The Corolla has long carried Toyota’s reputation for building reliable, if rather unexciting, cars. They get good gas mileage, are comfortable and have a muted style that typically appeals to older buyers.
But the brand’s shift toward younger drivers — especially those interested in Japanese tuners — is very apparent in the 2019 Toyota Corolla XSE hatchback. Gone are the subtle lines and dull paint colors. Instead, for the 2019 Corolla, Toyota added a front end that shows Lexus influence, a redesigned rear complete with an optional roof-mounted spoiler, and vivid color options sure to turn heads.
It’s a car ready-made for the young buyer.
As someone who started driving in the early 2000s, I’m very familiar with the Corolla. A fair piece of my high school parking lot was filled with the sturdy sedans and I even know a few people still driving their same Toyota nearly 20 years later. However, I’ve never once heard them described as “cool.”
I tried to talk myself into buying a Corolla a few times after seeing the reliability in person, but the styling kept me away. There was just nothing exciting about a vanilla-looking (and possibly colored) Toyota sitting in the driveway that would get me to my intended destination, but add little else to the driving experience.
That school of thought is gone. When I saw the 2019 Corolla sitting in the lot outside my office, I said, “Wait, that’s a Corolla? Are you sure?”
As mentioned, Toyota upped its styling game with the latest Corolla, particularly the hatchback model. While the standard sedan may earn a “nice car” here and there, the five-door will likely be met with more appreciation.
The 2019 model year marked a forward-thinking design for the Corolla. In 2018, the car resembled a sort of cross between the Corolla and another popular Toyota, the Prius. The iM, as it was branded, boasted a tagline of “Style without compromise” but the final product said otherwise.
Now, the car stands firmly on its own 18-inch machined wheels. The front end, complete with the chrome grille surround included in the XSE trim, brings a surprisingly aggressive look to a vehicle known for being tame. That look is complemented by the narrow LED headlights.
That style cue continues down the sides of the Corolla, which has ditched the mid-door seam from the previous model year that gave the car a conservative look. In their place is a rounded body that gives the car a sportier feel.
The backside is like something out of a The Fast and the Furious dream. The narrow LED taillights and broad black stripe echo the front nicely, while the dual rear diffusers wrapped in chrome give the appearance of a dual exhaust.
I’m sure there are people who will hate the large, optional spoiler, but I think it worked well with the car (especially with the Blue Flame paint job). The stock spoiler is much more subtle.
Inside, the Corolla has a simple interior with some refined touches — a real bang-for-your-buck scenario.
The XSE trim comes with heated, leather-trimmed sport seats that are very comfortable and the two-tone pattern gave the interior an air of sportiness. The stitching is also a nice touch.
The 8-inch touch screen infotainment system rises out of the dashboard above the cleanly designed climate controls. Toyota made dual-zone climate control standard in the Corolla, which causes the car to punch above its weight when it comes to value.
Considering the XSE hatchback is the most expensive Corolla offered by Toyota for the 2019 model year, I was surprised to find a six-speed manual transmission awaiting me. Apparently, it’s standard, as Toyota offers an optional CVT transmission.
I’m not saying it’s a bad thing; quite the opposite, in fact. With most new cars rolling off the production line equipped with automatic transmissions, it was refreshing to see and drive a stick shift.
The transmission offered a decent throw length and was comfortable enough to drive, but it also has a new, very interesting feature: Intelligent Manual Drive. Basically, the driver can elect to make the manual transmission more forgiving by pushing a button. When activated, the transmission automatically adjust engine rotation when changing gears, which makes shifting easier and smoother. It’s essentially rev-matching.
Though it makes driving a breeze, though some purists may dislike the assistance.
It may seem a gimmick, but it makes the Corolla a great candidate in which to learn a manual. I wish they made one when I was learning.
If the Corolla falls short anywhere, it’s in the driving experience. Despite all the cool looks and paint, it’s obvious the car is simply a Toyota when behind the wheel.
The Corolla has a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine capable of making 168 horsepower. It doesn’t offer an enormous amount of pep, but the car is more than capable of getting you from A to B while sipping gas — a signature of Toyota.
It’s not overly exciting, even with the high-compression engine, but the flip side of the coin is that it’s a Toyota. The aftermarket world is certainly no stranger to the brand and I’d be shocked if it took more than a few months for some awesome upgrades to be available online.
In all, Toyota has a winner on its hands with the 2019 Corolla. I’m expecting to see a lot of these on the road soon, especially given the price tag and trust people have in the drivetrain.
The exterior finally has a forward-looking design that will echo with a new demographic of buyers. When packaged with a nice interior, the friendly manual transmission and that signature reliability, this car will turn some heads. It’s good that the car has a futuristic design because, for the first time, the Corolla has the styling that will hold out as long as the engine.
And that’s before the tuner market gets hold of it.
2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE
Vehicle type: five-passenger, five-door hatchback, front-wheel drive
Base price: $21,090 Price as tested: $25,123
Engine: 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, 168 horsepower at 6,600 rpm, 155 pound-feet of torque at 4,800 rpm Transmission: 6-speed manual
Wheelbase: 103.9 inches Overall length/width: 169.9 inches / 69.9 inches
Curb weight: 3,060 pounds
EPA mileage estimates: 28 city / 37 highway / 31 combined
Assembled in: Aichi, Japan