Corolla charm, hatchback practicality
THE GOOD
  • Nimble and agile handling
  • Fuel efficiency
  • Android Auto new for 2020
THE BAD
  • Cramped rear seat
  • Lots of road noise
  • Relatively high cargo lift-over


If you prefer to lift a compact car’s tailgate rather than its trunk lid, Toyota’s answer is the Corolla Hatchback. All-new for 2019, it’s a replacement for the outgoing Toyota Corolla iM, which was originally offered as a Scion before that sub-brand was put to pasture.

For 2020, the Corolla hatchback is sold as a single trim level. It starts at $21,050 for a six-speed manual, or $22,050 for a version with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) like my tester. Each offers three upgrade packages, with a fourth – a blackout trim package called the Nightshade – available only with the CVT. My tester had the top-line XSE package, which added $6,150. There was no extra charge for my Blue Flame paint, but there was an extra $540 for the black roof, bringing my car to $28,740 before freight and taxes.

Styling: 8/10

I don’t much care for Toyota’s big bottom grille on its larger vehicles, where it overwhelms the front end, but it’s fine on the Corolla’s smaller proportions. The lines flow well, including the lower grille bar that swoops up to echo the downward slope of the headlights.

The side body lines swoop upward to make the car look longer, and the rear has just enough edgy angles to make it work well – although the rear lift-over is a bit high. The base model comes with 15-inch steel wheels. The SE package swaps those out for 17-inch alloys, while the other three – SE Upgrade, Nightshade Edition, and my XSE – take them to 18 inches.

Safety: 9.5/10

The U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the Corolla hatchback its Top Safety Pick designation; that’s for trims with upgraded headlights, but the model gets the top “Good” rating in all crash tests. It also gets the top five starts in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash tests.

At every level, you get Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.0 package, which includes adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, and automatic high-beams, plus, of course, the rear-view camera that’s mandatory on all new vehicles. If you add any of the optional packages, you also get blind-spot monitoring.

Practicality: 7.5/10

The Corolla has the inherent functionality of a hatchback, with the ability to toss items into the rear and fold down the back seats for more room. The cargo compartment is a good size for the car’s footprint – there’s 504 L behind the back seats.

But there’s also that aforementioned lift-over, which is high. Add in the wide bumper, and you’re reaching farther up and forward for your items than in some other vehicles. But Toyota does get credit for putting a rubber pad on top of the bumper to protect it from scrapes when loading or unloading your stuff.

User Friendliness: 8/10

Some of the buttons inside are a bit small, but everything is straightforward and easy to use, and that’s important because it reduces distraction. Cabin temperature, stereo volume, and tuning are handled with knobs, while the main menus for the eight-inch touchscreen are accessed via buttons on either side. Once you’re in, the icons are simple and easy to use. The heated seats and my new go-to love-it feature, the heated steering wheel, are also operated by buttons.

Phone connection is simple, and those who aren’t on the iPhone side of things will note that, for the first time, Android Auto is now included along with the Apple CarPlay that was previously the only one offered.

Features: 9/10

Even at the base $21,050 level, the Corolla hatchback comes well-prepped. Standard features include automatic climate control, push-button start, LED headlights, auto up/down on all windows, an eight-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and the safety package of adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, emergency braking with pedestrian and bicycle detection, and automatic high-beams.

Each options package builds on the one below it, and adding the SE includes such items such as heated seats, blind-spot monitoring, and 16-inch alloy wheels. The SE Upgrade then adds such features as heated steering wheel, wireless charging, 18-inch wheels, satellite radio, and subscriptions to connected services, including remote locking and maintenance alerts. At my XSE tester’s level, the package tops out with premium audio, navigation, larger multi-information instrument cluster screen, dual-zone climate control, fabric and leatherette seats, a power-adjustable driver’s seat, LED fog lights, and steering-responsive headlights.

Power: 8/10

The Corolla sedan comes with either a 1.8L or 2.0L four-cylinder engine, but the hatchback strictly offers the larger 2.0L, making 168 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque. Those aren’t big numbers, but they’re more than enough to propel this little car around.

The entry-level model has a six-speed manual transmission, while I had what Toyota calls a “direct-shift” CVT. Conventional transmissions have a series of progressive gears, while CVTs have no gears, and instead use adjustable pulleys, connected by a belt or chain, to produce a (theoretically) infinite number of ratios.

In its CVT, Toyota has inserted a fixed gear, which acts as a first gear when you take off from a light. Once the engine reaches the point where a conventional transmission would shift into second, everything switches to gearless CVT operation. It’s a pretty slick piece of technology. When the all-new 2019 model came out, a small number were recalled due to issues with the transmission, but most were grabbed and repaired before they left dealer lots, and it seems the problem was resolved.

Comfort: 7.5/10



If you’re up front, the Corolla hatchback is great. The seats are firm but they’re supportive, with a decent amount of bolstering, and the XSE’s power-adjustable driver’s seat helps with finding the right position. The seat cushions are long enough for most drivers to get that all-important thigh support, too. For a while there, many automakers were cutting back on the seat cushion length in their smaller vehicles, apparently because shorter cushions make the cabin look roomier. It seems they’ve smartened up, because I’m hardly seeing that at all anymore.

But the Corolla hatchback is a small vehicle, and so is its rear seating area. The seats themselves have good cushions and more bolstering than many mainstream cars offer in the back, but there’s next to no legroom. If you’re a passenger, be sure to call shotgun for that right front chair.

Drive Feel: 8/10

Some might shrug off the Corolla hatchback as just a grocery-getter, but it’s actually a fun little thing to drive. It hugs the corners very well, and while it’s no Volkswagen GTI, it’s still pretty nimble. The steering is light but not mushy, and there’s more feedback than you might expect from something wearing a Corolla nameplate.

The car definitely isn’t a powerhouse, but it’s sprightly enough off the line. The engine gets a bit raspy when you give it a whip when passing, though, and the CVT exhibits some rubber-band feel when you do. There may be a fixed gear in it, but you’re always aware that it’s a CVT. The Corolla hatchback is also a very loud car, with lots of road noise making its way inside. Overall, though, the pluses outweigh the minuses.

Fuel Economy: 9/10

The Corolla hatchback with CVT is rated by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) at 7.5 L/100 km in the city and 5.8 on the highway, for a combined average of 6.7 L/100 km. That’s better than with the manual transmission, which rates at 7.5 L/100 km combined.

That 6.7 L/100 km rating puts it squarely against many of its competitors, and is virtually the same as ratings for the Corolla sedan, Honda Civic hatchback, and Hyundai Accent, and better than the Volkswagen Golf’s rating of 7.4, and the Mazda3 Sport hatchback’s 7.7 L/100 km.

Value: 8/10

The Corolla offers a lot even at the base level, and while my tester’s close-to-$29,000 price might seem a bit high for a compact hatch, it’s all about getting a decent number of higher-end features in a vehicle that’s right-sized for a lot of drivers and their needs.

The SE Upgrade package, which adds $3,910, comes with a lot of items and will probably be the go-to for most, especially since it adds wireless charging and a heated steering wheel.

The Verdict

I was sorry to return the Corolla hatchback at the conclusion of my test week. Despite it having a few flaws, I enjoyed it – it’s fun to drive, comfortable (in the front seats, at least), fuel-efficient, and practical. In the compact segment, it really has to be on your test-drive list.

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 2.0L   Model Tested 2020 Toyota Corolla Hatchback CVT XSE
Engine Cylinders I4   Base Price $22,050
Peak Horsepower 168 hp @ 6,600 rpm   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 151 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm   Destination Fee $1,645
Fuel Economy 7.5/5.8/6.7 L/100 km city/hwy/comb   Price as Tested $30,485
Cargo Space 504 L  
Optional Equipment
$6,690 – XSE Package, $6,150; Black roof, $540