Expert Reviews

2021 Toyota Corolla Hatchback Review

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car
  • Safety

Trucks may be Canada’s biggest sellers, but when it comes to cars, compacts rule.

And among them, Toyota’s Corolla is always among the top contenders for sales numbers. Most people probably know it as a sedan, but it’s also available like my tester, the 2021 Corolla Hatchback.

Pricing starts at $21,250 when equipped with a six-speed manual transmission, and $22,250 with an automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT) as mine had. New for 2021 are airbags for the rear seat sides; blind-spot monitoring on the SE trim and above; and a no-charge option that gives you more cargo space by swapping the spare tire for a repair kit.

Also new is a special edition package that includes the SE Upgrade features plus unique exterior styling cues. It added $6,685 to my car, and only 200 are available – so if you want one, act quickly. All together, my tester came to $28,935 before freight and taxes.

Styling: 8/10

The Corolla Hatchback is a good-looking little car, with flowing lines and good proportions. The special edition add-on comes only in an eye-catching shade called Supersonic Red, which is an extra $255 when sprayed on other Corolla models.

The idea behind the special edition, according to Toyota, is that it “looks like it just rolled out of a custom shop.” It adds a body kit with black side skirts, front and rear bumper accents, a black roof spoiler, and 18-inch black wheels. The spoiler’s a bit much for my liking, but for those who would dress up their car anyway, this one comes ready to go straight out of the box.

Safety: 9.5/10

The Corolla now has ten airbags with the new rear-seat units. The United States Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the 2020 Corolla Hatchback its Top Safety Pick designation, and since the model hasn’t changed, that should carry over for 2021. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave the 2020 model its top five stars overall for crash testing, and so far, the 2021 model has earned five for frontal crash, and four for rollover – and since virtually every vehicle gets four when rolling over, full marks in everything else is enough for the five-star overall rating.

Every Corolla Hatchback gets Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, which includes adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, and automatic high-beam headlights, and all but the base S trim gets blind-spot monitoring. A rearview camera is mandatory on every new vehicle, and so of course the Corolla has one.

Practicality: 7.5/10

I’ve always found hatchbacks to be more practical than sedans. I like that the hatch usually opens wider than a trunk lid, and cargo can be piled up to the top of the seatbacks (it can go higher, but it’s safest if it doesn’t).

But I’ve pinched back a few points here for the Corolla’s fairly tall liftover – how high you have to lift your groceries or luggage to set them into the cargo area – combined with a wide bumper that you must reach over. There’s also not a great deal of small-item storage up front, since my car’s wireless charger occupies the cubby in front of the shifter. The Corolla sedan doesn’t offer the same seats-down versatility, but its trunk is big and low.

User Friendliness: 8/10

Simple controls are important to reduce driver distraction, and overall, the Corolla Hatchback delivers. Cabin temperature and fan speed are dials, and while the buttons to control vent mode and other climate functions are a bit small, at least they are buttons, and not touchscreen icons.

That centre touchscreen has hard buttons to bring up menus, and stereo volume and tuning are dials. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on all models, the latter having been added for the first time on last year’s Corolla.

Features: 8/10

The base Corolla Hatchback includes a decent number of features, including adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, emergency front braking, automatic high-beam LED headlights, automatic climate control, auto up/down on all windows, and an eight-inch touchscreen.

My car’s SE Upgrade package added such items as a heated steering wheel (and once you’ve had a vehicle with one, you won’t want a vehicle without one), blind-spot monitoring, heated front seats, a wireless phone charger, 18-inch wheels, and satellite radio. About the only thing I really missed was a power driver’s seat, which comes only in the top-line XSE.

Power: 8/10

The Corolla Hatchback comes exclusively with a 2.0L four-cylinder engine that makes 168 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is available, but I had the CVT, a unit that uses pulleys instead of gears. That’s the case with most transmissions like this, but Toyota’s also contains a fixed first gear that improves performance on acceleration from a stop.

The engine can drone a little when you ask it for passing power – this is where you really notice it’s a CVT – but otherwise, it’s peppy enough and does a good job of moving this little car around. For an everyday commuter, the Corolla has what it takes.

Comfort: 7.5/10

I drove the Corolla Hatchback on two trips, four-plus hours each way, which can often be the kiss of death for one’s spine in a mainstream model. To my surprise, the front seats provided decent support, and my Designated Passenger and I were comfortable throughout, despite my lack of a power driver’s seat.

The score for this section was offset by the rear seats, where legroom is tight and the seat cushions are flat. This is a compact car, and it’s in the rear chairs that you’re reminded of that.

Driving Feel: 8/10

While the Corolla doesn’t qualify as a hot hatch, it has more steering feel than you might expect, and handles nicely around corners. There’s a sport drive mode setting, which holds each gear longer – all simulated, of course, since it doesn’t actually have any gears aside from that initial starting one – but as is usually the case with cars in this category, it’s more noise than sporty performance.

I played with it a couple of times and then left it off. All but the base S trim level have paddles on the steering wheel, for sequentially “shifting” through those simulated gears. These paddles can produce razor-sharp shifts on a sport model, but here, they’re rather lazy transfers. That’s not really much of an issue, though, because most owners will probably just put the gear selector into drive and go.

There’s a fair bit of road noise that works its way into the cabin, and you do feel the tougher bumps, but overall the ride is smooth and settled, and the car feels nicely planted on the highway.

Fuel Economy: 9/10

With the CVT, the Corolla Hatchback is rated at 7.5 L/100 km in the city, 5.8 on the highway, and 6.7 combined by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan). Should you prefer to shift your own gears, the manual transmission is rated at a combined 7.5 L/100 km.

Those official ratings are just about the same or better than many of its competitors, including the Honda Civic, Volkswagen Golf, and Mazda3. In my time with it, much of which was spent on the highway but with some city-traffic tours, I averaged 7.0 L/100 km.

Value: 8/10

With the compact car market as popular as it is, and with so many worthy contenders, automakers stuff in a lot of features to entice customers – and, of course, that’s good news for buyers. As mentioned above, even the base model comes with a decent selection of items.

The special edition adds another $2,775 above the SE Upgrade trim upon which it’s based. That will make it strictly for those who want a custom look to their Corolla, but while it’s a hefty price hike to that level, you’d likely spend more than buying the wheels and body add-ons, either from Toyota or aftermarket, and then having them installed.

The Verdict

While it’s pricier than the sedan, I like the Corolla Hatchback’s looks and cargo practicality, along with its performance, front-seat comfort, and sizeable list of features. It has a couple of weak points, but overall, the scale tips toward this being a very decent car for the cash. It has some very good competitors and you’ll need to test-drive those, too, but this one sure ticks a lot of the right boxes.

Engine Displacement 2.0L
Engine Cylinders I4
Peak Horsepower 168 hp @ 6,600 rpm
Peak Torque 151 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm
Fuel Economy 7.5/5.8/6.7 L/100 km city/hwy/comb
Cargo Space 504 L
Model Tested 2021 Toyota Corolla Hatchback CVT Special Edition
Base Price $22,250
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,670
Price as Tested $30,705
Optional Equipment
$6,685 – Special Edition, $6,685