I spent a week with the keys to a 2019 Toyota Corolla XSE Hatchback with a 6-speed manual a little while ago and I was surprised at how much I looked forward to driving it every day. In the particular configuration I was driving, I’ll even go so far as to wager that this new Corolla is even kind of … fun.
To first recap, the Corolla hatchback is all new for 2019. It gets a new engine putting out roughly 170 horsepower, which is about 30 more than the outgoing model. While I never had the pleasure of driving the last generation Corolla or Corolla iM hatchback, just about every review I’ve read says the new Corolla is better in every way, with improved handling, power delivery and technology, not to mention styling. Still, the Corolla is a basic economy car at its heart, but a few things in particular about my specific loaner made it a fun drive.
For starters, it was a hatchback. The new Corolla’s 5-door body style is significantly more aggressive — and not to mention more useful — than the sedan, offering great proportions and a forward-leaning stance.
Additionally, it was the XSE trim, which meant it came with 18-in wheels, LED fog lights, a leather interior, a power driver’s seat, and a better infotainment system, among a few other things.
Here’s the big one: my loaner also came with the 6-speed manual transmission. With the manual, the new Corolla hatch offers a unique rev matching feature, toggled on and off with a button located just ahead of the shifter. When engaged, the car will know to blip the throttle on downshifts to get the engine moving at an appropriate speed as the clutch is engaged, making for smoother shifts. It’ll also prevent the car from stalling on starts from a dead stop when the driver fails to give the vehicle enough gas via the pedal. Rev matching or not, the manual Corolla hatchback can more or less be driven as hard as you want and it won’t get you into trouble. The new Corolla may still be a slow car, but it’s one that’s fun to drive fast, or to at least try to.
And finally, my loaner arrived in the Corolla’s striking new "Blue Flame" color — and with the accessory rear spoiler. The "Blue Flame" color really stands out in a crowd, serving to elevate the Corolla even further, and the spoiler gave it a hot hatchback aesthetic, even if there weren’t really any performance bits under the hood. With these aesthetics, the Corolla passes the look back test, which is truly a feat for Toyota.
So while I’ve got some qualms about the level of interior refinement, and the fact that the angle of the rear hatch seriously eats into cargo volume, and that I couldn’t for the life of me get the steering wheel and seat configured in a way that kept my knees from hitting the bottom of the wheel, the new Corolla has some traits that make it fun to live with day to day. Now let’s just hope that Toyota introduces a hot hatch version of this thing so that my claims don’t seem so outrageous. Find a Toyota Corolla Hatchback for sale
Chris O’Neill grew up in the Rust Belt and now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. He worked in the auto industry for awhile, helping Germans design cars for Americans. Follow him on Instagram: @MountainWestCarSpotter.