The 2019 Corolla XSE hatchback is one of the most attractive cars in its segment. Toyota has a series of large grilles on everything it makes, and the Corolla hatchback gets one, too. But as Toyota grilles go, this is among the best of the breed. There’s a demarcation between the upper and lower portions that gives the front end a distinctive face that works.
The tail is better. It’s a shapely rump with a liftgate made of polymer resin compound that is framed by LED taillights. The Corolla hatch’s flanks are nicely sculpted, and the profile has an eagerness in its tail-high attitude.
Beneath the wrapper is Toyota’s now ubiquitous new platform, the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA), which underpins almost all of Toyota’s new cars and crossovers. While the TNGA is flexible enough to accommodate everything from the Prius to the new Avalon and RAV4.
The 2019 Corolla hatch rides on sport-tuned suspension that places it in another class of responsiveness and fun. The hatchback’s wheelbase is 1.5 inches longer than that of the Scion Corolla iM it replaces in the Toyota lineup. The Corolla hatch drives well, with a lowered center of gravity and 60 percent more torsional rigidity than its predecessor. The steering communicates more on the XSE model, which rolls on 18-inch wheels and 225/40R18 tires compared to the base SE’s 16s and 205/55R16.
Toyota is one of the few companies that hasn’t gone all-in on turbocharged engines. Still, this twin-cam 16-valve engine is up to date with variable valve timing and Toyota’s D4-S system that combines both direct and port fuel-injection systems. The 168-hp rating is 31 hp better than the 1.8-liter engine used in the Corolla iM.
Both manual and automatic gearboxes are offered in the Corolla hatch. The manual is a six-speed with rev-matching that controls engine speeds during both upshifts and downshifts to smooth out transitions between gears. The automatic is an interesting twist on the continuously variable transmission (CVT). The CVT gets 10 simulated gear ratios and paddle shifters.
The major instrumentation in the XSE model is a 7.0-inch digital screen flanked by a tachometer on one side with fuel and temperature gauges on the other. The SE makes do with a 4.2-inch screen at the center. Both models get an 8.0-inch central touchscreen to control the Entune infotainment system. Apple CarPlay is available, although Android Auto is not. In the XSE, the seats are covered in leather and fabric, and the fronts are heated and offer eight-way power adjustment for the driver. The rear seat in both is split to fold 60/40. There’s a respectable though not class-leading 18.0 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second-row seats.
Because this is a Toyota, a full package of active safety tech is also thrown in: automatic emergency braking, lane departure mitigation, full-speed adaptive cruise control (or down to 15 mph on manuals), and a system that can read certain road signs such as speed limits and stop or yield signs. Blind-spot monitoring is available on the automatic-transmission SE and standard on the two-pedal XSE.
The Corolla hatch, which is essentially a rebadged European-market Toyota Auris, shows signs of a healthy pulse. There is potential in this car! The TNGA platform is flexible enough to accept all-wheel drive, and a turbocharged version of the 2.0-liter engine would be a return to form. It is just a dream, but if you are going to dream, dream big!
The bottom line is that the Corolla XSE is a top notch, all-around hatchback and a bright spot in the Toyota lineup.