Auto review: 2019 Toyota Corolla hatchback is a fun alternative to the small crossover

Robert Duffer, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Business News

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.

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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.


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