Driven: Corolla’s new hatchback is haute, but not hot

Driven: Corolla’s new hatchback is haute, but not hot

We find it only lukewarm, but think the manual gearbox would heat things up sufficiently

Honest, I wasn’t speeding or doing anything else that might be considered questionable when the police car pulled a U turn, followed and then pulled up on my left-rear bumper for about a mile or more before I slowed and let the big SUV go well ahead.

When I arrived at the stoplight, the police vehicle sat in the left lane and I ended up next to it in the right lane. I looked over. The officer smiled and we nodded to each other and I hesitated briefly as the light changed and he went on down the road.

I’m left to speculate that the officer simply wanted a closer look at the vehicle I was driving, the 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE. The car is  new enough that you don’t see that many on the road, and especially not in the Oxide Bronze Metallic color that made the one I was driving glisten gold in the Nevada sunlight.

“Hot hatch?” Toyota suggests of the Corolla’s new architecture. “More like Haute Hatch.”

And with that in mind, the automaker already has worked with Hoonigan to turn a 2019 Corolla Hatchback into a camera-carrying movie pursuit vehicle, with Muscle Tuner Automotive to customize another in homage to Latino builders and the AE86 Corolla GT-S, and with SoCal Kustoms for yet another Latino-builder version, with Super Street magazine to make another track-day racer, and even with Papadakis Racing to turn one into a rear-driven “drift demo” car with an 850 horsepower nitrous-boosted and turbocharged 4-cylinder engine.

That all sounds quite exciting, as do Toyota’s “Shooting Robust” product theme and “Agile” design language for the 5-door Corolla. But the fact is that the Corolla Hatchbacks like the one I drove or that you can purchase at a Toyota dealership get only 168 horsepower from their 2.0-liter non-turbocharged and nitrous-free 4-bangers. 

While that might be just fine if yours is equipped with a 6-speed manual transmission, the one I got for a week came with a Dynamic Shift CVT that didn’t seem capable to extracting the essence of the engine’s 151 pound-feet of torque, or maybe it was just that torque doesn’t peak until the engine is revving at 4,400 rpm.

Yes, the sport-tuned suspension works well on Toyota’s new TNGA chassis, and the car rides on 18-inch wheels with low-profile 225/40 ratio Yokohama tires. While it looks hot, I found this to be only a lukewarm hatch.

But while the powertrain might leave you wanting, the rest of the car is, indeed, pretty “haute,” and then some. 

The dictionary says “haute” means “fashionably elegant” and the car’s design — inside and out — certainly fits such a description.

The exterior design is handsomely aggressive, from its snub-nose face to the rear spoiler that extends from the trailing edge of the roof. 

Up front there’s an integrated lip spoiler beneath wide mesh grille and narrow but wide headlamp design that is mirrored at the rear in the shape of the tail lamps. In profile, front and rear overhangs have been significantly reduced and wheels and tires fill the wells and enhance the hatch’s stance.

Inside, seats are two-tone, dark leather and lighter melange-like cloth insets. Even with the second row upright, there’s plenty of cargo room beneath the rear hatch to load up at Costco. 

Dominating the interior is an 8-inch iPad-style multi-media touchscreen that sits in the center of the dashboard and displays the GPS map or optional Entune 3.0 Audio Plus with its 800-watt JBL speaker setup and other systems.

Standard equipment includes Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.0 driver-assist and driver-alerting technologies.

All in all, it’s a terrific package inside and out. Haute, indeed, though we think it would need the manual shifter to be truly a Hot hatchback.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE

Vehicle type: 5-passenger hatchback, front-wheel drive

Base price: $24,090 Price as tested: $27,823

Engine: 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, 168 horsepower @ 6,600 rpm,151 pound-feet of torque @ 4,400 rpm Transmission: continuously variable 

Wheelbase: 103.9 inches Overall length/width: 169.9 inches / 69.9 inches

Curb weight: 3,150 pounds

EPA mileage estimates: 30 city / 38 highway / 33 combined

Assembled in: Aichi, Japan

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