The first time I saw Toyota’s new Corolla Hatchback, it was early April at Formula DRIFT’s opening race. A prototype street car sat adjacent to Papadakis Racing’s bright yellow FD racecar for 2015 champion Fredric Aasbo, who would go on to win the season starter with this brand new car.
Next time was during the 23rd annual ToyotaFest, held June in Long Beach, where fans of the marque were able to test both stick and automatic versions of the 2019 Corolla Hatchback on a slalom course next to the grand prix course.
The third opportunity presented itself for a trip to Sonoma and the INDYCAR season finale. For this particular trip, I opted to take the scenic route up (101) and banzai back (I-5) through California’s central valley; both were great choices and the attention this hatch receives makes Toyota look wise to introduce this updated chassis and enticing body.
Toyota’s Blue Flame on Cool Gray Corolla Hatchback XSE looks ready and willing to run when first glimpsed. Its innards don’t disappoint, with a 2-liter 4-cylinder engine with 168 horsepower at 6,600 rpm and 151 lb-ft of torque at 4,800 (redline hits at 6,750) it’s ready to roll. It has both port- and direct-injection that enables this hatch to use all of those 168 ponies.
The transmission is a CVT, albeit with a physical first launch gear and 10 usable speeds if one is shifting manually using the available paddle shifters or shifting on the floor. A real, 6-speed manual transmission is available on this and the base model, both with rev-matching capabilities.
Independent MacPherson struts and multi-link suspensions keep the Corolla hatchback firmly planted, as do the Dunlop P225/40R stickums mounted on dark and polished, twinned five-spoke 18-alloy wheels. Fifteen-inch disc brakes all around stop this 3060-pound machine aptly.
Toyota, working with a new, universal platform now used on nearly all of its cars, has raised the use of electrically-assisted power steering on a mid-range front-wheel-drive vehicle like this to a new level, as the EPAS is quick and sensitive, communicating changes well through the luscious leather-wrapped steering wheel.
There are three available driving modes: eco, normal and sport. For the sake of economy from the 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback’s 13.2-gallon tank, I stayed in eco mode much of the time, achieving the 30/38/33 EPA figures. I did prefer the sport mode – it’s magic – but not the resulting lower mileage figures.
Toyota’s bi-color interior is striking on its new Corolla Hatchback XSE model, top of the line. The hatch’s dash projects toward the driver and, while there are lots of hard plastics about the cabin, there are plenty of soft touches as well. Toyota does not fit a standard speedometer, using a digital display, but does include the tachometer to the left, fuel and temp gauges to the right, with trip info, clock, gear-in, outside temp and odometer in the central gauge display.
The Corolla Hatchback’s steering wheel features trip info, phone access and volume on the left side with cruise control, lane departure and audio to the right. The leather/fabric seats are well bolstered and give good support over these longer drives. There is 8-way power for the driver’s seat; manual adjustments for the passenger.
Rear seat passengers are not so well endowed, as the new hatch has far less space behind the front seats than does the sedan. No climate controls, a simple pull-down for cup holders and the leg space essential for an eight-year-old exemplify rear seating arrangements. There is a 60/40 fold that can increase the cargo hold’s rather shallow 17.8 cubic feet of space, albeit with cubbies on the sides, perfect for holding a long lens.
This new Toyota’s central stack is filled with technology, starting with its split-screen 8-inch multi-information display. This particular Corolla hatchback XSE has the optional Entune 3.0 Audio Plus with App Suite that is intended to facilitate navigation through the Scout GPS Link, along with Qi wireless charging. It is only Apple Play compatible at this time, but does have SiriusXM satellite radio.
While it was absolutely simple to mate phone to car for Bluetooth use, even a Toyota service manager was unable to get the Entune app to work on this pre-production Corolla hatchback. We tried uninstalling/reinstalling and various other tricks, but the end result was using the iPhone for navigation functions. The premium JBL audio system with its six speakers gave excellent sound throughout the cabin.
Pricing for the 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE is $25,010 including freight. The singular Entune 3.0 suite adds an additional $1,600 for an end pricing of $26,610. What’s included at that base price is full LED lighting that work exceptionally well, dual-zone climate controls, an integrated backup camera, leather, two-position seat heaters, Smart Key ingress/egress and pushbutton start, radar cruise control with intelligent following distances, a single USB/12-volt in the small central console, all one-touch windows and standard apps.
The home screen delineates navigation to the left, with mpg, range and audio to the right. In the economy screen the driver has access to instant mpg, while other screens give average mpg, messages, the full suite of safety nannies – pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert, radar cruise control, road sign (speed limit) assist and lane tracing assist – radio, and allows the nannies to be turned off.
After a week, a full 1,000 miles of driving and getting to know the 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE, it’s apparent Toyota made a wise choice in bringing this model in as the first of the new-chassis Corolla models. It has great potential to accept all-wheel-drive, perhaps a turbocharged version of the current 2-liter engine and customizing both from the factory and through aftermarket partners. A huge leap above the Corolla iM at tiny price increase, this hatch is a lover. I’d still like to drive the stick…
By Anne Proffit