2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback SE Review - Hope

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn
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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]

Chris Tonn
Chris Tonn

Some enthusiasts say they were born with gasoline in their veins. Chris Tonn, on the other hand, had rust flakes in his eyes nearly since birth. Living in salty Ohio and being hopelessly addicted to vintage British and Japanese steel will do that to you. His work has appeared in ebay Motors, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars, Reader's Digest, AutoGuide, Family Handyman, and Jalopnik. He's currently looking for the safety glasses he just set down somewhere.

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4 of 78 comments
  • ToolGuy I appreciate the thoughtful comments from the little people here, and I would like to remind everyone that Ford Motor Company offers a full range of vehicles which are ideal for any driving environment including New York City. The size and weight our of product portfolio has been fully and completely optimized to be friendly to the planet and friendly to pedestrians while consuming the bare minimum of resources from our precious planet (I am of course a lifelong environmentalist). Plus, our performance models will help you move forward and upward by conquering obstacles and limits such as congestion and your fellow humans more quickly at a higher rate of speed. I invite you to learn more at our website.Signed, William Clay Ford Jr.
  • George Hughes What ever happened to the American can-do attitude. I know what, it was coopted by the fossil fuel industry in their effort to protect their racket.
  • 28-Cars-Later "But Assemblyman Phil Ting, the San Franciscan Democrat who wrote the electric school bus legislation, says this is all about the health and wellbeing of Golden State residents. In addition to the normal air pollution stemming from exhaust gasses, he believes children are being exposed to additional carcinogens by just being on a diesel bus."Phil is into real estate, he doesn't know jack sh!t about science or medicine and if media were real it would politely remind him his opinions are not qualified... if it were real. Another question if media were real is why is a very experienced real estate advisor and former tax assessor writing legislation on school busses? If you read the rest of his bio after 2014, his expertise seems to be applied but he gets into more and more things he's not qualified to speak to or legislate on - this isn't to say he isn't capable of doing more but just two years ago Communism™ kept reminding me Dr. Fauxi knew more about medicine than I did and I should die or something. So Uncle Phil just gets a pass with his unqualified opinions?Ting began his career as a real estate  financial adviser at  Arthur Andersen and  CBRE. He also previously served as the executive director of the  Asian Law Caucus, as the president of the Bay Area Assessors Association, and on the board of  Equality California. [url=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phil_Ting#cite_note-auto-1][1][/url][h3][/h3]In 2005, Ting was appointed San Francisco Assessor-Recorder in 2005 by Mayor  Gavin Newsom, becoming San Francisco’s highest-ranking  Chinese-American official at the time. He was then elected to the post in November 2005, garnering 58 percent of the vote.Ting was re-elected Assessor-Recorder in 2006 and 2010During his first term in the Assembly, Ting authored a law that helped set into motion the transformation of Piers 30-32 into what would become  Chase Center the home of the  Golden State Warriorshttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phil_Ting
  • RHD This looks like a lead balloon. You could buy a fantastic classic car for a hundred grand, or a Mercedes depreciationmobile. There isn't much reason to consider this over many other excellent vehicles that cost less. It's probably fast, but nothing else about it is in the least bit outstanding, except for the balance owed on the financing.
  • Jeff A bread van worthy of praise by Tassos.