REVIEW: All-New 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback SE – Forget Your Preconceived Notions

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Toyota’s Corolla Hatchback is all-new for 2019. We found a lot to like about this new subcompact car and you may be shocked by our conclusions.

What is it? 

Toyota’s 2019 Corolla Hatchback is a subcompact, four-door, five-passenger car with a hatchback design. Low-slung and dynamic to the eye, the Corolla Hatchback breaks from the pack by not trying to emulate a crossover. Although entry-level, the Corolla Hatchback has the refinement and standard features to compete with vehicles twice its price.

This new Corolla Hatchback will take the place of the outgoing Corolla iM (formerly the Scion iM), but it shares almost nothing with that car aside from its approximate shape. Toyota started with an all-new platform, an all-new drivetrain, all-new interior, and an all-new infotainment system for this 2019 model. We’ve driven both and we respected the Corolla iM. However, the new 2019 Corolla Hatchback is substantially better in every way.

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Pricing and trims

Toyota has opted to keep things simple with the 2019 Corolla Hatchback trims. There are two trims, two transmissions, and Toyota is also keeping the options pretty limited. The base SE trim with the standard six-speed manual transmission starts at $21K including destination and delivery. The top-trim XSE with the automatic transmission and every option we could find tops out around $27K. This puts the Corolla Hatchback in competition with the Hyundai Elantra GT, Mazda3, and as we will explain below, possibly one very special BMW.

We tested the base SE trim with the automatic transmission and with the optional SE Preferred Package which adds a fancier infotainment system. Although we tested a pre-production car, the sticker price with destination and delivery included would be $23,410. We’re glad we did test this trim because we suspect it may well become the top-selling configuration.

Safety

Toyota’s Safety Sense P suite of active safety systems is standard on all Corolla Hatchbacks. This includes blind spot monitoring, emergency auto braking, and pedestrian detection. Furthermore, it adds Toyota’s most advanced adaptive cruise control system with lane tracing assist. The BMW X2 we recently tested and fell in love with did not offer this technology at the $50K price as tested.

IIHS and NHTSA have not yet tested the new Corolla Hatchback. However, we expect a Top Safety Pick result. Shoppers should look again before they buy in case there are any surprises.

The Drive

Simply put, the ride and handling of the Corolla Hatchback SE exceeded all of our expectations. The theme here is “maturity and refinement.” Toyota didn’t shoot for the most extreme hot hatch it could create. While we love hot hatches, and we sing their praises, they barely sell compared to the more mainstream, and frankly more comfortable, lower and mid-level trims. The Corolla Hatchback SE will appeal to a very broad range of buyers. It is fun to drive, has zero rough edges and feels like a car that costs twice as much.

Driving this new car, we could not help but recall the BMW X2 we recently tested. Is the Corolla Hatchback SE as good overall as the X2? No, but it is surprisingly close in many aspects. And the Toyota’s ride comfort is superior. Yes, to a vehicle we love that costs twice as much. No vehicle we have tested recently sucked up the bumps and potholes left over from this winter as well as this new affordable Corolla did.

Normally, a ride so comfortable means sloppy handling and numb steering response. Not so with the Corolla Hatchback SE. We found the steering to be very well dialed in, and handling to be surprisingly good. This is a very nice car to drive on country roads. It is even better on the highway. It tracks straight, is super-smooth, quiet and refined.

The new Corolla Hatchback uses an all-new engine offering from Toyota the company calls its “2.0-liter Dynamic-Force direct-injection inline four-cylinder engine.” Call it what you will, but it adds significant power to the car compared to the outgoing iM. With 168 hp, the new engine is higher in power than some key competitor’s base models but not as powerful as their top offerings (which cost a lot more). We felt that power was plentiful and certainly meets or exceeds the expectations one will have for a car that starts at $21K and is well-optioned at under $24K.

The optional automatic “Dynamic-Shift CVT” transmission is also new in the Corolla Hatchback. We aren’t really sure CVT fits the bill here. The car has a launch gear and also a CVT. Toyota has a lot to say about this new type of transmission. We’ll just say we loved it. It is smooth and we don’t miss the sensation of shifts. Once underway, a firm stab at the power pedal results in the car being in the perfect rev point much faster than a geared transmission. We came to really enjoy this new drivetrain. There is a Sport mode, but it seemed a little too nervous for us. Maybe the final production version will tone it down a bit. We found that it raised the RPMs too much and any throttle input resulted in a frantic race to the redline that had us then jumping back off the throttle.

MPG – EPA and Real World Measured

Cars of this size and at this price point make excellent commuter cars and MPG is a big deal. We called BS on the instrument panel’s displayed average MPG of 43.2. We checked that by recording our miles (398.9) and our fuel used (9.271 gallons). Do the math and you’ll see that equates to 43.0 MPG in a week of real-world Metro Boston driving. Most of it with the AC on. The last Golf TDI diesel (2015) we tested in similar driving returned 39 MPG. Kudos to Toyota for producing such an amazingly efficient vehicle, and kudos for being one of the only manufacturers who doesn’t wildly exaggerate the displayed MPG. (Read some examples of how badly automakers lie to you about your MPG on your instrument display here). Toyota expects this car to earn a 36 MPG Combined rating from the EPA. If it does so, it will top the only current diesel car offering this size in America, the Chevy Cruze diesel hatchback, which is rated at 35 MPG combined. We strongly suspect the Toyota is faster as well. We plan to follow up on this.

Seating & Interior

Our SE trim came with nicely textured cloth seats with manual adjustment. There is no lumbar and we missed it, but check out the XSE trim if that is important to you.

What is important to this 6-foot tall tester is knee-room. The Corolla Hatchback has plenty and we even took a picture of it. Many cars in this class confine the driver’s legs. Toyota’s design is smart and makes the car feel bigger than it is. Toyota also adds a real center console with functional armrest and storage, and two cupholders located exactly where they work best. The phone cubby is right-sized and all the controls are simple to operate.

In this segment, it is expected that adults in back will need the front passengers to move up a bit to create legroom. We used the rear seats with full-sized adults and found they worked fine for short trips.

Cargo

Small cars have limited cargo area, but the Corolla Hatchback has more than enough room for a full shopping trip and there is a compact spare tire under the cargo floor.

Infotainment and controls

The big news for 2019 model year Toyota models is that Apple Car Play and Amazon Alexa has been added. The bad news is that Android Auto has not. We LOVED Toyota’s new screen. It uses commonly-selected top menu buttons on the sides of the screen and has both a volume and a tuner knob. It’s also huge. About the size of a Kindle Fire. If you are on team Apple, you’re going to love this infotainment system. If you’re team Android (like me and about 43% of smartphone owners) you are going to be less than thrilled. Toyota’s nav solution for us is Scout GPS Link, which earns a 2.3 rating (out of five).

Overall

The new 2019 Corolla Hatchback SE has excellent road manners, a very low price point for its content, possibly the best non-hybrid MPG of any car its size, and is among Toyota’s first Apple Car Play compatible vehicles. We loved the look outside and in and were impressed by how composed the car is in all situations. Add in Toyota’s two years of included maintenance and unrivaled reputation for safety and reliability and it is hard not to see the new Corolla Hatchback as the value leader in its segment. Those shopping for an affordable compact car who won’t miss the many benefits subcompact crossovers offer will find the 2019 Corolla Hatchback SE is hard to beat.

 

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John Goreham

John Goreham