On the Road Review: Toyota Corolla Hatchback SE

In case you needed any proof that Toyota remains committed to the car side of the marketplace, while other automakers transition to crossover and truck-based models only, this latest Corolla Hatchback is an impressive new five-door that reinforces everything you know about this brand — quality, safe, reliable, responsible transportation. The Corolla Hatchback also proved to be thrifty fun.

Looking very much like a derivative of the Prius Hybrid series, the Corolla Hatchback was originally going to be called a Scion model before Toyota pulled the plug on that entry level brand in the U.S. market. Essentially a cloned Corolla iM, the Corolla Hatchback packs more power than either the standard Corolla sedan, the departed iM, or, the spiffy new CH-R five-door. If you think that the Corolla Hatchback is aiming for Hyundai Elantra GT, Nissan Versa Hatch, Chevy Cruze Hatchback, Subaru Impreza Hatchback and VW Golf five-door models, you would be correct.

Resting under the hood is a 2.0-liter Dynamic Force DOHC four-cylinder engine making 168-hp running through a CVT automatic transmission. EPA mileage ratings are 32/42 mpg with the CVT (paddle shifters too) dropping to 28/37 mpg with the optional manual gearbox. Under our normal driving regiment — highway, commuting, and rural travel — the small Toyota returned calculated fuel economy of 39.9 mpg, 39.6 mpg and 39.7 mpg. Consistent performance — another Toyota trait.

Perhaps best of all, the Corolla Hatchback didn’t perform like a fuel-miser; it was actually a pleasure to drive. Its highway path accuracy is spot-on, feedback from the helm is surprisingly communicative, and the revised fully independent suspension produces sound handling and rapid responses, while the cabin is demonstrably quieter than almost every rival. Driven with some forward zeal, the Corolla actually felt sporty in all of its dynamic responses, not the least of which was the eagerness of the 2.0-liter engine.

There are two Hatchback models; our SE trimmed Silver Metallic five-door started at $19,990, while the XSE begins at $22,990. Base equipment includes push-button ignition and keyless access, tilt/telescopic steering wheel with audio controls, single control auto-climate system, Apple/Android, split-folding rear seatback with privacy shade, 8.0-inch touchscreen, LED headlamps, large rear-view camera screen, Amazon and XM-enabled stereo, plus a full complement of safety aids — pre-collision warning, lane departure with steering assist, auto hi-beams, dynamic cruise control as well as pedestrian detection. Blind spot detection is an option. Missing is automatic stop/start — thank you.

The XSE edition adds heated leather seating, Entune audio upgrade and larger 18-inch wheels.

About 14 inches shorter than a conventional Corolla sedan, owners will detect the difference in rear seating space (the standard Corolla sedan is among the roomiest compact cars) while the taller “trunk” of the Hatchback affords more packing options, real-world cargo space with the seatbacks up is comparable to the four-door sedan’s trunk.

Likes include the many subtleties like dual pull-down grips on the liftgate, the convenience of four auto-up/down windows, plus the concise controls and switchgear. The manually adjustable driver’s seat proved to be 400-mile-day comfortable while the ability to travel almost 600 miles per fill-up is also quite virtuous.

My two gripes are related. The console area lacks sufficient pockets for assorted traveling gear — too much wasted space — and the hard plastic cover on the side of the console can be an uncomfortable resting place for your right knee as you drive.

Astute readers will note that the 2.0-liter engine lacks the horsepower, and the turbo, often found with other automakers’ engines of this same displacement. But here, the normally fed 2.0-liter motor produces 28 hp more than the Corolla sedan and 31 hp more than the similar iM five-door. It is a notable difference, giving the Corolla Hatchback some enthusiasm and responsiveness all too often missing from compact cars that don’t have serious sporting labels.

After 1,200 miles together the Corolla Hatchback had me making mental comparisons with its rivals. The Corolla’s stylish face wins points, its overall driving acumen places it near the top of the segment, plus its polished finishing inside the cabin as well as the full complement of user-friendly features and controls gives buyers plenty to enjoy at a price that is attractive.

When American drivers want solid small cars, they know right where to look. This Corolla Hatchback won’t disappoint.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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