By on May 21, 2019

2019 Toyota Corolla

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE

2.0-liter four-cylinder (168 horsepower @ 6,800 rpm; 151 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm)

Continuously-variable automatic, front-wheel drive

30 city / 38 highway / 38 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

7.5 city, 5.8 highway, 6.7 combined. (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

Base Price: $22,990 (U.S) / $27,980 (Canada)

As Tested: $25,418 (U.S.) / $30,599 (Canada)

Prices include $920 destination charge in the United States and $1,745 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

Y’all are probably gonna flay me for what I am about to write. I know, because one of our contributors took it on the chin (no pun intended) earlier this year after writing up the 2020 Corolla sedan.

That’s okay. I can take it. You guys out there fling arrows at us sometimes and we’re cool with it. It’s part of the job. Still, I am ducking (metaphorically speaking, do you know how hard is to type while ducking? Hurts your neck, man).

Here goes – I’ve never cared much for any Toyota baring the Corolla badge. At least, not any Corolla produced since, say, the early ‘90s or so.

I swear this isn’t suburban snobbery. My first car was a barely-running Bronco II and I followed that with an otherwise-functional Fox body that had all sorts of rust issues. So I wasn’t sneering at Toyotas while riding in a Lexus LS or anything like that.

I just never liked the car. I long felt that Toyota decided that since it was an affordable economy car that sold like hot cakes, the brand just didn’t care (the same accusation was, of course, aimed at Camry many times over the years, but I always felt that Toyota put more love into its midsizer — or certain generations, at least).

Every time I’ve driven a Corolla (which was many, in my former life as a front-of-house service grunt at a Toyota store, in addition to the ones I’ve tested in this career), I found the seating position awkward, the steering out to lunch, and the interior a little too well-matched to the price. One could at least forgive the Camry it’s beige reputation, as that car tended to coddle, and certain generations were even sort of engaging to drive. But the Corolla just wasn’t for me.

2019 Toyota Corolla

Yes, true, those cars were all sedans. Yes, true, the Corolla hatch isn’t based on the outgoing sedan or even the Corolla iM. Still, even though my rational brain knew this Corolla was all-new and shared nothing with those cars but a name, the moniker triggered unkind memories.

Toyota has made strides in recent years, especially in the fun-to-drive department. I’ve already written favorably of the current Camry, and I have nice thoughts about the new Avalon. It’s almost as if putting a car enthusiast in the big chair has helped.

Enter the Corolla hatchback, which, as noted, is separate from the previous sedan model and the old Corolla iM (nee Scion iM) it replaces. Confused yet?

No? Cool, let’s keep rolling. The Corolla hatch bowed last year and shares its platform with the new-for-2020 Corolla sedan, but it’s marketed as the sporty one of the family.

I’m a sucker for compact sporty cars, so the Corolla hatch intrigued me. Has the brand finally figured out driving dynamics? Would I finally enjoy a car with the Corolla label slapped on?

2019 Toyota Corolla

In a word: Sort of (yes, that was two words). Toyota dialed up a car that’s sporty enough, but not to the level of, say, a VW Golf (non-GTI version). It feels like the brand got nine-tenths of the way there when it comes to steering feel – there’s just something about the electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion unit that makes the feel just a tad too light and artificial. It’s not as dialed in as the Golf or the outgoing Mazda 3 (I have yet to get my mitts on the new one, but Corey’s had a turn or two).

The 2.0-liter four-cylinder (168 horsepower, 151 lb-ft of torque) provides adequate acceleration, and I found the ride to lean towards sport without being overly punishing, although some stiffness ruffled my feathers on cracked pavement.

I’d have preferred the six-speed manual to the available continuously-variable automatic (with 10 “step” speeds), as CVTs don’t exactly scream “fun,” but this unit was well-behaved enough that I felt no need to rage-tweet #savethemanuals at Toyota.

Toyota styling can be a bit, um, questionable, these days, and the Corolla gives me mixed feelings. I like the relatively clean design, but I’m not sure where I’m at with the large front fascia and the evil grin formed by the headlamps. Out back, I’m further confused by taillamps that extend into the liftgate and the bulbous rear fascia.

Inside, the story is the same – a clean-looking dash with simple lines and minimal buttons is marred by the by now all-too-familiar slapped-on infotainment screen. At least the simple gauge cluster, dominated by a sweeping speedo, looks cool.

2019 Toyota Corolla

Sport isn’t the only reason to buy a small hatchback, of course. For many, it’s not even a factor. Utility, content, and fuel economy play a big role in the purchase decision.

My test car cost $25,418 after options and the $920 destination fee – with a base price of $22,990. Standard features included 18-inch wheels, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning with steering assist, radar cruise control, pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth, two USB ports (one is charge only), satellite radio, Apple CarPlay, heated leather front seats, tilt/telescope steering wheel, and keyless entry and starting.

Options included adaptive LED headlights, a coin holder/ashtray cup, body-side molding, carpeted floor mats, door edge guard, rear window spoiler, and a tablet holder.

Fuel economy is listed at 30 mpg city/38 mpg highway/33 mpg combined.

2019 Toyota Corolla

Toyota has upped its hatchback game by a lot, but in terms of driving dynamics, there’s still a ways to go before catching the Golf or the Mazda 3. Yet the price is right, the fuel economy is commendable, and the styling is, if not pretty, at least head-turning.

The Corolla hatch is perhaps the first Corolla I’ve had any affinity for. A tweak here or there, and the brand will move from “close enough” to “just about right.”

[Images © 2019 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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35 Comments on “2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE Review – Getting Closer...”

  • avatar

    I question the wisdom of “sporting up” things like the Corolla and Avalon.

    You’d think there would be a reasonable market for a quiet, comfortable, softer, efficient car with class-competitive power and good tactile quality. Maybe all those people have gone to CUVs/trucks and the sportster shoppers are all that’s left. But if that is the case then Toyota should have taken it even further.

    • 0 avatar

      I can’t stand the trend, is the average consumer living in an area with the average condition of infrastructure (read: bad) truly that stupid and masochistic that they are clamoring for really thin tires and stiff suspension tuning? I’ve driven the “lesser” trims (65 series tires) of a number of midsize sedans and am always impressed with how well they corner and how high of speed I can hit on-ramps at without inducing tire squeal. The camry has 215/55R17 tires and the stiffer SE suspension and it is pretty okay for the most part and is IMO a highly competent handler, but a rental Optima LX-FE on 205/65R16s handled no worse and rode notably better over bad pavement.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s all about how much you want to pay.

    • 0 avatar

      Its the curse of Pontiac, everything’s gotta be “sporty” now, it also helps sell CSUVs.

    • 0 avatar

      I disagree. People who don’t want something sporty have overwhelmingly demonstrated their preference for tall, boxy things. If Toyota makes this Corolla a smaller, lower RAV4 that handles identically but can’t be had with AWD, no one will buy it. See: the CH-R. I’m not necessarily saying that anyone will buy this Corolla, but it’s at least going after a theoretically different customer. And if what this means is that Toyota will eventually build a GTI that doesn’t spend more time at the dealer than it does in my garage, they may well have me as a customer.

  • avatar

    I don’t know about this car but as an owner of an 06 Rolla Cheapskate Edition (yes, including the no hubcap look these cars all have)…. the car itself is incredibly weak. You’re right the seats are terrible. Seating position all sorts of bad. Pedals in your lap while steering wheel a mile away. Car manages to handle badly and still crashes over bumps (I have new OEM shocks).

    As far as driving, every competitor is better.

    With that said the car has needed minimal repairs. Finally did brakes all around at 172,000 miles. Pads, calipers, shoes, hardware. I think it was about $200 in parts. Oil changes take me 15 minutes. The engine still purrs and nothing makes any weird noises. Tires cost me maybe $350 for name brand stuff.

    Point is, you only buy a Corolla because it doesn’t break and when it does it costs $7 and a few hours and you can fix it yourself.

    Again I don’t know about this corolla but in the time frame of mine, a Civic or Mazda would certainly be nearly as mechanically reliable while simply being a much better car to be inside of. Something tells me this is still valid with this car. Not to mention I can’t imagine a Corolla is saving you a ton of money over the lifetime of the car vs a Camry, which is so much better a car it isn’t funny. If you’re going to put 300,000 miles on your ride, spend the few extra grand and get the Camry.

    • 0 avatar

      The seating position in the ’03-’08 cars was indeed horrible for taller drivers, the ’09-’13 was more comfortable but put taller drivers’ heads uncomfortably close to the top of the A-pillar, just plain weird. As you said, fantastically durable, but that’s about the only nice thing I have to say about them. I vastly prefer the ’93-’97 cars, or ’98-’02 in a pinch.

  • avatar

    “bulbous rear fascia” is an understatement. How much potential hatch space (plus visibility) is lost with this design? This is just another thing VW gets right with the Golf, its still basically squared-off in the back. I realize we are never going to return the flat glass wall of my ’85 Civic S1500 hatch but these bubble-butts (seen in many CUVs) aren’t the answer. And I see Toyota put the fake black vent on a crease design mess from the Camry here too… that just makes the rear bumper look broken to me.

  • avatar

    I had a casual interest in this car when I first saw it but you know what? Good luck finding a stick and the beautiful blue used in all the promos does NOT exist in the real world.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m intrigued also. As for the color/trans combination, I’m in the DC area and the “build” tools brings up at least 6, and you can get the black or the light interior. Don’t know how far their search radius goes. I look occasionally, and I find inventory quite plentiful, but doesn’t seem to be many red ones at the moment.

  • avatar

    They’ve got a dizzying array of trim levels no, from the price leader L, to the XLE. My wife had a NUMMI-built ’92 Sedan (the base model) when I met her. Back then the other choices were the DX and the LE. It was a great car, even with the passive shoulder belts, and the GM “contributions” like the Delco alternator.

  • avatar

    This car has a really strange ‘face,’ like something from a comic book. And the ass end looks pointlessly weird.

  • avatar

    Test drove a manual Corolla HB right before I deployed back in November. I liked it. Then I went down the street and test drove an outgoing Mazda3 HB with manual trans. I came back grinning ear to ear. The 3 had the definite “W” where driving dynamics came into play, whereas the Corolla was an “almost but not nearly close enough””…”. I get that Corolla likely plays to a slightly different demographic (and that exactly 0.000001% will even consider a manual, much less actually buy one), but if they want to play in the same league as the 3 and others such as the Golf, Toyota still has some catching up to do.

    • 0 avatar

      “…but if they want to play in the same league as the 3 and others such as the Golf, Toyota still has some catching up to do.”

      I understand, but considering that Toyota sells many more Corollas than either Mazda’s 3 or VW’s Golf, why would they feel they have any “catching up” to do?

  • avatar

    I’ve seen a few of these on the road lately, and am surprised by how nice they look in person. I just wish they were built on the same long wheelbase as the sedan. Now THAT would be an appealing car.

  • avatar

    I like hatchbacks because of their utility value, so when it was time to trade in my old car, I went shopping for one. I looked at a Chevy Cruze RS hatchback, several 2018 Mazda 3 hatchbacks, and a 2019 Mazda 3 hatchback. I also test drove a Subaru Imprezza Sport, Hyundai Elantra GT Redline, and a Corolla XSE hatch.

    I could have got very good deal on the Cruze, but I couldn’t get around the fact that it’s an orphan car, so I left the dealership without going for a test drive.

    The Mazda dealer had a half-dozen 2018s but wasn’t offering much of a deal on them, even though they’ve been leftover for several months. And the new style 2019 Mazda 3 hatch has such small windows, especially in the rear, that it reminded me of a panel van. I pity anybody who has to ride in the back seat of one.

    I was very much impressed by the Hyundai Elantra GT Redline. It’s 204 hp engine had lots of power, the hatch had plenty of space, and the styling was appealing both inside and out. Unfortunately, the test car was gray with a black interior, which didn’t suit my taste. The dealer looked all around the country for a Redline with a stick in a decent color. The nearest one was 500 miles away. Again, no deal.

    I enjoyed driving the Subaru too, but it was a bit too conservative for me. So, in the end, I bought a Corolla hatchback XSE, which is the higher of the two available trim lines.

    I’m really astonished at how nice it is and for my needs, it fits the bill. I wouldn’t call it a hot hatch but it is a nice cruiser.

    It handles well, rides nicely, has decent power, is quiet inside and has just enough space inside the hatch (although I’d like a little more). It has power-everything and plenty of electronic nannies, which I guess is typical these days but surprising for the relatively low sticker price. And I got a reasonably good deal on it. Better than the Mazda dealer was offering on his leftover 2018s.

    It’s much more than I ever expected from a “Corolla”. Perhaps they should market it under its former European name – Auris – or something other than Corolla. But as far as I’m concerned, I don’t care what they call it.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks for the insight. Hatch fan here too.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s a similar shortlist that I have for my car shopping in the fall. I’ll be coming out of the lease on my 2016 Mazda3, and I’m leery about the visibility of the new 3, since mine is already not great in that department.

      I work at a Chevy dealer so should be able to get a hilarious deal on a Cruze, but it’s just not pleasant to drive anywhere other than a highway (which I don’t spend much time on) and has no character.

    • 0 avatar

      RedBat… If the Elantra GT was available in a color of your choice, would you have bought it instead?
      …. The thing I like about the Corolla although I have not driven one or even seen one in person, is the naturally aspirated motor!
      …Did you try the Corolla sedan and if so how was it in comparison to the hatchback?
      …. If Mazda offered the manual in their sedan, that is what I would want to buy. I don’t like their hatchback at all!

  • avatar

    I don’t understand the reduced rear legroom compared to the sedan and the truncated rear. Take the current Corolla sedan, slap a hatch/wagon-esque rear end on it and I could find some appeal.

  • avatar

    I have respect for really old RWD Corollas just as scarce vintage cars, but anything after just doesnt interest me on top of their undeserved price premiums.

    Back in the 90s you had adequate cars with garbage 3-speed autos and a weird sway bar setup (one in the back, none up front) that contribute to weaker road holding. Then came the weird Prizm inspired late 90s refresh and an oil burning engine.

    Fast forward to today where the actual guts are decent but the dumb Pontiac styling hinders interior space, on top of just looking ugly. I got to ride in a rental on my vacation and my head would often rest on the roof.

    • 0 avatar

      “garbage 3-speed autos and a weird sway bar setup (one in the back, none up front) that contribute to weaker road holding”

      This is nonsense btw.

      3spd auto was limited to CE/base trims, worth noting additionally, the Cavalier and Neon both had 3spds during the same time period, no 4spd at all on neon. Poor handling? What are you talking about? If there were all these issues with the 90s Corollas, just how bad were other compacts then? ’93 Corolla was for the compact class what the ’92 Camry was for the midsizers: unexpected (for competitors) tour-de-force in refinement and quality.

  • avatar

    Still a little bit too much going on, but this is one of the better sheetmetals Toyota has offered in recent years.

  • avatar

    Not a big fan of the new fascia or the hatch look generally speaking. I think it looks better in sedan form.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    I learned early in life that any Toyota without power seats is uncomfortable.

    • 0 avatar

      But, Toyota has mastered the art of offering seats that are manual in every way except lumbar adjustment, which is power…which somehow doesn’t make much sense.

  • avatar

    Does anyone know how the hatchback vs the sedan drives with the manual transmission?
    … Are they the same? Does the sedan have more interior room?
    … Which one would be more fun to drive?

  • avatar

    On December 10, MorrisGray asked, “RedBat… If the Elantra GT was available in a color of your choice, would you have bought it instead?” Yes, if it was an N-Line, not the regular GT. Especially if it was a stick. Bigger hatch, bigger interior, more power and the styling is more in keeping with my old status as a senior citizen! I like the styling of the Corolla hatch, but it’s a bit over-the-top for a geeezer like me. The styling of the Hyundai Electra GT N-Line is more to my taste. But as I mentioned, battleship gray is not for me. I like a bit of “pop” to the color, but the battleship gray test car was the only N-Line around for miles. I honestly feel that Hyundai has no interest in selling Elantra GT N-Lines. In fact, the closest Hyundai dealer has no Elantra GTs in stock right now, not even regular Hyundai Electra GTs. Velosters – yes. Elantra GTs – no.

    Having said all that, my new Corolla Hatch XSE is working out fine. It’s pearlescent white, which is quite elegant if not sporty.

  • avatar

    RedBat… Thanks, I am looking for something to replace my 2006 Mazda3 sedan 5sp that has been reliable and still fun to drive. I would simply buy another Mazda if they offered the manual in a sedan (3 or 6)but they don’t and I don’t like the Mazda hatchback. I find the Elantra GT , Corolla and GTI attractive, but not the Mazda hatchback.
    …. Did you consider a GTO or the GLI? or the Corolla sedan?
    …….. must be manual transmission for me!!!

  • avatar

    Hi MorrisGray, No, I didn’t consider buying a GTI, GLI or Corolla sedan. I’m sure I would enjoy the Volkswagen – my mother in-law leased one for a while and it was a great driving car. But I’m put-off by their reputation for reliability.

    Over the years, I’ve owned a Fiat and a Renault. After having suffered through their frequent and expensive maladies, I’m not about to try yet another European car

    As noted above, I greatly prefer hatchbacks. They’re handy for hauling all sorts of things, like recycling bins, yard clippings, big bags of water softener salt, tires, car parts, etc. I’ve owned an Escort GT, Mazda MX-3, Toyota Yaris and they’ve all fit my need for utility without having to buy a pickup truck, SUV or CUV. That’s why I didn’t check-out any sedan while I was in the market.

    However, if you’re interested, I see Toyota is now offering a Corolla XSE sedan for 2020, which has the same engine as my hatch. A bit more power.

    Those are just my opinions and I would never criticize anybody else’s choice of vehicle.

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