepting the entry trim line that comprises just 5-10 percent of sales. Here, every Corolla Hatchback comes with the right stuff.

The Entune 3.0 infotainment system has an 8-inch display with eight physical buttons: Home, Menu, Audio, Map, Seek, Track, Phone, and Apps.

Good Infotainment System

The entry SE includes Toyota Entune 3.0 (the umbrella term for Toyota infotainment); an 8-inch color center stack LCD; Entune 3.0 App Suite Connect that lets you use apps such as Pandora, Slacker, Yelp, Pandora and Scout navigation via the car’s controls; Safety Connect, Toyota’s Verizon-powered telematics system; in-car Wi-Fi; and Apple CarPlay, but not Android Auto until Toyota is satisfied Android protects user privacy. There are two USB jacks and an aux port.

The next level up for audio is called Entune Audio Plus; it’s standard on XSE, optional on SE CVT, and adds satellite radio, HD radio, and weather/traffic info. Finally, Entune Audio Premium on the CVT SXE adds on-board navigation, a JBL 800-watt, eight speaker audio array, and Clari-Fi (which fleshes out low-bit-rate digital music).

All-new or refreshed Toyotas with Entune support SmartDevice Link (SDL), a way for smartphones to connect to vehicles and use the center stack display instead of the phone display. Ford and Toyota are the primary proponents of SDL; Ford calls it AppLink. What once seemed like a disadvantage, that SDL isn’t Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, has turned into an advantage because the automaker has direct control of the device’s security; it isn’t relying on Apple or Google to protect the privacy of the phones connected to the car. One reason to like SmartDevice Link is that additional apps would be available. For instance, suppose you want Waze running instead of Apple Maps; with SDL you could.

Five of the 10-best selling passenger cars (i.e., not crossovers, SUVs or pickups) are compacts: Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sentra, Hyundai Elantra, and Chevrolet Cruze. The market for cars — all sizes, luxury and mainstream — fell 11 percent in 2017 to 6.1 million in the US.

Should You Buy?

The 2019 Corolla Hatchback appeals to a value-conscious buyer who wants a sporty look and feel, but doesn’t plan to take up autocross, who rarely carries more than one passenger, and who wants significant levels of integrated safety support. The hatchback layout allows bulkier packages than a same-size sedan with the seat folded down.

There are just two trim lines, both front-drive, with five doors. The entry Corolla Hatchback SE has LED headlamps and taillamps, a smart key that can stay in your pocket, pushbutton start/stop, the 8-inch touch screen, 64/40 folding seatbacks, TSS 2.0, and 16-inch wheels. Expect the price to start around $ 20,000 including freight. The XSE adds a 7-inch color multi-information display (MID) in the instrument panel, leather seats, heated front seats, a power driver seat, dual-zone climate control, better audio, blind spot monitoring, and 18-inch wheels. As an option, the XSE CVT offers an adaptive front lighting system for improved cornering.

Toyota Corolla (originally Scion) iM hatchback is being replaced by Corolla Hatchback.

If you opt for the manual transmission, it’s well-done and has intelligent rev matching, meaning the car adjusts engine speed to match the selected next gear. Prices will start just under $ 20,000 for the SE and probably reach $ 23,000 for the XSE. Toyota says it will ship in late summer. Expect EPA combined city/highway mpg ratings to be in the low 30s; I averaged 30 mpg that included pushing the car harder than most people would.

If you want a sporty car around 180 inches long (bordering between subcompact and compact), the top choice is the Mazda3, followed by the Subaru Impreza (with all-wheel-drive standard). The Honda Civic/Civic Hatchback is also a solid driver’s car, and the Civic Type R is an outstanding sport sedan with a $ 35,000 price tag. If it’s a compact sedan you want — more like the Corolla than the Corolla Hatchback — look to the Kia Forte, Hyundai Elantra, Volkswagen Golf or Jetta, or Chevrolet Cruze (especially the Cruze diesel edition). Some competitors are hurt by their age: The Ford Focus dates to 2010 and will be phased out as Ford focuses on crossovers and pickups; the Nissan Sentra dates to 2013 with a new, sorely needed new model due in 2019.

The new Corolla Hatchback is better than the slow-selling Toyota iM in many ways, including performance. It should have Toyota’s excellent reliability, and good resale value. If you want a small Toyota that carries four or even five comfortably, you’ll still want the Corolla sedan, the Toyota RAV4 crossover, or the Toyota Prius or Prius Prime.

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