2019 TOYOTA COROLLA HATCHBACK

A BIG IMPROVEMENT

Toyota just introduced a new hatchback Corolla to replace the Corolla iM it inherited from the now defunct Scion brand. This 2019 Corolla Hatch is a completely fresh design, with new styling, new platform, a new engine and more. It is offered in just two models, SE and XSE. Sedan versions of the Corolla will be updated later.

The 2019 Hatch features a bolder, if not a prettier look, than the iM. An open-mouth grille, with a chrome surround, and narrow LED headlamps highlight the front facia. Up-sweeping character lines on the flanks, enhanced by the available roof spoiler, convey a sense of motion. This is the sportiest-looking Corolla to come down the pike.

Inside, the interior shows a significant improvement over previous Corollas. My up-market XSE Hatch sported a premium quality interior. Soft-touch vinyl, with contrasting stitching, had a nice look and feel. Leatherette seats, with bright cloth inserts added some zing, and glossy black trim provided an upscale touch.

The dash features a large, 8-inch touchscreen. Toyota’s Entune controls the infotainment system. The interface is not as fluid as some other systems. Pairing up your smartphone is a multi-step operation, and can be frustrating. Furthermore, the graphics for the optional navigation maps are confusing. Roads look like a jumble of squiggly lines. However, on the upside, Apple CarPlay is now standard

Seats up front are well-contoured, and provide plenty of room for six-footers. Six-way adjusters are standard on the SE. The XSE gets heated seats, and a power adjuster for the driver. In the rear, headroom is sufficient for even tall passengers, but legroom is in really short supply. Yet, the rear seats do fold down, 60/40 style, to enhance the capacity of the rather limited 18 cu-ft. trunk.

Toyota powers the Corolla Hatchback with a new 2.0 liter, 4-cylinder engine that pumps out a modest 168 horsepower. This is the same motor that drives the Lexus UX200 I recently tested. It’s not a barn-burner, but it’s not sluggish either. Gas mileage is good at 32-mpg with the stick, and impressive at 36-mpg with the automatic.

A six-speed manual gearbox is standard, and a CVT automatic is optional. Like the Lexus, the CVT has a mechanical first gear. After launch, it transitions seamlessly to CVT system. The idea is to generate a quicker more natural-feeling launch from stop. The system works very well. Paddle shifters are standard on models with CVT, and enhance driving fun.

On the road, the Hatch impresses with sportier than expected driving prowess. The steering is taut and sharp, providing a good feel of the road. The suspension is tuned to provide responsive handling. This car is right at home on a twisty road. Yet, at the same time, the ride is compliant. The suspension is slightly firm, but absorbs bumps in the pavement very well. Furthermore, the cabin is reasonably quiet at normal freeway speeds.

The previous Corolla iM was noted for its extensive advanced safety features, the Corolla Hatch goes even further. The forward-collision warning and braking can now spot bicyclists and pedestrians, even at night. Lane-Tracing Assist takes the lane-departure feature to a new level by keeping your Corolla centered in its lane, and adaptive cruise control will not only maintain a constant interval, it will bring the car to a complete stop on CVT models. As before with the iM, blind-spot monitors are standard.

Corolla Hatchback pricing starts at $21,000 for the SE with manual transmission, and $24.010 for the XSE. Models with automatic transmission are $1,000 more.

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