Toyota Corolla. It’s a name that strikes fear into the hearts of auto enthusiasts everywhere, and usually for good reason. The Corolla is why the phrase “penalty box” exists in reference to middling compacts. It’s a place of brittle, chintzy plastics, numb steering and the technological acuity of a CD player. It’s rarely a first choice, and usually attracts buyers because it’s good at continuing to exist for long periods of time while not costing an arm and a leg to run.
Or at least, the Corolla used to mean those things. The first drives for the 2019 Corolla Hatchback are in and by the looks of it, Toyota has a winner on its hands. This is the first comprehensively new Corolla in more than a decade, built on Toyota’s new TNGA architecture that underpins many of the automaker’s other, more well-received nameplates, like the RAV4 and Prius.
Add to that a laundry list of techy comforts, from a standard 8-inch touchscreen with support for Apple CarPlay (sorry Google fans — no Android Auto here) to Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 with features like Lane Tracing Assist, pedestrian detection and emergency auto-braking, and the new Corolla hatch looks to be a desperately needed revival for one of America’s favorite small cars. Here’s what the critics are saying:
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Jeff Zurschmeide of Digital Trends found a lot to like in Toyota’s latest compact, from the surprisingly punchy CVT that benefits from a dedicated first gear, to respectable handling thanks to the car’s redesigned rear suspension. Inside, Zurschmeide noted the “worthwhile features” offered by the second-gen Toyota Safety Sense system, as well as the spacious and well-appointed interior — though it received poor marks for skipping out on Android Auto.
“[TSS’ Road Sign Assist] is a worthwhile feature. Having the car say, in effect, ‘Hey dummy, the speed limit went to 35 back there. Apply some brake unless you want a ticket’ would have saved us some money over the years.”
“The main creature comforts of the Corolla have been admirably handled. The interior feels good, with no demerits or obviously cut corners. Road noise is commendably attenuated, and the Corolla is comfortable even for 6-foot adults with a little meat on their bones”
“There’s none of that rubber-band slingshot feeling where you inch along while the engine whines, then finally take off. The Corolla just moves out smartly.”
“To be blunt, the [800-watt, GPS-enabled] JBL system isn’t worth the money (whatever it turns out to cost). It didn’t sound much better than the base system, and once you’ve got Apple CarPlay, you’ve got navigation.”
Autoblog’s James Riswick was smitten with the design of the new Corolla, which he likened to the sporty French hot hatches we regrettably miss out on on this side of the pond. Riswick found some excitement beneath the sheet metal as well, citing the car’s “playful” driving dynamics and the effectiveness of the lighter, more rigid TNGA architecture over the outgoing Corollas. He also had some nice things to say about Toyota’s Entune 3.0 infotainment system as well as the car’s “pleasingly minimalist” interior.
“The steering is well-connected, appropriately weighted and provides enough feedback. This is a Corolla that actually encourages you to have some fun, whereas the current sedan sadly sags its shoulders and wonders what it did to deserve this kind of treatment.”
“Besides the liberally applied SofTex synthetic leather and cross stitching, other materials are nicely textured, and Toyota's latest switchgear looks and feels top dollar.”
“Noteworthy standard features include two USB ports and WiFi capability, while the XSE adds a part-digital gauge cluster, a JBL audio system and an eight-way power driver seat that provides more than enough adjustability for even tall drivers.”
“Curiously, you can't get blind-spot warning or Lane Tracing Assist with the manual (or wireless smartphone charging). That's because of a packaging decision, not a technical hindrance.”
“A huge disappointment.” That’s what CNET’s Antuan Goodwin called the Corolla Hatch’s lack of Android Auto, and we’d be inclined to agree. In an age when practically all manufacturers are supporting both Apple and Google’s standards, Toyota playing favorites here is quite discouraging for drivers. Fortunately, Goodwin found the rest of Toyota’s work satisfactory against competing budget compacts, although he added that those in search of a more thrilling commute may want to spring for a Mazda 3 or Volkswagen Golf.
“You might be surprised to learn that Toyota is offering the hatchback with a six-speed manual transmission. There's even a bit of software intelligence built in that enables rev-matching for downshifts, smoother upshift engagement, hill assist and stall suppression.”
“Lane departure warnings (which work at speeds above about 35 mph) have also been improved with better road edge detection and a new driver alertness monitor that suggests taking a break if it detects too much swerving from the driver.”
“This is no hot hatch, but the handling feels more engaging and refined than the previous generation did. The then-Scion iM felt mushy and vague in corners and lacked steering feel. The new Corolla hatch still lacks feel and connection, but is much more planted, predictable and responsive around bends.”
“I like the organizational improvements to the [Entune 3.0] menu system, but think the visuals could use some brightening up.”
Lastly, Craig Cole of AutoGuide doled out high praise for Toyota’s latest, calling it “the first Corolla worth owning in years.” It would seem the interior punches above its weight class, based on the “luxury-car squish” of the plastics and “unexpectedly spacious” rear seats. Cole also echoed the sentiments of other reviewers in applauding the wealth of tech options Toyota offers in its bread-and-butter commuter.
“Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa integration is baked right in like chopped filberts in a brownie.”
“Underway, surface imperfections are absorbed and digested nicely, with minimal harshness or noise making its way to the cabin. Snaking through corners, it always feels sturdy and planted, with no shudders or rattles to cheapen the experience.”
“Overall, the 2019 hatchback model is a pleasantly surprising piece of work, roomy, premium and loaded with great features.”
“Unfortunately, this upscale feel doesn’t translate to the steering, which could be livelier. It’s too light and isolated, transmitting little feel from the front tires. Honda’s new Civic, the Mazda 3 and even Ford Focus, as old as it is, all seem to provide a more engaging drive.”
Photo Credit: Toyota