2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback SE – Road Test Review – By Ben Lewis



You know those commercials for Overstock.com? (no, we’re not getting a free couch for this).

The ones where people are judged – sometimes unfairly – for their names.

Well, the Corolla has the same problem.

We say Corolla, and you probably think, small, supremely reliable, pleasant, good value.

But exciting? Meh.

 One small step for a Corolla and One giant step for Corolla-kind.

Previously, the formerly known as Scion iM was renamed, and the stylish little hatchback became the Corolla IM. And it was a nice looking, decent performing hatch with loads of features – typical Scion. A nice start.

But for 2019, we have an all-new Corolla hatch (sold in Europe as the Auris!). And with the head folks at Toyota dedicated to infuse some performance and passion throughout the line (See our review of the new Camry), we were excited to see what the new model has to offer.

Shooting Robust, Under Priority Catamaran

No, not the latest Ang Lee Kung-Fu movie.

According to Toyota Design, the new hatchback is built along the theme Shooting Robust and is a further development of the Under Priority Catamaran design philosophy.

Uh-huh.

Well don’t let that throw you off, because the new Corolla hatch is one great-looking piece.

Lower (1.0 in), wider (1.2 in) and longer (1.5 in), it also features a longer wheelbase and wider front and rear tracks. It definitely looks it, squatter, more muscular, and enjoys sharply-creased lines.

The front and rear both look angry, with a large grille, horizontal, pinched LED head and daytime running lights up front, leading to a steeply raked hood. Follow the curvaceous side sills, and you’ll find LED taillights in the rear, cutting into a crisply-folded rear fascia.

We have a caveat here – our tester was the lower-priced SE model, and while it looks good sitting on 16-inch alloys in its Blizzard Pearl paint, the XSE model – with a little more chrome, LED fog lamps, and chunky 18-inch rims – is the one we’d want.

Design within Reach

Inside, we had no qualms with our SE trim level – featuring quality materials, fresh design, and loads of goodies to keep us happy. It starts with good vibes from soft-padding throughout and contrasting stitching, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with paddle shifters, leather-wrapped shift lever, and chromey trim to keep things looking classy.

Surprisingly sporty-looking front bucket seats give good support, and the embossed patterns in the centers look fresh and hip. There’s a driver-centric instrument panel with a nicely-sized tach, center speedo, and 4.2-inch Multi-function trip computer display. Ours even had a road sign reader – pretty cool. (XSE models get a swankier 7-inch Multi-information display.)

In the center console, a tablet-style 8-inch color touchscreen features Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa Integration, Siri Eyes Free, Bluetooth streaming and even a customizable home screen.

That’s just the beginning of an arm’s-long list of goodies, including pushbutton ignition and automatic climate control, electronic parking brake, three-door SmartKey system, auto up/down windows, even two-front USB outlets.

Equally impressive is Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.0 system that’s standard on every Corolla hatch, including Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection, Lane Tracing Assist, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist and Road Edge Detection, Automatic High Beams (AHB), Road Sign Assist (RSA), and Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control (DRCC). Wow.  Our tester’s optional Preferred Package also added in the Blind Spot Monitor. Very useful.

Speaking of useful, the Corolla’s rear hatch opens easily and the rear seats fold flat for easy access. That said, the rear seats are smallish for adults for anything but short trips, and the floor height of the cargo area is high – if cargo capacity is important to you, you might want to look at a small crossover.

A Hotter Hatch

We’ll accept the tradeoff of utility for the Corolla’s new-found road manners. It starts with more heart, thanks to a new 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder pumping out a respectable 168 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque. (Previous Corolla iM – 1.8-liter, 137 hp /125 lb-ft). It’s a happy, revvy engine that feels much more powerful than the previous model.

With this kind of new-found grunt, we would have wished for the available manual transmission, but instead our tester had the CVT automatic.

Before we do our collective groan, there’s a lot to like about this transmission, including a real fixed-ratio first gear, that pulls away strongly and stops the rpm-hanging/moaning/motor boating found in many CVTs. Adding to the enjoyment, well-designed logic does a fairly convincing job of imitating a regular automatic trans, and gives you a virtual 10-speeds.

Putting the driving mode selector into Sport helps things even more with punchier response, and real zip when it comes to passing. Keep your enthusiasm in check and you should net   mpg in the upper 20’s to mid-30’s, so the Corolla is still the sensible sipper we’ve come to know.

Keeping that enthusiasm under control may be harder than you think. Underneath the swoopy body is Toyota’s new TNGA C platform – the company says torsional rigidity is a massive 60 percent better than the old iM.

That new platform also pays big benefits in ride comfort; the Corolla feels notably solid even over rough roads and big bumps, and road noise is well suppressed making this one of the quietest small cars – especially impressive for a hatchback, which can tend to amplify noise.

The steering is surprisingly feelsome, with good weight and precision, and the suspension is a willing partner in playtime. Grip is good – we imagine the big meats on the XSE’s 18-inch alloys would be even better – but for a base model, all is well.

Corolla for the dolla?

Well, it does have the name Corolla, so – you betcha!

The Corolla SE starts at $19,900 for a well-equipped SE model. Going for the CVT transmission bumps you up to $21,090. Our tester also had Blizzard Pearl paint ($395), the SE Preferred Package ($1,400), that includes Blind Spot warning and upgrades to the info-tainment system, and Delivery ($920) for a grand total of $23,805.

If you want the XSE with the added goodies like leather and 18” wheels, it starts $24,090. To sweeten the deal on either model, ToyotaCare is included, with no cost maintenance for 2 years/25,000 miles and 24 hour roadside assistance for 2 years/Unlimited miles.

There are lots of competitors for your Corolla Dolla, with the Hyundai Elantra GT $23,035 comparably equipped, and the Civic Hatchback Sport CVT at $23,445. We say drive all three and go for the one that feels right to you. They’re all great. The Corolla’s fresh looks will turn more heads, though.

Oscar LaVista, Baby..

Toyota continues to impress with its new sporty, fun direction. We love the upgrades in style, design and performance of the new Corolla Hatchback.

We say Corolla, you say wow!

About The Author

Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round -- whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, or learning to surf.