Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car
  • Safety

What a mean little mug the new-for-2019 Corolla Hatchback has. This machine is a clean-sheet design that comprises the freshest new member of the Corolla family, and it’s also the most comprehensively equipped and dynamic take on a global small car icon to date.

This cabin has everything.

Behind that great new face, the latest Corolla variant capitalizes on the nameplate’s position as one of the hottest-selling products, in one of the hottest market segments in Canada. This time around, Toyota’s left virtually left no stone unturned to make this one of the most compelling products on the scene today.

It starts with the looks: inside and out.

The design of the body and cabin grab and retain attention from a quick peek. Outside? It’s generously sporty, poised, athletic, and angular, all capped by that delightfully ticked-off face. Gone are the days of Corolla blending into the scenery – there’s little generic about the appearance now, and this may quickly become one of the most instantly recognizable bodies (and faces) in the segment.

The designers figure you’ll find that to be a good thing.

The cabin pulls off a similar trick. It’s got a tidy and simple but upscale atmosphere, with a European influence imparted via clean lines, nice materials, and a good use of contrasting accenting and textures. It’s not busy or cluttered, and little you can lay your eyes or fingers on comes off as cheap or flimsy. Soft-touch plastics and satin-finish surfaces are vigorously deployed, too. Some will wish for more colour, others will appreciate the dark, formal and sharp-as-a-tack atmosphere. Put simply, this cabin is at or beyond what you might expect for the money.

Also, this cabin has everything.

Your investment of about $24,000 for a Corolla Hatchback SE with Upgrade package gets you the works: radar cruise that’s confidence-inspiring, and works with the sort of consistent and forward-thinking smoothness as I often find in bigger-dollar machinery. A lane-departure alert system with steering assist. A back-up camera. Blind-spot monitoring. A great big touch-screen interface displayed proudly as the visual centrepiece of the dash. Automatic climate control. Wireless recharging for your phone. Heated seats. A full driver computer. A push-button parking brake. Apple CarPlay. Automatic and power accessories throughout, including automatic high-beams.

The list goes on and on. All said, for the money, Corolla Hatchback puts little less than the market’s most in-demand feature content on offer, in full, for about $24,000.

My tester ran a six-speed manual transmission. It operates with a long-ish throw, but the shifter action is light and smooth, and the clutch is easygoing without feeling mushy or vague. There’s automatic rev-matching (à la high-end performance car), which can be activated with a tap on a button, if you like.

Best? The clutch, shifter, and throttle feel nicely calibrated and balanced against one another, and both novice and experienced manual drivers will quickly find the arm-and-foot cadence required for smooth shifting, right off the bat. This manual transmission will prove easy to learn on, easy to use smoothly from the get-go for the beginner, and offers up a proper shifter and clutch feel that even enthusiast drivers will appreciate.

The new engine to which that transmission is bolted doesn’t impress as readily in execution, however.

The 2.0-litre four-cylinder has 168 horsepower, promises great mileage, and marketing has whipped up the lofty nickname “Dynamic Force” for Corolla’s latest engine, the most powerful currently on offer in the Corolla lineup. To the delight of the driving enthusiast, it likes to rev – with redline pegged at the better part of 7,000 rpm.

Don’t be shy to visit. This engine’s low-end torque output is relatively meagre, more so when compared to the breed of modern turbo engines proliferating the segment. Drivers will have to work the gearbox and make use of the entire rev range when plenty of acceleration is required. Pushed towards max revs, the engine can become noisy, and the sound is completely unremarkable.

The sportier among us, possibly enthused by the Dynamic Force nickname, may wish to budget for intake and exhaust part upgrades to taste. If your driving style is more relaxed, and if you rarely find yourself driving hurriedly or visiting high revs, you’ll find it just fine: driven gently, this engine is liquid-smooth, quiet, laid back, and often nearly inaudible. It’s ultimately a thrifty engine that works best when driven lightly and gently, even if the cool-guy nickname and output numbers may suggest something a little saucier.

Ride quality is well done. On Sudbury, Ontario’s badly deteriorated in-town roads, it feels thick and solid – not too sporty, not too squidgy, and at most times not as though it’s going to disintegrate beneath you. Said rougher roads also fail to coax much, if any, unwanted vibration or feedback out of the steering system, enhancing the machine’s ability to remain relatively unfazed, most of the time. Expect consistent ride quality and steering refinement levels, even on nasty roads.

On the highway, Corolla Hatchback is sporty and taut without excess, and a layer of softness around the edges of the suspension ensures the ride is highly complaint, even for hours of touring. It’s sporty first, and comfortable a very, very close second.

Noise levels are about par for the course, with no voice-raising required to converse with your passenger until at least a few ticks past the highway speed limit.

Given the above, steering is as expected: quick enough to be worked with your fingers and wrists, but not so hyperactive that it feels nervous or twitchy. There’s an on-centre numb-zone at higher speeds, which makes smooth operation easy. Exceed the numb-zone, and the steering responds quickly and consistently, and heavies up nicely. It’s an apt setup for both laid-back cruising and mischievous responsiveness on winding roads.

Brakes offer strong stopping power and good initial bite, with a more precise and eager-than-average feel at the pedal. The feel from the brakes falls nicely in line with the well-sorted feel of the steering and ride and handling. You might say the Corolla Hatchback drives the way you’d expect, given its unquestionably sporty body and complementary upscale cabin.

All said, enthusiasts will appreciate the fine-tuned feel throughout the machine, and the rest of us will likely find the whole thing to feel “just right”. Those who appreciate comfort and athleticism from their small car in near-equal amounts will likely find the entire setup favourable.

One note, though: at higher speeds, the tester’s steering occasionally felt vague and disconnected. A minor but frequent stream of adjustments were required to keep things centred perfectly between the lines, and there was, on occasion, a sensation that the vehicle was wagging slightly beneath me. The likely culprit was the aggressive set of winter tires mounted to my tester, though I’d advise test drivers to spend a few minutes slightly north of the highway speed limit to assess the feel for themselves.

In front, I noted no issue with space for two average-size adults. Outward sightlines are decent, nearby charging ports are plentiful, and at-hand storage is good. Just note that the door pockets are on the smaller side, there’s no door-handle storage nook, and the forward centre console storage bin is sacrificed in favour of the wireless smartphone charging pad. Pack-rat drivers may wish for a little more at-hand storage, though most will find it more than adequate.

Your 5'11" writer noted no issues with entry or exit, and my tester’s lack of a sunroof left at least five fingers’ worth of headroom between my cranium and the roof, in my comfortable seating position.

Rear seats will accommodate two average-size adults when needed, though headroom disappears most quickly for larger passengers in back. Further rearward, the cargo hold may prove a weakness: the load-in height is fairly high, the space itself is fairly shallow and narrow, and canine passengers large enough to jump aboard may not fit without folding down of one or more rear seats.

If cargo capacity is a priority, be sure to carefully examine the Corolla Hatchback’s cargo hold and be sure it’ll work for you. You’ve got numerous better options for cargo space in this ballpark, including the Honda Civic Hatchback and the (also excellent) Nissan Kicks.

Gripes? Aside from the limited cargo space and sometimes-noisy engine, I found the headlight low-beams to be good, not great, though the high-beam performance is above average. Further, the central display screen graphics leave plenty to be desired, since the resolution is fairly low and whole thing seems to only have about four shades of grey and blue. Apple CarPlay display output should be sharper and more colorful than the default palette, but I can’t comment with certainty, as I have an Android phone, which isn’t supported.

Ultimately, the new Corolla Hatchback embodies, in no uncertain terms, a great collection of the most in-demand features, fuel-saving implements, safety technologies, and styling touches in the segment today. If engine refinement and cargo capacity take a lower position on your priority list than styling, safety features, and overall refinement, consider this one to be an absolute must-drive in the segment.

Engine Displacement 2.0L
Engine Cylinders I4
Peak Horsepower 168 hp @ 6,600 rpm
Peak Torque 151 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm
Fuel Economy 8.4/6.3/7.5 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 503 / 660 L seats down
Model Tested 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback SE
Base Price $20,980
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,645
Price as Tested $25,725
Optional Equipment
$3,000 – Upgrade Package $3,000