Since its introduction to the US market in 1986, the Toyota Corolla has been a staple of everyday transportation, pumping out new generations of point A to B transportation every few years. With 2019 came a new one. A sporty one. Or so Toyota says. I've been driving Toyota's 2019 Corolla XSE hatchback to see if it lives up to the hype.
This particular trim level of the new Corolla hatch is the XSE. The XSE is the "fully loaded" version of the hatch, outfitted with a number of features over the base SE model. Most noticeably, the LED headlights and foglights with Adaptive Front Lighting System (AFS), a larger display screen, and leather-trimmed heated sport seats.
Under the hood sits Toyota's all-new 2.0L naturally aspirated inline 4 cylinder engine mated to a 6-speed manual transmission. The engine pumps out 168 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque. Both the SE and the XSE are offered with manual transmission which is rare to find in today's market.
From The Outside
The Corolla's hatchback layout returns to the lineup for the first time since the 5th generation in the 80s. While the body is an all-new design, It feels more like Toyota added sporty design features rather than starting from scratch.
The result is a combination of soft body lines and aggressive front and rear design elements. The massive front grille is accented by the stylish headlights that flow seamlessly into the front trim.
At the rear of the car, the hatch is slightly bulged with strong body lines that lead down to the distinguished rear diffuser that sits above the dual exhaust that the owner Max swapped for a throaty aftermarket quad-tip setup from Remark.
The fenders of the car are flared slightly more than they are on the Corolla's sedan counterpart to cover the 18-inch wheels on the XSE trim. In this case, Max decided to upgrade the stock alloy wheels with...
Artisa Carrier Review
...The Artisa Carrier. The Artisa Carrier is a lightweight, Deco Directional wheel featuring a 5 spoke design with center-cutouts for weight reduction. A closer look at the Carrier reveals additional shaving on the leading edges of the spokes for maximum weight reduction.
Although it's not relevant to the Corolla, the Artisa Carrier allows for clearance of big brakes to accommodate platforms with standard big brakes.
Aside from the design of The Carrier, the Brushed Apollo Silver finish is cohesive with the other silver accents spread throughout the exterior and interior. The alluring Deco Directional design and lightweight construction of the Artisa Carrier pairs very well with this hot hatch. Additionally, the owner Max decided to wrap The Carrier in the tried-and-true Michelin All-Season tire.
The interior of the hatch is tasteful and thoughtfully laid out. The XSE features leather-trimmed seats held together with carefully sewn with thick baseball stitching.
While comfortable, they offer plenty of support on the sides to keep the driver in place during some spirited driving. While some of the interior surfaces are covered in plastic, it's not the cheap and fragile plastic that plagues some interiors in other cars.
The upholstered dash and the center console are sleek and create a driver-centered feel. There still is plenty of legroom for both the drivers and passengers that would make road trips and long commutes effortless.
The dash is partially digital which displays your speed, outside temperature, radio settings, and more. The center console screen is quite large and features Apple CarPlay
Getting On It
Out on the open road, I got a chance to really put the hatch to the test. The ride quality of the car tip-toes the line between a harsher, sportier ride and a softer, more comfortable one while favoring the comfort side of the spectrum slightly.
The six-speed manual transmission is an absolute joy to operate. Each silky-smooth gear change feels as satisfying as the last, and the auto rev-matching makes downshifts a breeze.
So far, so good, right? Unfortunately, the sporty hatch is let down by the N/A four-cylinder living under the hood. While it's happy to rev all the way to 7,000 RPM, it takes too long to get there, leaving the Corolla feeling underwhelming in a straight line.
Its 0-60 time of 8.3 seconds trails some of its competitors like the Honda Civic Sport by more than a full second (6.9 seconds), and the more established hot hatches, like the Ford Focus ST, by more than 2 seconds.
The upside to a calmer engine is that it sips very gradually at its fuel tank, averaging 32 mpg city and 41 mpg highway, making it one of the most fuel-efficient cars in its class.
The Hot Hatch Resume
So what's the verdict? The new Toyota Corolla Hatch gets off to a strong start and seems to tick almost all the boxes of an up-and-coming hot hatch: aggressive styling, buttery smooth gear changes, a clean and comfortable interior, and handling that encourages you to try your luck from time to time. The sluggish engine seems to be the only thing really holding the car back. The Corolla shows a lot of promise for a new hot hatch that's just a handful of ponies away from being a real competitor.
A fantastic daily driver with some sporty flair? Absolutely. Ready to take on the champions of the hot hatch segment? Not quite.