2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback: Raising the bar on entry-level chic [First Look]

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2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE (Sinclair Broadcast Group / Jill Ciminillo)

Cars keep getting better. In fact, I’d say there are very few bad new cars on the road today. Even entry level vehicles get the lux treatment, and many are better today than a lot of near-luxury cars were just 5 years ago.

Case in point: The all-new 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback.

Yeah. I said Corolla.

Here we have a car that will likely have a base price around $20K and is chockfull of standard luxury amenities such as passive entry, push-button start, LED headlights and taillights, Apple CarPlay, adaptive cruise control and lane trace assist.

Standard. For around $20K.

I keep repeating that because I can’t quite get over it.

When you throw in decent ride and handling and a peppy engine, you have all the makings of winner.

No wonder the Corolla is the best selling car of all time.

It keeps raising the bar on what entry level should be.

The 2019 Corolla Hatchback replaces the outgoing Corolla iM, which was introduced originally as the Scion iM.

It is equipped with a new 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that delivers 168 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque. This is an increase of 31 horsepower and 25 pound-feet of torque from the 2018 model.

It’s also just the right amount of power for this compact vehicle, providing just the right amount of get-up-and-go.

Corolla Hatchback has two transmission options: a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and a 6-speed manual.

And now I’m going to say something really surprising: This CVT is one of the best I’ve driven. The difference is that the Corolla Hatchback’s CVT has a physical first-gear launch, which adds more sensation to the acceleration.

The manual is no slouch either. It has an “Intelligent” manual button, which smooths out your shifts and helps make it more difficult to stall. I toggled back and forth between normal and iMT modes during the test, and was impressed by the difference.

While this isn’t competitive to the likes of the Ford Focus RS or Volkswagen GTI, the Corolla 5-door is still really fun to drive, holding curves quite well and managing decent acceleration speeds with both the CVT and manual.

I’m also holding out hope that there might be a more performance-oriented version in the works.

Another surprise is the interior quietness of the Corolla Hatchback. I expected a certain amount of road, tire and engine noise to creep into the cabin because this is not a premium vehicle, but I found it to be less noisy than other competitors in this set.

Corolla Hatchback is all-new from the ground up, and its compact dimensions are complimented by the aggressive design. The exterior has bold lines and strong angles, with a somewhat angry face.

While I’m not a fan of the wide-mouthed Toyota grille on some of the other vehicles, I think it works here.

The interior is simple and intuitive, and I like the 8-inch display screen sitting atop the center stack. Plus, even in the base model, the dash has soft-touch materials and nice stitching accents.

The Corolla 5-door will have two trims, a base SE and an up-level XSE. And where the SE is nicely equipped, the XSE adds some luxury finishing touches.

SE: Standard features include LED headlights and taillights, 3-door passive entry, push-button start, automatic climate control, paddle shifters for the CVT, Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, an 8-inch touch screen display, Apple CarPlay and Wi-Fi compatibility.

XSE: This trim adds LED fog lamps, adaptive front lighting, 18-inch wheels, dual-zone automatic HVAC, heated front seats, power driver’s seat, blind spot monitoring, smart watch compatibility, HD radio with weather and traffic and connected services.

As much as I love the Corolla Hatchback, I do have a couple points of contention.

First: There is only one USB port. Second: Even though Toyota finally managed to bring Apple CarPlay into the mix, Android Auto did not make the cut.

Though Toyota hadn’t released pricing at the time of posting this review, execs assured us during the preview that “we wouldn’t be disappointed” and that the Corolla Hatchback will remain competitive.

For reference, the outgoing Corolla iM has a base price of $19,590.

Expect to see the new Corolla Hatchback in dealerships starting in July.

The Bottom Line

The 2019 Corolla Hatchback is truly a pleasant surprise.

You’re looking at a vehicle that will likely start around $20K, and you’ll get an amazing array of standard features including up-level safety tech such as adaptive cruise control and lane trace assist.

Whether you’re an urban dweller or young professional looking for a first car, this hot hatch has what you’re looking for: fun-to-drive dynamics, great visibility, tons of safety features and (finally) Apple CarPlay.

Editor’s Note: Driving impressions in this “First Look” review are from an invitation-only automaker launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Toyota covered our accommodations, meals and transportation costs.