The new-for-2019 Corolla Hatchback is a (very) fresh new take on Toyota’s small-car sales superstar. This time around, Toyota didn’t want to simply update its legendary Corolla as they must every few years — they wanted to raise the bar in the Canadian small-car segment in a big and real way.
Sure, every new car ever launched makes that claim, but Toyota’s really backed it up. This latest Corolla variant is among the market’s most comprehensively-equipped, affordable, high-tech and stylish offerings. It comes wrapped in one of the most striking bodies in the segment, with plenty of angular detail inviting inspection, and a mean little mug capping off the front end.
Here’s a small car with many strengths, few weaknesses and one that ticks more of the right boxes in more of the right areas than many a competitor — and all at a strong price point.
If you like, you can order yours with a sweet six-speed manual transmission. The shifter, despite a long throw, is smooth and easygoing. The clutch is light, but without feeling mushy or vague. The throttle programming feels natural.
It’s smooth without much effort, easy to learn on, and will likely feel ‘just right’ to guys and gals who have been driving manual transmissions for decades. Give it a try, it’s quite good.
Power comes from a new, two-litre, 168-horsepower, four-cylinder that promises great mileage and comes with a super-exciting (albeit possibly misleading), nickname whipped up by the marketing department.
The so-called Dynamic Force powerplant is a thrifty engine with a sporty name that works best when driven gently — where it’s smooth, relatively quiet, very easy on fuel and rarely makes a peep. Enthusiasts will appreciate the engine’s high-revving redline, pegged at the better part of 7,000 RPM. Thing is, you’ll need all of those to get the Corolla Hatchback moving in any sort of hurry, since low-end torque is fairly meagre.
Worked hard, the engine sounds fairly unremarkable and becomes noisier than the norm in the segment.
Overall performance is decent, but despite the sporty Dynamic Force moniker, this engine is most impressive for its refinement when driven gently and not for its performance when pushed.
A tidy, formal, dark and techy cabin flaunted generous amounts of stitching and soft-touch materials to impart a higher-end feel. Gloss-black accents and a big touch-screen, front and centre, conveyed modern flair. All said, the cabin tends to feel and look pricier than it actually is. There’s a definite European influence to the design — logical, clean and upscale but without being glitzy. Little you can look at or touch, on board, comes off as low-budget.
I noted no issues with entry and exit to the front seats. Without a sunroof, your 5’11 correspondent found at least five fingers worth of room between his head and the ceiling, in my ideal driving position.
This isn’t the biggest or roomiest car available for the money, though those of average size will find it just fine, if a touch sporty-snug. This is reflected in the cargo area, which is shallower and shorter than you may expect. It’ll fit a few suitcases or a load of groceries and comes with folding rear seats to help accommodate bigger items. But there are numerous other options at this price if cargo capacity is of prime concern.
The load floor sits at or above bumper height and the low rear window means taller items will chew up rearward visibility quickly. Outward sight lines are generally good, while blind-spot monitoring and a backup camera supplement visibility toward the trickier rear of the vehicle.
Ride quality is well done. Even nasty and beaten-up roads do little to break the composure and the Corolla Hatchback feels dense and durable over badly broken pavement, with a ride that’s slightly sporty, but never spine-smashingly so.
The suspension is taut, though a layer of softness around the edges seems carefully deployed to minimize harshness. Steering also stays nicely isolated over bumps and rarely tugs or pulls from your grip. It’s all nicely dialled in for consistent comfort, even on crumbling roads.
It’s an apt highway tourer as well. For instance, a slight numbness on centre means the steering is easy to operate smoothly at speed and once the numb-zone is overcome the steering responds quickly and with a ratio fast enough to direct things with your wrists and fingers, not your arms and shoulders. Noise levels are about average, with minimal need for voice raising until slightly past the highway speed limit.
As it is around town, the ride consistently balances sportiness and comfort, the first just slightly more so than the latter.
Brakes offer good initial bite at the pedal, strong overall performance and a slightly more precise-than-average feel at the pedal, rounding out Corolla’s fine-tuned feel.
At night, expect good headlight performance from the low beams and great performance from the (automatic!) high-beams.
In tighter spaces, the fast and light steering and backup camera system aid in confident manoeuvrability, though the turning circle radius feels a touch bigger than the vehicle’s size leads on.
A final strength of note is the feature content and price. My tester clocked in around $24,000 with little less than everything you may want from a small car. Apple CarPlay functionality, radar cruise, push-button start, heated seats, wireless Smartphone recharging, blind spot monitoring, lane departure alert with steering assist, and a large central touch-screen interface were all included.
And that’s only a partial list. Translation? For very reasonable money, you’ve got all the safety, connectivity and convenience gadgets going, as well as some of the most instantly-recognizable looks in the game.
If your priorities in a small car lean less toward maximum size for the buck and more heavily toward fuel economy, striking style, abundant feature content and a generous helping of advanced safety features, this latest Corolla hatchback should be on your radar. It’s a rolling collection of the most in-demand features, fuel-saving implements, safety technologies and styling touches in the segment today.
And it’s a car that’ll see numerous competitors stepping up their game, perhaps especially on the standard safety equipment front.
That’s a good thing for the shopper.
- Model: 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback
- Engine: 2-litre four-cylinder, 168 horsepower
- Drivetrain: front-wheel drive
- Transmission: 6-speed manual
- Features: radar cruise, lane departure alert, heated seats, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, heated steering wheel, push-button start, backup camera, blind spot monitoring, automatic lights, automatic climate control
- What’s hot: excellent styling, great feature content for the money, easy on fuel, great manual transmission, good ride quality on rough roads
- What’s not: some shoppers will wish for more cargo space
- As tested: (Corolla Hatchback SE with Upgrade Package) $23,980