2019 Toyota Corolla XSE Hatchback review

Agile and packing an 8-inch touchscreen, the Corolla Hatchback feels fun again

Spend a day with the Corolla Hatchback and it’s clear that it’s eons ahead of the old Scion iM.
MSRP $20,140.00
Spend a day with the Corolla Hatchback and it’s clear that it’s eons ahead of the old Scion iM.
Spend a day with the Corolla Hatchback and it’s clear that it’s eons ahead of the old Scion iM.

Highs

  • Supremely fuel efficient
  • Easy to drive, yet enjoyable
  • Loads of safety features
  • Sharp styling

Lows

  • Cramped rear seat and cargo space
  • Where are you Android Auto?

Take a test drive in one of Toyota’s latest cars and it’s easy to feel like you’re in the Upside Down from Stranger Things. Out of all the cars in the Japanese brand’s lineup, no other car highlights just how much has changed as the 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback. Once the safe choice for anything, whether that’s a car for a first timer, a commuter car, or an urban warrior, the Corolla Hatchback now adds fun to its valedictorian background. It’s okay if you didn’t feel the seismic shift, because it went unnoticed by everyone.

Compact cars have been declared dead by several manufacturers, but no one gave Toyota the memo, as the 2019 Corolla Hatchback is all new. The main difference is the name change. Once known as the Scion iM, the Corolla Hatchback is now purely a Toyota. Then there’s the outside look, which is sharper, more aggressive, and not so bland. The interior has also been gussied up, because there’s no reason to change the outside without giving the cabin a makeover. Underneath all of this sits Toyota’s TNGA platform that is the star of the show. If you want to stop consumers from moving to SUVs, this is the way to do it.

Keeping things simple, there are only two trims to choose from: SE and XSE. Pricing for the SE starts at a modest $21,070 including destination. The XSE trim we tested is a little more expensive, carrying a starting price tag of $24,070. The only option our XSE trim was fitted with was the $415 adaptive headlight kit that brought the price of our tester to $24,880.

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Joel Patel/Digital Trends

Interior and exterior design

Slowly but surely, Toyota has been working on bringing the Corolla out from the safety net of a warm cozy home where everything’s paid by your parents into a cold, damp apartment where rent is more than half of your income. The all-new Corolla hatchback ventures out into the cruel world wearing a sharp face that’s similar to everything that carries the brand’s badge. While controversial on some cars, the design works on the hatchback. In our eyes that gaping front air intake and knife-sharp headlights are the bees knees. And the rear end has dual exhaust outlets (on a Corolla!) and sharp LED taillights. The youthful design won’t stir the soul, but it’s a happy medium between Corollas of the past and the all-out boy racer design that the Honda Civic – especially the Type R – wears. Surely, it’s a happy medium for the majority of people.

The compact segment isn’t as popular as it once was, and every brand, including Toyota, is looking to cut costs on vehicles that aren’t SUVs. For the Corolla, that cost-cutting measure takes place on the inside, though you’d be hard pressed to put your finger on the cut-rate things. The design of the dashboard is simplistically striking and much more dramatic in styling compared to the old Corolla or iM. The sport seats, though odd in color, are a mix of leather and fabric on the XSE trim and do a fine job in the comfort department. If denim’s your thing, the Moonstone color scheme might not be a good choice, as colors will surely fade into the leather. Beyond that quibble, things in the Corolla are great in one of the front seats.

The Corolla Hatchback shows its first sign of weakness in the back. It’s sorely behind its competitors when it comes to rear legroom. The Volkswagen Golf has 35.6 inches of rear legroom, while the Honda Civic hatchback’s figure measures in at 36 inches. Down roughly six inches from the Civic, the Corolla Hatchback has just 29.9 inches of legroom in the rear. There’s also the issue with cargo capacity, as the Corolla Hatchback has 17.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats. The Golf can hold 22.8 cubic feet, with the Civic Hatchback being the leader of the trio with 25.7 cubic feet of cargo space.

Since the Corolla Hatchback is still, well, a Corolla, it comes with all sorts of features that all work as expected and are easy to access. The XSE trim we tested came with dual-zone climate control, an 8-inch touchscreen, heated front seats, a driver’s seat with eight-way adjustability, a 7-inch display in the instrument cluster, and a thick leather-wrapped steering wheel that tilts and telescopes. Because of the whole Toyota thing, you can tell things have been well thought out. There’s no fiddling about to hunt for buttons or mistakenly hitting a button when you’re aiming for something else. Toyota roots run deep, and while the exterior might not be a regular scene for Toyota, the way the cabin feels is.

Tech features

Tech rich with tons of features, the Corolla Hatchback clearly leverages technology as one of its upsides over competitors. All Corolla Hatchbacks come with an 8-inch touchscreen running Toyota’s Entune 3.0 infotainment system. Entune 3.0 isn’t exactly the easiest thing to use, as the graphics and layout mimic something from the Playstation 2 era, but Apple CarPlay’s included. Toyota’s still holding strong against the wildfire spread of Android Auto.

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Joel Patel/Digital Trends

Other features on the base Corolla Hatchback include two USB ports, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi hot spot, a 12-volt power outlet, and a six-speaker audio system. Move up to the XSE we tested, and you get an HD radio, advanced voice recognition, and satellite radio. From that short list, the jump up to the XSE might not seem like a worthy one. But what really stands out about the hatchback is its extensive list of safety features.

Every Corolla Hatchback comes with Toyota Safety Sense 2.0. as standard. Settle in, because it means there’s a ton standard features. A pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams, adaptive radar cruise control, and road sign assist are standard. If you opt for a model with the continuously variable transmission, the suite includes lane tracing assist (although how these two features are related is anyone’s guess). The range-topping XSE trim adds blind spot monitoring into the mix. Safety is what the Corolla Hatchback does.

Driving impressions

Despite the quasi Fast and the Furious look on the outside, the Corolla Hatchback drives like a Corolla, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s the best Corolla there’s ever been in terms of driving pleasure, but it misses the mark on being a rival to other hatchbacks like the Golf, Mazda3, and Civic Hatchback. But if you’re not looking for a hot hatchback to set record lap times at the track with, then the Corolla Hatchback shines as a daily driver. Tick the box for the six-speed manual transmission, which our XSE was equipped with, and you’ll get a daily driver that’s actually fun to drive – even if it’s not as fun as its key rivals.

An all-new design like the Corolla Hatchback’s deserves an all-new engine, and it got one. Under the hood sits a 2.0-liter inline-four that Toyota refers to as Dynamic Force. There’s no turbocharger, supercharger, or complicated trickery under the hood, so horsepower is a modest 168 horsepower and 155 pound-feet of torque. Dynamic Force, then, might not be the most fitting moniker. The real shining ray of light is the fact that Toyota offers a six-speed manual transmission, which our XSE came with. The other choice is a CVT.

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Joel Patel/Digital Trends

The engine is far from something that will make you say wow under your breath and doesn’t exactly match the sporty demeanor of the Corolla’s competition that’s erring to the side of athleticism. But it gets the job done. Keep the revs toward the high end of the range and there’s a decent amount of passing power or to dart to the next stoplight. A turbocharger would bring some much needed boost to the party and give the compact the low-down grunt it’s missing.

Compact cars have been declared dead by several manufacturers, but no one gave Toyota the memo

What the Corolla Hatchback needs to be applauded for is its available six-speed manual transmission. If you know how to manage your way around a manual gearbox, heck even if you can’t, it’s the transmission to get. At a time when sporty automakers, like BMW and Mazda, are moving away from having manual gearboxes, Toyota’s offering a slick six-speed in what was once in the running for the most humdrum cars on the market. And it’s a good transmission, too.

The shifts might be a little long and the catch point on the clutch is high and tricky to modulate, but those are minor cruxes. The shifts provide a satisfying click when the gearknob finds its end point in the well-defined gate. Manual transmissions also come with an iMT button that turns rev-matching downshifts on and controls engine speeds for smooth upshifts. While some might bemoan the use of a rev-matching feature on a peppy hatchback, the system matches the Corolla Hatchback’s nature of being easy to drive. Even for someone that enjoys heel-and-toeing on every opportunity, the iMT button was engaged every time we drove the car.

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Joel Patel/Digital Trends

Ride wise, once again, the Corolla Hatchback trades performance in for daily comfort. Sneer your nose all you want, but the majority of drivers don’t want to feel every crack in the road, nor do they want a small pothole to feel like slipping and landing straight on your bum on an ice rink. In that sense, the Corolla Hatchback delivers, offering a comfortable ride over even the worst of roads.

Fuel economy is excellent, as well. The most efficient Corolla Hatchback with the automatic transmission can get up to 32 mpg in the city, 42 mpg on the highway, and 36 mpg combined. The XSE with the CVT isn’t as efficient with a combined rating of 33 mpg, while a model with the manual gearbox is the worse of the hatchback bunch with a rating of 31 mpg combined. Those figures hold up in the real world, where we easily averaged over 30 mpg. Even when hammering on the car, fuel economy didn’t dip below 27 mpg.

Rivals

The Volkswagen Golf and the Honda Civic are the two hatchbacks that immediately come to mind when talking about the Corolla Hatchback’s key rivals. Comparing the Corolla Hatchback against these two models reveals just how affordable Toyota’s option is. Pricing for the Corolla Hatchback SE starts at $21,070. The Civic Hatchback costs $22,370, while the Golf carries a price tag of $22,740.

While the Corolla Hatchback has the upper hand in terms of pricing, it’s not really close in other characteristics. The Civic Hatchback has a more powerful turbocharged engine, gets better fuel economy, and has a more spacious cabin. It’s also one of our favorite vehicles in the compact segment. With Honda Sensing, the Civic Hatchback also has a comparable list of standard safety features to the Corolla Hatchback. Things are more complicated with the Golf, as its engine isn’t as powerful and it’s not as efficient, but it too also has a larger cargo area. For the performance-minded driver out there, the Golf GTI is nearly faultless.

Peace of mind

Toyota’s warranty isn’t the greatest on the market, but the Japanese automaker’s reputation for building vehicles that work day in and day out after years of abuse is. Nonetheless, the Corolla Hatchback comes with a three-year, 36,000-mile basic warranty, a five-year, 60,000-mile powertrain warranty, and a five-year, unlimited-mile anti-perforation warranty.

The Corolla Hatchback earned good marks from both the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in their respective crash tests. The IIHS named the Corolla Hatchback a Top Safety Pick, but that only applies to XSE trims with the available Preferred Package. When it comes to the NHTSA’s tests, the Corolla Hatchback earned a five-star overall safety rating.

With TSS 2.0 as standard, the Corolla Hatchback has one of the more extensive lists of standard safety features. Beyond TSS 2.0, the hatch comes with Toyota’s Star Safety System, which includes stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, and smart stop technology. Eight airbags are included in the mix, too. Safety Connect, which brings emergency assistance, stolen vehicle locator, roadside assistance, and automatic collision notification, is included as standard for the first three years.

How DT would configure this car

Do yourself a favor and go with the manual transmission. Compact vehicles with manual transmission are dropping faster than a high school senior’s grade after finding out they got into college. Being able to get into one later might prove to be difficult. For drivers that aren’t familiar with a manual gearbox, the Corolla Hatchback’s is forgiving and easy to learn on. Plus, you’ll be saving a little over $700 by not choosing the CVT.

With more standard features for a reasonable price, the XSE trim is the one we’d have. Our tester was finished in Galactic Aqua Mica and it’s a truly stunning color. Blue Flame is also a fantastic shade of blue. The only other recommendation is to go with the black interior, as the lighter leather stains easily. The only available package includes adaptive headlights, which are reasonably priced at $415 and worth the price.

Our Take

Spend a day with the Corolla Hatchback and it’s clear to see that it’s eons ahead of the old Scion iM. Alternatives, like the Honda Civic, Volkswagen Golf, and Mazda3 may be better in specific areas – performance, fuel economy, or interior space – but as a package, the Corolla Hatchback is a tempting option. Ticking the box for the manual transmission and the intuitive iMT system gives a glimpse of just how much potential the hatchback has.

Should you get one?

Yes. It may be surprising to hear, but Toyota has joined the train of making affordable daily drivers that aren’t terrible to own. Love cars or driving? You don’t have to hang your head and mumble when people ask you what you own with a Corolla Hatchback in your driveway.

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