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2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback vs. 2018 Volkswagen Golf: Which Is Better?

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author photo by James Riswick July 2018
  • The 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback is all new.
  • There are 5 variants of the Volkswagen Golf from 2 performance models to an EV.
  • Apple CarPlay and Android Auto available on both.

The 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback represents a complete redesign, substantially improving upon the Corolla iM it replaces and the Corolla sedan that continues to be sold. Indeed, not only is this new Corolla Hatchback better than its predecessors, but key improvements to its interior and driving experience now make it a far more competitive entry in the compact car segment. So competitive, in fact, that we think it makes a more compelling alternative to the hatchback that has long been considered king of the hill: the Volkswagen Golf. Let's take a look to see which might be better for you.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback

The new Corolla hatch is just about as new, improved and different from what it replaces as you can get. From its powertrains to its feature content, it's a much better car.

Read more about the new Corolla in our first drive review

2018 Volkswagen Golf

The Golf got some updates of its own for 2018. Though certainly not as revolutionary as the Corolla's, slight styling revisions keep things fresh, while the standard features content has been bolstered.

We should note that the Golf is available in a number of variants, including the high-performance GTI and Golf R, the electric e-Golf, and the Golf SportWagen. We'll only be comparing the Corolla to the basic Golf hatchback, but there's certainly something to be said for VW offering body styles and variants that Toyota does not.

Read more about the Golf in our new car review

Reliability

The 2019 Corolla is way too new to fairly comment on its reliability, but its predecessors have long been some of the most reliable cars on the road. It's hard to imagine that changing. The Golf, meanwhile, is known for having a sketchy reliability record, but this most recent generation has perfectly acceptable ratings from multiple sources. It may not match the Corolla's dependability, but we don't think it'll be the horror show many might fear it to be.

It's also important to consider Volkswagen's vastly superior 6-year/72,000-mile full vehicle warranty that includes powertrain coverage. That doubles Toyota's coverage of 3 years or 36,000 miles for bumper-to-bumper, and betters its 5-year/60,000-mile warranty for powertrain components.

Fuel Economy

The 2019 Toyota Corolla comes standard with a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that produces 168 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque. That's a huge jump from the Corolla sedan and betters many other compact cars as well. Fuel economy with the standard 6-speed manual transmission is 28 miles per gallon in the city, 37 mpg on the highway and 31 mpg in combined driving. The optional continuously variable transmission (CVT) raises fuel economy to 32 mpg city/42 mpg hwy/36 mpg combined in the SE trim and 30 mpg city/38 mpg hwy/33 combined in the XSE.

The 2018 Golf comes only with a 1.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder good for 170 hp. It produces a robust 184 lb-ft of torque with the standard 5-speed manual and an even stronger 199 lb-ft with the optional 6-speed automatic. Either is a substantial difference you'll be able to notice on back-to-back test drives. Fuel economy, however, is considerably lower. With the 5-speed, the Golf is estimated to return 25 mpg city/34 mpg hwy/29 mpg combined. Atypically, the automatic actually lowers to 24 mpg city/33 mpg hwy/29 mpg combined.

So, this is clearly an instance in which one must prioritize performance or fuel economy.

Driving Experience

There is a lot to be said for the Golf's power advantage here, as its well of deep, turbocharged torque makes for easy passing and merging. This feels like a quick car. By contrast, the Corolla merely feels sufficient, which is at least an improvement over its persistently slow predecessor. The Corolla is also working with a more appealing manual transmission. Not only does it have six gears rather than five, but its nifty rev-match downshifting feature is something you'll only find in high-end sports cars like the Porsche 911. And although many will still prefer the more natural shifting of the Golf's traditional 6-speed automatic, the Corolla's new CVT smartly simulates gears for a more normal driving experience, and its manual mode rips off ratio changes with the same sort of speed you'd get from the Golf GTI's DSG transmission.

In terms of handling, this may come as a surprise, but the new Corolla is the far more engaging car. It has a responsive overall feel, with nicely weighted steering that helps you feel connected to the road. It has a playful nature to it and can actually be described as fun. The Golf, on the other hand, is far more comfort-focused, and its steering is incredibly numb on center. You can tell that it could be a hugely capable car around corners (which the GTI and Golf R prove), but in this more pedestrian guise, the Golf simply gets the job done with ample comfort and refinement. That said, the latest Corolla is quieter than before, and despite its newfound handling acumen, we found it to be perfectly composed over bumps.

Safety

This is a win for the Corolla, which comes standard with forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking (with a higher speed threshold and bicycle detection added for 2019) and lane-keeping assist. Also included is adaptive cruise control, which features full stop-and-go functionality with the CVT. Those accident-avoidance features are included only on the Golf's upper SE trim level, and adaptive cruise isn't available at all.

The government gave the Golf a top 5-star rating for overall crash protection, including 4-star frontal and 5-star side ratings. The nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave it the best possible rating of Good in its moderate-overlap front, driver small-overlap front, side and roof-strength crash tests. It got an Acceptable rating in the new passenger small-overlap front crash test. The 2019 Corolla has not yet been tested by a third party.

Interior Quality and Space

The Golf has always been the benchmark for materials quality in this segment, boasting a premium vibe in even its most basic trims. Nothing really came close in the past. Today, efforts to make the Golf more affordable (and profitable) have resulted in some cheaper plastics here and there, but it is still a lovely place to spend time. Having said that, the new Corolla is massively improved, and if there's a materials gap with the Golf, it sure isn't a big one. Everything looks great and seems well put together.

In terms of cargo space, the Golf has 17.4 cu ft. behind its back seat compared to the Corolla's 18.1, but neither are particularly good for the segment. While the Golf's lack of depth hampers it, the Corolla's lack of height hurts its versatility. There is, however, more back-seat space in the Golf. Taller occupants are more likely to fit comfortably, and although we wouldn't call the Corolla cramped, it still has one of the segment's smaller back seats.

Technology

Both the Corolla and the Golf come standard with an impressive amount of standard tech equipment, which is perhaps to be expected given their higher-than-usual base prices for the segment. A touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included with both. The Golf features standard satellite and HD Radios, while the Corolla has standard Wi-Fi.

It really comes down to functionality. Whereas the Corolla comes standard with an 8-in touchscreen, the VW has a 6.5-in unit standard, with its own upgraded 8-in screen standard on the upper SE trim. Where those touchscreens are located also makes a difference, as the Corolla's high-mounted screen is much easier to see at a glance, keeping your eyes on the road. Toyota's latest Entune 3.0 interface may also be a bit easier to use than VW's Car-Net system, but even that is one of the better systems in the segment.

Value

The base Corolla Hatchback SE ($19,990 manual, $21,090 automatic) is about $1,000 cheaper than the Golf S ($20,910 manual, $22,010 automatic). The Toyota gets extra safety equipment, LED headlights and much bigger wheels, while the VW has the bigger engine and longer warranty. Their range-topping trim levels are also similarly priced, but the Corolla has things like leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, 8-way power seats and still-bigger wheels (18's versus 16's) not offered on the Golf.

Autotrader's Advice

On paper, the 2019 Corolla makes more sense than the Golf. It's far more efficient, will likely have better reliability, and you get more equipment for your money. It's also more fun to drive, and its interior quality is giving VW a run for its money. Many may also consider its styling inside and out to be more compelling than the typically conservative Golf. Nevertheless, VW's hatchback remains incredibly refined and generally well-rounded. Driving one often feels like trying on a pair of old comfy shoes. Perhaps it's outdone on paper, but in person, we wouldn't be surprised if many still prefer it.

Find a Toyota Corolla Hatchback for sale

Find a Volkswagen Golf for sale

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback vs. 2018 Volkswagen Golf: Which Is Better? - Autotrader