2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback SE Review - Hope

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn
Fast Facts

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback SE

2.0-liter inline-four, dual overhead cam (168 hp @ 6,600 rpm, 151 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm)
Continuously-variable transmission, front-wheel drive
32 city / 42 highway / 36 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
7.5 city / 5.8 highway / 6.7 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
37.8 (observed mileage, MPG)
Base Price: $22,010 US / $25,356 CAD
As Tested: $22,415 / $25,356 CAD
Prices include $930 destination charge in the United States and $1,776 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can't be directly compared.
2019 toyota corolla hatchback se review hope

Let’s face it. Most Toyotas are boring. Sure, enthusiasts get tossed the occasional bone – the 86 and the upcoming (controversial) Supra – but otherwise, the lineup doesn’t excite.

I believe that there are gearheads deep within the bowels of Toyota R&D, however. Those who recall the days when several proper performance cars shared a lot with the ubiquitous Camry.

Here is proof. No, this 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback isn’t a hardcore sportscar. It could certainly do with more power. But that Toyota brought out a new car – with an optional manual transmission, no less! – in a climate where the crossover dominates speaks volumes about the future of driving enthusiasm at one of the world’s biggest manufacturers. There is hope for drivers.

It’s been a while since I’ve driven any Toyota with such a willingness to turn. Steering, while light, was direct and quick. The ride was firm but pleasant on the highway, but I headed for some twisties to properly enjoy a well-handling hatch – something I didn’t expect from a modern Corolla. Actually, I’m reminded of the C-HR, which shares Toyota’s TNGA architecture with this Corolla Hatchback. While I didn’t love the C-HR, I was unusually enthralled with the handling of that low-riding, crossoverish thing.

This Corolla dispenses with any CUV pretense. It’s reasonably low, yet has plenty of room in the interior for myself and my family. The cargo area is a bit cramped due to the fast rake of the rear glass, but with folding rear seats there is plenty of flexibility for weirdly-shaped stuff.

The kids had plenty of room behind me – once I pushed the drivers’ seat up a notch or two from my preferred seating position. I was still comfortable, but my knees were closer to the dash than I’d prefer, especially on a long drive.

I’ll grant that the interior of the Corolla Hatchback is rather spartan, especially when trimmed in black like my tester. Everything is laid out simply, with a broad flat dashboard unadorned with frippery beyond a row of simple white stitching and a single line of matte silver trim. It’s a bit dour, certainly, but all of the controls are intuitive. Nothing distracts from driving.

Even Toyota’s Entune touchscreen seems to have improved – while the menus are relatively unchanged from others I’ve sampled, the controls seem a bit snappier to respond.

While I’d have loved to drive the optional six-speed manual transmission, the CVT fitted to my tester was surprisingly good. Perhaps that’s down to the actual gear used for the first ratio in the ‘box, rather than relying on the typical belt to launch the car. Either way, I never noted any droning of the engine either while cruising or accelerating.

The 168-horsepower engine would have been a world-beater a couple of decades ago in a car of this size. It’s still plenty for most drivers, but I’d love to see a performance (Gazoo?) version down the road.

For those old-school Toyota enthusiasts who recall the vaunted AE86 generation of the Corolla – this is the SR5 trim. I’d like to see a GTS.

A couple of weeks ago, the B&B ripped into the first drive (and first driver) of the new Corolla sedan, when he shared his long-held disdain for Corollas and their drivers.

I bit my tongue. I have completely different memories of the Corolla, from two sides.

First – my mother, who in 1990 decided that the ’86 Sentra she ended up with in the divorce was getting too old. Perhaps she was seeking a more symbolic break from my dad, but she steered clear of the Nissan dealers he’d haunted for a couple decades, and tween Chris was soon inspecting a stripped Carolina Blue Corolla. She signed the note and drove off proud of her new freedom. Every four to six years, she’d trade for a new Corolla, each time choosing something with a bit more flash – eventually moving to an automatic transmission a little after the turn of the century when her aging knees tired of constant clutch work.

In 2014, I prepared spreadsheets of specs and prices, and scheduled drives of nearly everything in the class. She drove away in yet another Corolla. Familiarity and incredible reliability have been her automotive rock.

Another perspective comes from a couple years working as a part-time service writer at a chain tire and service store. I learned quickly to scan the entry drive to the parking lot. If a Corolla approached, it was usually time to make oneself scarce – because the owner wasn’t going to spend any money. You’d get maybe a buck’s commission on an oil change; if you were lucky, maybe another fifty cents for an air filter. Nope. No sense spending half an hour trying to sell whatever profitable service corporate was pushing that month – Corolla owners seemed to be happy doing the bare minimum to keep their steeds rolling.

I mention this because, for fifty years, that’s exactly what the Corolla has been – a rock that millions of drivers come to depend on for inexpensive, hassle-free transportation. Sure, some car reviewer might reveal his privilege scorning the car and its owner. I’d rather revel in the dignity of owning one’s own car, no matter how spartan.

Indeed, for many of those years, beneath the staid veneer lay a car with enormous potential for fun. Tuners, customizers, and even racers have made generations of the Corolla into a proper hot rod. With this newest Corolla Hatchback, that potential returns.

Might I suggest the 2.5-liter, 203 hp four from the Camry, Toyota? Build us a proper Corolla Hatch GTS?

[Images: © 2019 Chris Tonn]

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  • VoGhost Reminder: dealers exist to line the pockets of millionaires who contribute to local politicians.
  • Cprescott The pandemic changed the sales game. No longer do dealerships need inventory. After two years people are accustomed to having to order what they want and then extorted on the price by the dealer for that privilege. Now used cars with 75k are selling for $5k more than I paid for my 21k, 2016 model back in January 2019. I pray my car won't get totaled and I have but 13 payments left to make on it. I may never buy another car again.
  • Grein002 I hope you meant "take the Ranger out behind the *barn*" rather than "bar". I think something completely different happens "behind the bar".
  • Cprescott Suddenly there is no reason to buy ugly anymore. The Silverdodo is dead. Long live the less hideous Colorado.
  • Cprescott Portable BBQ's for everyone!
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