At least Toyota is not fudging anything with its first 2019 Corolla, coming right out and naming it the all-new Hatchback.
Time was, that could be the kiss of death — or languishing on the sales charts — because American buyers overwhelmingly rejected hatchbacks, preferring traditional sedans.
Now, in the wake of a tsunami of crossover sport utility vehicles, many little more than tall hatchbacks with optional all-wheel drive, the hatches appear to be making a comeback. At least that’s what the automakers’ prognosticators seem to think.
In the luxury realm, there are hatchbacks that don’t look like traditional hatchbacks — beautiful, streamlined fastbacks like the Audi A5 and A7, the all-new Kia Stinger, BMW 640i Gran Turismo and the Buick Regal Sportback.
Closer to the new Corolla Hatchback — that’s its official name — are a bunch of nifty and sporting hatches, some even deserving of the unofficial appellation of “hot hatch,” signifying high performance.
The template for much of this is the Volkswagen Golf, which has economy models but also is available as the perennially popular, high-performance GTI, as well as the Golf R. Another in that category is the Honda Civic, which is available as a Sport hatchback and the highest-performance Type R.
But there are plenty of other competitors for the new Corolla Hatchback, earlier versions of which have been sold for years in other countries but not seen in the U.S. There’s the Hyundai Elantra GT, the all-wheel-drive Subaru Impreza, Chevrolet Cruze, Mazda 3, Kia Forte 5, Ford Focus and Nissan Versa Note.
The new Corolla Hatchback inherited its role because of a death in the family. Toyota decided to mercifully terminate its youth-oriented Scion brand, which had among its offerings a good hatchback, the iM. After Scion went away, the iM became a Toyota, now replaced by the new Hatchback.
The biggest things the Hatchback has going for it are its neat styling, especially viewed from the rear, front-seat comfort, supple ride, and the fact that it is a Corolla, one of the most reliable vehicles on the planet and the biggest-selling nameplate in automotive history.
Though Toyota would like you to think of the Hatchback as having a “super hot hatch persona,” as one official described it, it is actually a modest performer. The hot stuff could come later, as it did with the Hyundai Elantra GT Sport and Honda Civic Type R.
It is an entertaining around-town runabout, with dimensions that enable its driver to shoot holes in traffic and park almost anywhere, but which has athletic moves at higher freeway speeds and around mountain curves. It could be anybody’s only car.
If you are the sort who does mostly highway travel, pay a bit extra for the XSE model, which incorporates more sound-deadening insulation than the base SE, which tends to get noisy. You’ll feel more relaxed after an all-day drive.
The Hatchback is entertaining with either the six-speed manual gearbox or the continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT). Some belt-driven CVTs, which do not have shift points, impart a sensation that the transmission is slipping, which is a turn-off for many critics.
The Corolla’s does not suffer from that malady because Toyota has incorporated a sort of locked and loaded first gear to get the Hatchback launched. It gets a good jump off the line and then the CVT takes over.
But for enthusiasts, even inexperienced drivers, the stick shift should be the choice because it incorporates rev-matching — a relatively new technology that heretofore came on more expensive cars. When you downshift, the system revs the engine to match the lower gear to the speed of the car for a smooth transition.
From a size and power standpoint, the Hatchback slots neatly among its competitors. Where it falls a bit short is in interior space, especially for cargo. It has a total of 103 interior cubic feet, 18 of them behind the rear seat.
The Hyundai Elantra GT has 122 cubic feet including 25 for cargo, and the Honda Civic hatchback has 120 cubic feet with 23 for cargo. However, the fastback Subaru Impreza has 112 cubic feet with just 12 for cargo, though that likely is related to its fastback, all-wheel drive design.
For now, the Hatchback is the only Corolla newbie. Anall-new sedan is on the way but Toyota isn’t saying when. However, the existing sedan is a fine piece of work itself, offering a full suite of safety equipment on all trim levels.
- Model: 2019 Toyota Corolla XSE Hatchback five-door.
- Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, 168 hp, 151 lb-ft torque.
- Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with front-wheel drive.
- Overall length: 14 feet 2 inches.
- EPA passenger/cargo volume: 85/18 cubic feet.
- Weight: 3,060 pounds.
- EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 30/38/33 mpg.
- Base price, including destination charge: $25,010.
- Price as tested: $26,610.
Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.
Photos (c) Toyota