Chances are you've owned or ridden in a Toyota Corolla. Maybe you've forgotten. The world's best-selling car has done a historic job of blending in. That's not the case with the 2019 Toyota Corolla hatchback. Especially in Blue Flame.
Missing this paint job would be like missing a rainbow. It's bright and arresting, and the return of the hatchback to the Corolla family comes at the perfect time in a world awash in crossovers.
Toyota had a similar hatch last year in the Corolla iM, but that was a vestige of the discontinued Scion brand. The 2019 Corolla hatchback is all new and reflective of Toyota's makeover from boring appliance cars to something - edgier, if not sexier. And it comes loaded with standard technology to appeal to that youthful demographic or to boomers who have come to rely on Toyota's reliable quality.
Toyota's bold X-wing grille, with squinting eyes and a gaping mouth, looks good. On larger vehicles it seems to be something it is not: sporty. The hatch rides low, and with wheels pushed to the edges it looks much better than its taller sibling, the compact crossover.
The tester came in Toyota's sportiest XSE trim, with 18-inch alloy wheels and a front-wheel-drive powertrain that is not quite as sporty as it looks. The 168-horsepower four-cylinder engine could use a boost from a turbocharger, which is something Toyota has avoided while the rest of the industry adopts turbo fours. The horsepower is competitive, but the 151 pound-feet of torque lags top-trim segment leaders such as the Volkswagen Golf and Honda Civic.
Brace yourself - Toyota also uses a CVT, which has never not once been known for sport. But this is no ordinary CVT. It essentially has a first launch gear you can hammer up to about 20 mph before it moves to the bands and pulley of the CVT. This "dynamic-shift CVT" then has a 10-speed, umm, simulator that can be drawn out for higher revs with small paddle shifters. A sport mode also enhances more urgent driving. It does not drone like other CVTs. It would have been fun to test the six-speed manual ($1,100 less), but the vast majority will opt for the CVT.
It's not fast, but it's not dull. And we averaged 33 mpg. The handling was pleasantly surprising. It can be pushed, and the uncluttered design of the cabin puts the driver in a pushing state of mind.
The interior is where the XSE stands out. The light gray and black trim pieces soften the sharp blue exterior, and the climate controls are one narrow line of buttons. The 8-inch touch screen is embedded like an iPad in the dash, but it has a volume and tuner knob and a super clear backup camera. The steering wheel controls and 7-inch display in the instrument cluster let you avoid the touch screen for the most part.
Toyota Safety Sense comes standard. The suite of advanced driver assistance systems such as adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking and lane keep assist would cost anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 from other automakers.
It includes all the dings, pings and zings for free as well. If you go over the speed limit, you get a ding. If your passengers don't buckle up, ping. If you leave hands off the wheel long enough, zing.
For about 15 seconds, the car will drive itself as long as it can read lines in the road. The tech does a pretty good job, though at one point over a bridge it swayed far to one side of the lane, then far to the other before righting itself. In construction with zagging lanes, we were more comfortable having hands on the wheel, which is pretty common for such advanced driver assistance systems. Otherwise TSS works really well and you can't beat the price.
If only Toyota invested as much in its outdated, frustrating Entune infotainment system. It's one of the worst systems on the market; try using the voice commands to "Call Akio Toyoda" and tell him to scrap it, and it'll show a list of three-digit numbers to call for any contact. The layout is cramped even on full screen mode; the buttons flanking the larger screen feel like something on a dollar store toy. Hate Entune. But it finally comes with Apple CarPlay, which is a relief.
There's not much to hate about the Corolla hatchback. The front is spacious, the rear seats fit two teens without complaint, and we were able to fit four carry-ons in the back. There are sportier hatches such as the Volkswagen Golf, Mazda3, Hyundai Elantra GT and Honda Civic, but the Corolla undercuts them on price with a loaded package. It's enough to stand out amid crossovers, hatchbacks and fading memories alike.
2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE
Vehicle type: Hatchback
Base price: $19,990 (SE trim)
As tested: $24,090 (excluding $920 destination)
Mpg: 30 city, 38 highway
Engine: 168-horsepower 2-liter four-cylinder
Transmission: Dynamic-shift CVT
Parting shot: Value play with Civic, Golf, and Mazda3
ABOUT THE WRITER
Robert Duffer is the editor of the Chicago's Tribune's auto section. Readers may contact him at Chicago Tribune, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Fourth Floor, Chicago IL 60611 or email@example.com