It has been a while since the Corolla lineup has had a hatchback. But now that Scion is out of the picture, it fills the place in the lineup last held by the Scion/Toyota iM. The Corolla Hatch just isn’t a Corolla with a larger rear window grafted onto the back. Instead, it is a thoroughly engineered, practical vehicle that can be used both for fun and utility. Toyota reports that torsional rigidity is improved a massive 60 percent compared with its predecessor, thanks to aluminum and ultra-high tensile steel in the body.
The look is great. Slim j-shaped LED headlamps wrap deep into the front fenders. My XSE tester wore 18-inch wheels, LED fog lights and a chrome front grille surround. Originally an Adaptive Front Lighting System was available for the CVT model. Now it is available on the manual transmission just as on BMW M vehicles. The headlights allow for the focused distribution of light in an area that matches the vehicle’s speed and steering angle. The LED headlights move both vertically and horizontally to concentrate the light in the appropriate area as you round the bend.
As for that 6-speed, the clutch is light, and although the gear throws are a little long, I appreciated how well the mechanism clicked into each gate. One piece of cool technology is called iMT Drive Mode, which will rev-match the engine while you are downshifting if you feel like getting really sporty. A button on the console turns it on and off, but most of the time I left it on. It was nice to have the car computer simulate a race car driver on standby to give you perfect downshifts. The new 2.0-liter engine is smooth and fuel-efficient. Overall mpg is rated at 31, but I achieved 33 mpg over a week of city and highway driving.
The XSE Hatchback comes loaded with features typically found on vehicles at triple the price point, which is wildly impressive: dual-zone climate control, leather seating with integrated fabric inserts and a power driver’s seat. (If you want a power passenger seat, look at the Lexus UX that shares the same engine.) The white soft fabric on the dashboard would look at home in a Lexus. The safety suite is very impressive, too, with Lane Departure Alert, Lane Tracing Assist, Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection and Blind Spot Monitoring.
In an odd twist, my loaded XSE did not come with the optional JBL Entune Premier system. But the Entune 3.0 Audio Plus was relatively decent. Upgrading to the JBL system gives you 800 watts of power, free-standing horn tweeters in the A-pillar and 6.7-inch door-mounted subwoofers. The subs are sealed into a compartment in the doors for more powerful bass. A good mobile electronics retailer will also take the time to seal up door cavities to transmit the maximum amount of energy from the loudspeakers into the cabin. Additionally, this technique minimizes door rattles. It is nice to see Toyota and JBL take a page from the aftermarket when it comes to achieving better-performing bass.
The Corolla Hatchback makes a great case for the money, with good looks coupled to Toyota reliability. My loaded tester came in at $24,000. Although hot hatch aficionados may clamor for vehicles like the Volkswagen Golf, the Corolla Hatchback has looks and quality that will keep it current for the next 10 years of vehicle ownership with minimal issues. Today it will have people asking you what kind of car it is (especially with Blue Flame paint). Your local enhancement retailer can help you take it to the next level with paint protection, window film and other mild audio upgrades. Add some exhaust and a little body tuning for the ultimate reliable hot hatch!