2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback driving

The all-new 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback offers more power than the Corolla iM that it replaces, but even with this boost, it doesn't have quite enough get-up-and-go. Once our drivers got moving, though, it handled very well, and it was the most enjoyable when tackling curvy roads.

The sharply styled Corolla Hatchback is a little longer, wider, and lower than the iM, and it features a new engine and two new transmissions. It also gets numerous standard advanced safety features.

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The new hatchback is also noteworthy because it rides on the same platform that will underpin the redesigned Corolla sedan, set to go on sale early next year.

The Hatchback version is set to arrive in Toyota dealerships this summer. Its competitors include the Chevrolet CruzeFord FocusHyundai Elantra GTMazda3Subaru Impreza, and Volkswagen Golf

Here are our first impressions of a preproduction Corolla Hatchback that we rented from Toyota. (Read our preview of the 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback, below.)

What we drove: 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE
Drivetrain: 168-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine; continuously variable transmission; front-wheel drive
MSRP: $23,000 (estimated) 

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback interior

How It Drives

The four-cylinder engine has 31 hp more than the outgoing Corolla iM. That’s good because we complained that the iM was short on zip off the line. Even so, overall power is still only adequate. Pressing hard on the accelerator brings a raspy noise that makes the engine sound like it’s working too hard. 

Toyota fitted the new transmission with a fixed first gear ratio to give it a more natural feel and to mask some quirks of a continuously variable transmission. Now the Hatchback starts off from a stop without the rubber band-like sensation common with cars that have a CVT. 

We found the Corolla to be pleasant when driven around town. It’s small and easy to drive, and the well-tuned transmission does a fine job keeping the revs low when driven normally. 

But it was on curvy roads that we found the Corolla Hatchback to feel most in its element. We were surprised by its entertaining handling for a Corolla, as it took corners without hesitation, with nicely responsive steering, around our test track.

The ride is on the firm side but not out of place for the compact hatchback segment. The large 18-inch wheels and low-profile tires that come standard on the XSE model we borrowed certainly don’t help with smoothing out bumps and road ruts—very often, larger tires with low profiles means there’s less rubber between the car and the road, and that amplifies impacts.

There’s also a noticeable amount of road noise. The 16-inch wheels on the base SE trim should provide a more relaxed ride quality, with potentially less tire hum.

Inside

The Hatchback has wide, nicely bolstered seats that greet the driver and front passenger. The driver’s seat has two-way power lumbar in the XSE—a nice touch in this class. The driving position is on the low side, but there’s generous headroom, and the door and center armrests are well-located for long-haul comfort. Our taller testers wished the telescoping steering wheel extended further to make them more comfortable, considering how far they have to sit back from the dash.

The 8-inch infotainment screen perched high on the dash has an upmarket feel, as do the instrument panel’s cool blue gauges. The infotainment touch screen is within the driver’s handy reach and is simple to use, with large, easy-to-read text. Apple CarPlay capability and Amazon Alexa integration come standard, but there’s no Android Auto compatibility.

A small entryway and sloping roofline force passengers to duck some to get into the rear seat, but there’s surprisingly good headroom once there, although legroom is limited for tall riders. The backseat is pretty comfortable, even by this segment’s modest standards, and suitable even for adults.

The rear liftgate is light and easy to operate, and it exposes a small cargo space that’s limited by its angled design. The hatchback design offers cargo versatility, especially with the folding rear seats placed down.

Safety & Driver-Assist Systems

Forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, daytime and nighttime pedestrian detection, daytime cyclist detection, and lane-departure warning with steering assist will come standard on all 2019 Corolla Hatchbacks, as part of Toyota’s suite of advanced safety systems. Other standard driver-assist features include adaptive cruise control, automatic on/off high beams, and lane-tracking assist (it provides steering assistance to the driver to help the car stay between lane markings or follow the path of the vehicle in front of it). Note that blind-spot warning is optional. 

CR’s Take

The Corolla Hatchback combines practicality and playful handling, wrapped in sculptured styling, yet the powertrain focuses more on good fuel economy than all-out performance. Based on our short time with the car, it looks to be every bit as competitive as the similarly targeted Hyundai Elantra GT that we just finished testing. 

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback rear


Preview: Sporty-Looking 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback Debuts

A new engine, two new transmissions, and lots of safety features 

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback front

(This preview was originally published March 29, 2018.)
Toyota unveiled an all-new Corolla Hatchback at the New York Auto Show that will replace the current Corolla iM when it hits dealers this summer.

The 2019 Corolla Hatchback is a little bit bigger than the Corolla iM, and it features a new engine, two new transmissions, and numerous standard advanced safety features. It also looks pretty sporty, especially the top XSE trim.

Specific details on the car are still pretty skimpy at this time, with no horsepower, fuel mileage, or pricing disclosed by the manufacturer.  

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback

What it competes with: Fiat 500L, Ford Focus, Kia Soul, Mazda3, Mini Cooper Clubman, Subaru Impreza, Volkswagen Golf.

What it looks like: In bright blue, and with a big wing/sunshade on top of the hatch, it looks like the kind of car that could be fun on a twisty road.

Powertrains: 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine; continuously variable transmission or six-speed manual transmission; front-wheel drive.

On-sale date: Summer 2018.

Outside

The new Corolla Hatchback is lower, wider, and longer than the Corolla iM it replaces, with a 1.5-inch-longer wheelbase. Slitlike headlights make for a menacing front end, and lots of shapely lines make the car interesting to look at, giving the impression, at least, that it can deliver a fun driving experience to consumers.

The two trims, SE and XSE, come with alloy wheels—16 inches on the SE and 18 inches for the XSE.  

Inside

The cabin has a minimalist feel, although the well-bolstered front seats continue the car’s sporty theme. Without question, the centerpiece of the interior is the standard 8-inch touch-screen infotainment system perched high on the center of the dashboard. Apple CarPlay capability and Amazon Alexa integration also come standard. Qi wireless charging is available, and two USB ports come standard up front.

The XSE trim adds dual-zone climate control, higher-quality seat materials, heated front seats, and an eight-way power driver’s seat.  

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback interior

What Drives It

A new 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine will reside under the Corolla Hatchback’s hood. No horsepower figures were given, but Toyota says it is smaller and lighter than the 1.8-liter it replaces in the Corolla iM. Toyota also claims the engine is quieter and will deliver improved fuel mileage, although Environmental Protection Agency estimates are not available.

Two transmissions will be available, including a heavily revised continuously variable transmission that has the ability to perform the simulated shifts of a 10-speed automatic. There will also be a new six-speed manual transmission called iMT (Intelligent Manual Transmission), so named for its ability to adjust the engine to smooth downshifts.

Toyota says powertrain drone and road noise have been improved, thanks to better drivetrain efficiencies and the addition of extra sound-absorbing materials.

Suspension geometry and updated shock absorbers and springs have sharpened the car’s handling, according to Toyota. The outgoing Corolla iM already delivered taut handling. What the car lacked was the comfy ride quality of the regular Corolla sedan.  

Safety & Driver-Assist Systems

The new Corolla Hatchback will come with a bevy of standard advanced safety systems, including forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking with daytime and nighttime pedestrian detection, and lane-departure warning with steering assist. Other standard driver-assist features include adaptive cruise control and automatic on/off high beams, along with two new features: lane-tracing assist (which provides steering assistance to the driver, with his or her hands on the wheel) and road-sign assist that can identify stop, yield, and do not enter signs, displaying a warning to the driver about them.  

CR’s Take

The promise of a quieter, better-driving, and better-equipped Corolla Hatchback certainly has us intrigued. Hopefully the redesigned CVT will drone less, and the automatic downshifting function on the manual transmission could mean more people will opt for the three-pedal setup. It definitely needs more oomph than the 137 hp of the outgoing Corolla iM, which had lackluster acceleration.

The biggest downside to the new Corolla Hatchback could be that it won’t have the goods (mostly meaning power) to back up its sporty styling. From a glance, the car invokes thoughts of the kind of enthusiastic driving experience found in a Mazda3, one of our favorite small hatchbacks, but we won’t know its true dynamic character until we get one out to our test track and find out for ourselves.  

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback side view


Check out CR’s complete 
coverage of the 2018 New York Auto Show.