The 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback is an affordable, comfortable, and an enjoyable daily driver. I was recently sent one for 10 days, and I wasn’t disappointed. The XSE trim I tested has pretty much every bell and whistle you’ll want, plus it had a 6-speed manual gearbox. You can’t go wrong with that in my book.
I love any car with a manual. Whether it’s a great standard, a mediocre one, or a meh gearbox, it doesn’t really matter. In my opinion, there is no such thing as a “bad” manual, more not so great. But any time I’m able to use a clutch pedal and shift a leaver on my own I’m a happy camper. This brings me to the 2019 Toyota Corolla XSE Hatchback manual. Man, what a lot to type. But, SEO’s a bitch.
Toyota sent me this car for almost two weeks, unlike most other cars where I just have a week with them, and it was much appreciated. As dumb as it may sound, I always feel like I’m rushed to fit a bunch of stuff to do with a car in just seven days. This Corolla Hatch I had for ten days, and it made a difference. During the testing process, a car grows on you, and you can tell how good a car is when you either enjoy the growing period or if you can’t wait to get back to your personal car.
Let me start simply here. The Corolla XSE Hatchback is a fantastic car for the price. There are enough safety and tech features to make this a great first car, a fantastic college car, or even your last car. I have not driven the new Honda Civic hatchback, so I can’t tell you how good or bad the Toyota is in comparison. What I know for a fact is that, if you like inexpensive cars that are just simple to drive and own, I don’t believe you will find any real faults with the Corolla Hatchback.
The car that Toyota sent me was a 2019 XSE painted in Oxide Bronze Metallic with black interior and priced at $22,900 before any options. The only options it had were the 6-speed manual, luckily at no additional cost, and LED adaptive headlights (that means the headlights will turn with the steering wheel). As-tested price sat at $24,325 after a $920 delivery and handling fee. The XSE trim will return 28 mpg city and 37 mpg highway, respectively. I was averaging between 31 and 33, depending on how hard I was driving. But even pushing it I could still average over 30 mpg. Standard on the XSE trim are heated seats and an auto-hold feature for the brakes. With this engaged, when you come to a complete stop, the car will automatically hold the brakes for you so you can take your foot off the pedal.
Right now you’re probably thinking, “Oh, a cheap manual hatch. Okay.” But the meat is in the safety features of the Corolla Hatch. For starters, you get a pre-collision warning system with pedestrian detection (it also detects cyclists. Not motorcycles, those you still need to open your eyes and watch out for), and the car will stop you automatically if you don’t apply the brakes at 37 mph or less; radar-guided cruise control; lane departure warning and steering assist, auto high beams; the gauge cluster will show speed limits and stop signs; and then, of course, you have the usual start-stop tech, ABS, traction and stability control, etc., as well as the LATCH system for your kids’ car seats.
In a bid to make a car that’s relevant for young buyers who are still learning to drive a manual, or someone who’s never driven one before, Toyota offers all of their standard shift Corollas with iMT, intelligent manual transmission. Essentially the car doesn’t allow you to stall and also features auto-rev matching when downshifting. It’s weird, in a good way. When engaged (it has to be manually enabled every time you start the car via a marked button in front of the shifter) the Corolla feels like it bounces the car forward a couple of millimeters so you aren’t coming to a complete stop, which will then force you to use the clutch. Fear not, though, it does not seem to make you more likely to hit another car or go through a stop sign or traffic light with its light “bouncing” of sorts.
So for less than $25,000 you can have one smart cookie at your fingertips. But, you’ll ask, how does it drive if it can basically pilot you to the moon and back? Well, not too shabby, honestly. Sure, a non-turbo 2-liter hatchback with 168 horsepower and 155 lb-ft of torque isn’t going to make you hot in the crotch. This is in every way a 5/10ths car.
What the hell is a 5/10ths car? Well, in driving we sometimes use the ‘tenths’ system. If you are just driving around town, on the highway, maybe being a little defensive, you are between one and three-tenths. For instance, my daily is a GT350, and if I can drive that car at its limit we would call that 10/10ths. You’re wringing all of the performance that you can out of it. Some drivers can go to 11 or 12/10ths of a car’s performance and come out alive on the other side. The Corolla XSE starts to get soggy the more you near its limits, and that’s perfectly okay and normal. This is a car that wasn’t made to challenge a GTI, but instead inspire confidence in its attributes as a safe, everyday commuter. Around town the handling is agile and the car can be pointed accurately. With that, the brakes are solid, but the pedal feel could be more commanding. Road and tire noise is also noticeable, but I would save it’s acceptable. Although you will have to ask rear passengers to repeat what they said sometimes, and vice versa.
Now in no way am I saying that you can wring the neck of the Corolla, but you’re going to have more fun being smooth with it. Shifting with effort but not force, relaxing your grip on the wheel (you should never drive with a strong grip anyway), and don’t beat the clutch up. This will provide a more fun experience that’ll serve you well. Expect nothing, or very little, and the Corolla XSE Hatchback will surprise you. Believe it’s supposed to give you something besides reliability, safety, and a good bit of space will only lead to unfair disappointment.
Interior fit and finish is nice and eye-catching at this price range. While I like the 8-inch infotainment screen, others said it looked tacky. I do not, however, like the black shiny plastic on the dash and center area. It scratches very easily and is extremely difficult to keep clean.
Like I said before, you can expect a good bit of space. In the hatch area alone the Corolla Hatchback features 17.8 cu.ft of space, and that makes it a pretty good car for hauling a family and your stuff. However, where the Corolla Hatchback takes a dive is when you fold the rear seats. While it’s nice that they fold flat, the total interior space goes from 17.8 to only 23.3 cu.ft. My wife’s 2016 Hyundai Veloster Turbo R-Spec only has 15.5 cu.ft of hatch space but opens up to 34.7 with the rear seats laid down. I would only recommend this for a family with no more than two small children that need car seats. If you have kids with a child seat and a booster, even better. I think Toyota should lose the spare tire under the cargo floor to open up a few extra cubic feet and instead add an air pump with tire sealant. That’s what both my Shelby and my wife’s Hyundai have.
In our first review of the Corolla Hatchback pre-production in the summer of 2018, we were able to use the car with a car seat for a two-year-old, and luggage. My wife picked up her brother and sister-in-law with their son at the airport in the Corolla, and everything fit pretty well. It was tight, but it did its job and was completely usable. If you’re tall and in the front seats, the rear passengers will basically have no legroom. But that’s pretty typical of cars this size and in this price range anyway.
The first few days I had the car my wife and I decided to buy our first wheelbarrow and five bags of mulch. We took the Corolla having no clue whether any of this would fit. We purchased a 5.5 cu.ft Truper steel wheelbarrow, and five 2 cu.ft bags of mulch. Low and behold, it all fit. It took a little finessing, though. I had to put the seats down, and then the front passenger seat was almost all the way up, but my wife didn’t feel too weird making the 8-minute trip home sitting closer to the dashboard that she’s used to. But, again, it all fit. For a family like ours with two dogs, a cat, and two adults, the Corolla Hatch is solid and pretty much perfect.
Some of the oddities and things I didn’t like so much will be short and sweet. The Toyota Corolla Hatchback has Apple CarPlay, but it takes 21 seconds between the time you plug the cable into your iPhone to the time CarPlay pops up on the 8-inch touchscreen. After about 10 miles of driving and getting the car to its optimal temperatures, the clutch gets squeaky at various times. This is something that I have cross-checked with other owners on the Toyota Subreddit. Even if the car is parked with the electronic brake engaged, and with the keys in your pocket, you can not open the rear hatch. You have to manually hit the unlock button on the driver’s door for the hatch to be unlocked. Once you go to close the hatch, the inside handle only allows you to shut it halfway. You’ll have to reopen it to close it correctly. Sometimes the radio didn’t play anything, even though it was showing music streaming from my phone via Apple CarPlay. The lane departure warning system is a touch sensitive. Toyota, what’s the need for fake, ugly exhaust outlets that clearly aren’t real? Eww…
In the end, there is no doubt that I would prefer the hatchback over the sedan, simply for usable space. Outside of that, I think the Corolla as a whole is a pretty damn good car for the price. There’s plenty of value with its standard safety features and amenities to make you do a Robert De Niro acceptable face. Our pre-production tester last summer had a spoiler on the rear of the car that I do feel makes the car look better and more aggressive. This year’s tester didn’t have it, saving $399. Adding that would still keep you under $25,000, so I think it’s worth it. Other than that, I don’t think you can go wrong if you’re in high school or college and looking for a car that’ll last you a long time that still features a manual gearbox. Or maybe you’re older and just want a simple car that has a standard shift. What if you’ve never driven a manual before? Don’t fret, get in this car and learn. It’s a really good tool for that job.