After a couple months of waiting, one of my most anticipated all new cars for the 2019 model year made it to my front door. When I was offered the 2019 Corolla Hatchback SE by Toyota with the 6 speed manual I was ecstatic. Over the last half decade Toyota has been very slowly working towards getting rid of the boring car stereotype and making their entire lineup a bit more fun. Somehow the Carolla was left behind in this push, well, it was until now.
Just looking at the 2019 Corolla, it is evident Toyota is trying something new. The 2018 Corolla iM was a fine looking car and a nice departure from the boring (if not down right ugly) sedan. For 2019, the newly named Corolla Hatchback (or Corolla HB) has received Akiro Toyoda’s treatment of making their new cars interesting. And they got it right. The sharp headlights contrast nicely against more rounded but nicely designed grill. Little fangs pop up from the bottom hiding the fog lights. As you move towards the rear of the vehicle has a profile that is shaped to be sporty, but not over-designed. In the SE trim delivered to me, the 16” wheels definitely are not the best, but the XSE’s 18” wheels fix one of the few issues I have with the car.
The rear of the new Corolla is my absolute favorite though. The raked rear window leading to the almost “popped” out Toyota logo is fantastic. The aggressive headlights are almost mirrored in the back in a way that just works. Again, the slight changes on XSE make it a bit more desirable though as the attractive backend does not fit SE’s tiny wheels. Or just go to the aftermarket to solve your issues. The only other problem I had was the black pane beneath the hatch. It works in the XSE trim but I think I would have preferred the SE be painted body color as the sportness does not visually match the more relaxed design. A body color rear spoiler is also available for the XSE and in the “Blue Flame” color, it is an absolute stunner.
The interior is almost as good. In a complete turn from the Toyota 86s frankly terrible cockpit, Toyota has figured out the formula for a fun car. While I am still not a fan of the giant screen on top of the dash, it is truly great to see that an affordable, fun car can still have an interior that does not feel like it hates its occupants. It feels as if they took the design of the much more expensive Camry and Avalon and shrunk it to fit. Material quality is very good for a car that starts at under $20,000. Rear leg room is tight but cargo room is aplenty when the 60/40 split rear seats are folded down. For a young professional there might not be a better deal on the market.
The fabric seats on the SE are well shaped and adjustable in six different directions. The XSE gets a combination of heated leather and fabric while the driver can move their seat in eight directions. New for 2019 is Apple CarPlay on the 8.0” center touch screen; Android Auto is surprisingly still absent. In combination with climate control, these features make for a car that is enjoyable around town as well as on longer road trips. For visibility, I found the C-Pillar where the hatch comes down to be intrusive when it came to blind spots, but in general the small car is much more open than it would appear.
While driving you will ideally find an impressive fuel economy of up to 32 city and 42 highway with the CVT, while the six speed manual I drove nets just one MPG less. The six speed has some magical mode selectable called iMT. This automatically rev matches the Carolla on both up and down shifts making them smoother and allowing the car to jump back in to throttle more quickly. Even without using iMT, the Corolla’s transmission is easy to put in gear and fun to row when the time comes. One complaint I noticed in my test model – at 3000 or so RPM there was a vibration that seemed to minorly oscillate through the car. Press cars do have a hard life and it might be a one time thing, but it is definitely something that would annoy me if I was an owner. Surprisingly, radar cruise control is still an option with the manual transmission and worked quite well.
Power is sent to the transmission via a 2.0L, 168 horsepower inline four cylinder. While most manufacturers have jumped to turbocharging, Toyota has remained resistant and that is almost too bad. While the 2.0L is fast enough to make things interesting, it takes nearly 9 seconds to reach 60 mph. This fine for a base model, but if Toyota put the 235 horsepower/258 lb-ft turbocharged 2.0L from the Lexus NX200t in it with AWD that will surely fit under the Corolla’s Toyota New Global Architecture platform, it could make for one of the most fun hot hatches on the market today.
The combination of ride and handling is impressive and something that Toyota Motor Company as a whole has been getting right recently. Rather than relying on adaptable suspension, they set it right the first time and leave it be. Understeer was never an issue and in general the car felt like it wanted to be tossed around. Steering feel is light on the SE but feedback is definitely still there. On the XSE steering is tightened up in sport mode making for a much more fun experience.
For the most part, I believe Toyota has succeeded in its quest to make the new Corolla more interesting and appealing to younger buyers. The SE is a fine car but there is no reason not to spend the extra $2000-3000 and get the XSE. It looks better, has a better interior, and you won’t regret not getting the better obviously better model. That is unless Toyota gives us all and gives us the hatch hatch we truly want.