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Monday, September 23, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Autos

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback: The all-new compact is the best Corolla we’ve driven

Last year, Toyota took the unusual step of updating the hatchback version of the compact Corolla months before giving the same treatment to the better-selling sedan.

Now, both vehicles — the 2020 sedan and hatch — are available, along with an all-new sedan hybrid.

Before the sedan dropped, we tested the new hatch, which debuted as a 2019 model. Aside from body style and some trim level variances, the two cars are virtual twins.

Although the sedan and hatchback are identical in most respects, buyers should know that the sedan has a roomier cabin and more cargo space. The hatch’s abbreviated roofline looks great but reduces second-row headroom and cargo-bay capacity. 

Upscale vibe

The sedan is available in L ($19,600), LE ($20,050) and SE ($22,800) trims; the hatchback in SE ($20,290) and XSE ($22,990) grades. The sedan hybrid starts at ($23,880). 

Major improvements throughout the line include a more comfortable ride and sharper handling, fresh stying and an expanded roster of comfort and safety features, both standard and optional.

All new Corollas start life bearing a handful of basics that include such active-safety features as adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking and lane-keeping assist.

Toyota’s Entune 3.0 Audio is also standard on all new Corollas; Entune brings an 8-inch touchscreen (7 inches on the base L trim), onboard Wi-Fi, Amazon Alexa and Apple CarPlay compatibility.

Corolla’s new cabin has an upscale vibe. Design of the dashboard and various controls is spare and uncluttered. Materials quality and fit-and-finish earn high marks and, while there are plenty of hard plastics, they’re offset by padded and stitched soft-touch surfaces.

It’s a quieter cabin, too. New drivetrain efficiencies, increased use of sound-absorbing materials and innovative construction techniques help quell road noise.

Cramped rear seats

Four adults ride in reasonable comfort, though rear-seat legroom is cramped and the hatchback’s roofline impacts headroom. 

Cabin storage opportunities are limited to a small cell-phone shelf under the dash and a covered bin in the center console. 

Sheet-metal updates include a low hood-line which falls into a softly rounded front fascia. Razor-thin LED lighting assemblies are set deeply into the fenders, housed within a full-width black-out panel. 

The hatchback and SE and XSE sedans are powered by a newly available 169-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder powerplant. Lower trims are powered by the carry-over engine, a 139-hp 1.8-liter four. 

Frugality reigns

Both engines are frugal but noisy. The surprise here is that the larger engine is both more powerful and more economical. It powers the Corolla from 0-60 in about 8 seconds and earns an EPA-estimated 34 mpg combined. The 1.8-liter is just over a half-second slower and claims 32 mpg.

At 54 mpg, the 121-hp hybrid is the clear mileage winner.

Both engines can be mated with either a six-speed manual transmission or an innovative continuously variable transmission (CVT) whose simulated shifts are fairly convincing.

The Corolla family is now planted on Toyota’s New Global Architecture (TNGA), which underpins cars as diverse as the Camry midsize sedan and the RAV4 compact crossover. The rigid platform allows for more precise suspension settings.

In the rear, a new multilink setup replaces the previous car’s torsion beam, helping smooth the ride and sharpening its handling.

Smooth confidence

For the most part, our hatchback tester rode with a smooth confidence. The suspension soaks up all but the worst potholes, but its wheelbase is too short to produce anything like a luxurious ride.

This Corolla isn’t reluctant to take a corner but, pushed beyond its comfort zone, its front end either runs wide or washes out (neither is unexpected from a small nose-heavy car and neither is catastrophic). Corolla’s steering system is quick and accurate but not communicative.

Toyota  “sport-tuned” suspension, but that’s a stretch. This is the most driver-friendly Corolla in memory, but other brands still hold the performance card.

Since its introduction in 1996, the Corolla has sold more than 43 million copies, making it the world’s best-selling car ever. There’s no reason to believe the new one won’t hold up its end of the bargain.  

Questions or comments? Contact Don at don@dadair.com.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE
Vehicle base price: $19,600
Trim level base price: $22,990
As tested: $25,123 (includes destination and handling)
Options included adaptive headlights with level control and auto on/off; alloy wheel locks;
cabin and cargo floor mats; cargo cover; cargo net; rear bumper protector; rear-window spoiler
EPA ratings: 31 combined/28 city/37 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified



Don Adair
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer.