Toyota Hatches A New Corolla
Few car models can boast the longevity and sales success enjoyed by the Toyota Corolla. Introduced in 1966 and offered on-and-off in both sedan and hatchback configurations, the Japanese automaker’s budget-minded and bulletproof compact went on to become the world’s best-selling automobile, surpassing the VW Beetle in 1997. It’s worth noting that the Corolla didn’t accomplish this by being the sexiest and most scintillating entry in its segment. Quite the opposite, in fact. Its reputation and long-lived success is the result of delivering what most budget-minded car buyers want: reliable, fuss-free and fuel-efficient daily transportation. To that end, the Corolla is as much an automobile as an appliance. And the all-new Hatchback version — a replacement for the 2018 Corolla iM — is all those things, albeit with a twist or three of added zest. While the sedan version forges ahead into the 2019 model year, Toyota has provided a glimpse of things to come with a five-door take that sports a hunkered-down and purposeful profile, suggesting that “fun” has been added to the car’s rep for “functionality.” For starters, there’s the aggressive-looking front fascia and its gaping front intake, the nicely sculpted fenders, the wide stance and snubbed-off rear end that brings to mind Ford’s now-mothballed hot-hatch Focus RS or the handsome and stylish Mazda 3 hatchback. There are a few mechanical tweaks that add a dollop or two of performance to the mix, as well. All Corolla Hatchbacks receive a more powerful naturally aspirated 2.0-liter inline-four gas engine rated at 168 horsepower and 151 foot-pounds of torque, which represent increases of 31 horsepower and 26 foot-pounds over the iM’s 1.8-liter four-banger. There are two trim levels offered — SE and XSE — both of which can be fitted with either a standard six-speed manual transmission or all-new continuously variable transmission that features a fixed low gear that engages at launch, and then converts to the rev-holding CVT mode as speed builds. Opting for the CVT over the stickshift will add $1,190 to the car’s base price. Prices start at a budget-minded $19,990 for manual-equipped SE models, and include niceties like LED headlamps, alloy wheels, rearview camera and a dash-mounted, 8-inch infotainment touch screen. Upgrading to the XSE adds $3,000 to the asking price, along with creature comforts like leather-appointed seating, heated front seats and bigger wheels. Toyota provided a CVT-equipped SE for a week of holiday errand-running. Its bottom-line $23,410 asking price included the $1,400 SE Preferred Package (Entune 3.0 Audio Plus with upgraded six-speaker sound, two USB ports for media play and charging, Apple CarPlay, Siri Eyes Free and Bluetooth connectivity, blind-spot monitoring and satellite radio prep) and $920 for delivery. Car prices being what they are nowadays, this newest Corolla’s common-man price of admission certainly qualifies it as an “economy car.” That being written, the cabin’s combination of soft, stitched faux-leather surfaces, use of decent-quality materials, light-toned color palette, and austere-yet-sophisticated arrangement of instrumentation and gauges has a … well, not quite premium feel, but one certainly more upscale than many of the plastic-fantastic econocar interiors of not so long ago. The manually adjustable front seats offer plenty of head- and legroom for full-sized adults. The split-folding second-row bench is a tight fit even for kids, and allows almost nothing in the way of legroom when the front seats are slid back. There’s a generous 18 cubic feet of cargo volume in back, a space that grows to 23.3 cubic feet with the second-row seatbacks folded. The Corolla Hatchback delivers a smooth and — with the normal small-car exceptions for road, wind and engine noise — peaceful ride quality. Handling is nimble and precise, although the softly tuned suspension allows for a bit of body roll through hard turns. The larger engine certainly feels broader-shouldered than the anemic 1.8-liter unit that powered the now-defunct Scion-sourced Corolla iM hatch. Four naturally aspirated cylinders mated to a CVT almost always dooms any prospects for an entertaining driving experience, but this new Corolla manages to accelerate to 60 mph roughly a second faster — most estimates put the elapsed time at a tick or three above eight seconds — than the previous model. It’s hardly the stuff of drag-racing legend, but more than quick enough to handle daily traffic demands with confidence. 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback SE Vehicle type: Four-door, five-passenger compact hatchback. Base/as-tested prices: $21,090/$23,410 Engine and transmission: 2.0-liter naturally aspirated gasoline inline-four (168 horsepower and 151 foot-pounds torque), continuously variable automatic. EPA estimates: 32 mpg city, 42 mpg highway, 36 mpg combined. The good: Stylish new duds make the latest version of Toyota’s second-longest-running U.S. model a looker; notably spacious and tastefully appointed cabin for a price-minded economy car; smooth and comfortable ride quality; fuel-efficient and reasonably powerful inline-four engine; nifty two-stage continuously variable transmission avoids the rubbery feel of earlier versions; nimble handling; available six-speed manual transmission; decently large cargo area; attractively priced with the promise of Toyota reliability. The bad: This engine needs a turbocharger, stat; tight rear-seat accommodation; observed fuel economy lagged the feds’ estimate. Bottom line: The all-new Corolla Hatchback adds some zest to the model’s long-lived reputation for fuss-free, reliable and utilitarian daily transportation.