Toyota has updated its compact Corolla for the 2019 model year, adopting a stronger powertrain and adding a new Hatchback body style. Meanwhile, Corolla sedans carry on with the previous design and powertrain for another year; a new sedan arrives for 2020.
On sale since summer 2018, the hatchback presents a sportier, yet more restrained, appearance. Two trim levels are offered: SE and XSE. Sedans come in six trim levels.
Essentially, the hatchback is a European-market model, modified to suit American tastes. As a rule in the U.S. market, sedans outsell the hatchback body style by a wide margin. The new chassis is shared with several Toyota models, including the hybrid Prius.
Beneath each hatchback hood, a new 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine develops 168 horsepower and 155 pound-feet of torque. Sedans retain the previous 1.8-liter engine, rated at a less vibrant 132 horsepower and 128 pound-feet.
A 6-speed manual gearbox is standard with SE trim, with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) optional. XSE hatchbacks come only with the CVT. Both transmissions have been set up to deliver a sportier feel than before. The manual transmission delivers rev-matching downshifts, while the gearless CVT incorporates a dedicated low ratio to provide quicker takeoffs.
The redesigned Corolla hatchback has not yet been crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave it a Good score in all tests (small and moderate overlap, as well as side-impact). Frontal collision avoidance was rated Superior, and headlights earned an Acceptable score.
Hatchbacks come with a batch of standard active safety features. They include forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, active lane control, adaptive cruise control, road sign detection, and automatic high-beam headlights. Stop-and-go cruise control is included in automatic-transmission Corolla models.
Blind-spot monitors are optional for the CVT-equipped SE, but standard on XSE.
Prices do not include $975 destination charge.
SE Hatchback ($19,990 with manual, $21,090 with CVT) comes with 16-inch alloy wheels, cloth seat upholstery, a 4.2-inch driver information display, 8.0-inch touchscreen, 6-speaker audio, tilt/telescopic steering wheel, heated power mirrors, 60/40-split folding rear seat, and Apple CarPlay compatibility.
XSE Hatchback ($22,990 with manual, $24,090 with CVT) adds LED foglamps, 18-inch wheels, a 7.0-inch information display, combination leather-trimmed seats, a power driver’s seat, dual-zone climate control, and blind-spot monitors (on CVT-equipped cars). Navigation and wireless charging are optional.
L Sedan ($18,700) comes with a 1.8-liter engine and CVT. Standard equipment includes power windows/locks, 15-inch steel wheels, and cloth seat upholstery. A pre-collision system provides pedestrian detection and lane departure alert with steering assist.
LE Sedan ($19,135) includes a rearview camera, remote keyless entry, automatic climate control, and 6.1-inch touchscreen.
LE Eco Sedan ($19,535) comes with CVT, a rear spoiler, and 15-inch wheels.
SE Sedan ($20,645 with CVT, $21,865 with manual) features a mesh grille, spoiler, and 17-inch alloy wheels.
XLE Sedan ($22,135) comes with 16-inch wheels, pushbutton start, a moonroof, and heated front seats.
XSE Sedan ($22,880) gets a moonroof, automatic climate control, Normal and Sport driving modes, paddle shifters, and 17-inch wheels.
Hatchbacks have abandoned the humdrum, generic look that has marked many previous Corollas. Both the front and rear ends come across as more expressive, but without overreaching. Helping to sharpen the front-end look, the grille contains a greater amount of mesh, flanked by slender LED headlights. Last year’s dropped nose has been ousted by a more pugnacious lower fascia.
Subtly-creased bodysides are visually enticing. Such sporty details as an optional rear spoiler help distance the redesigned Corolla from its more modest predecessors. European heritage banishes the “busy” design seen on recent American Toyotas.
Measuring 172 inches long, the 2019 hatchback is shorter than such familiar competitors as the Honda Civic and Mazda 3.
Corolla designers kept the cabin simple. XSE models can be fitted with contrasting color schemes, which make the interior seem larger and brighter.
Front seats are spacious and comfortable even for long-legged occupants. Seats slide fore/aft quite a distance, and can easily steal back-seat space.
Rear seats are somewhat cramped for tall riders, but suitable for medium-sized passengers. Entry/exit may be impeded by rather small door cutouts.
Cargo space is ample, with 18 cubic feet behind the back seats. Those seats can tumble forward, expanding available space. Loading luggage is easy, helped by the wide, lower cargo cutout.
A new standard 8.0-inch touchscreen provides Apple CarPlay and Alexa compatibility.
Cabin materials appear mid-level in quality. Base-model cloth seats feel durable, but XSE combination leather seats seem a tad thin. The rear hatch is now molded from lighter-weight resin composite material.
Improvement in sportiness hasn’t really turned the Corolla hatchback into a sporty vehicle, but it’s more enjoyable to drive than some class rivals.
Despite still-small displacement, the new, more powerful 2.0-liter engine feels willing â€“ considerably more satisfying than its 1.8-liter predecessor (still used in the sedans). Toyota’s CVT also shows improvement. Starting off confidently, the hatchback feels more alert, as well as predictable. Most of its power emerges at higher engine speeds, quickening acceleration. Reaching 60 mph takes about 7.5 seconds. The manual gearbox is necessary to extract as much energy as possible from the engine.
Both the CVT and the manual unit incorporate features that effectively benefit sporty driving. In the 6-speed manual, an “intelligent” mode can match engine revs when downshifting.
The CVT’s performance mode must be activated by a small button. Paddle shifters are standard, but the system is designed to halt manual control after a few seconds.
Toyota’s fully independent suspension aims at ride comfort, along with competence. Tires on both hatchback trim levels don’t feel particularly harsh. Hatchbacks steer easily, though steering feel is rather light.
Fuel economy is more appealing with the CVT than with manual shift. With CVT, the SE hatchback is EPA-rated at 32/42 mpg City/Highway, or 36 mpg Combined. Manual shift drops the estimate to 28/37/31 mpg. XSE trim is EPA-rated at 30/38 mpg City/Highway, or 33 mpg Combined, with CVT.
Throughout its dozen-generation lifespan, the Corolla has promised dependable motoring, coupled with a practical approach to daily driving. With its new, more powerful engine, the 2019 hatchback conveys the promise that today’s Corolla no longer needs to be viewed in strictly practical terms.
Driving impressions by Aaron Cole, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.