To those of us who remember the years of big hair and Members Only jackets, the return of the Toyota Corolla Hatchback in 2019 was indeed a welcome presence in a model line known for its benignly inoffensive nature.
It’s the fun Corolla; the recessive gene that somehow emerged into something somewhat fun-to-drive. And while not quite the life of the party that the Mazda3, Honda Civic, or Volkswagen Golf are, there’s enough merriment to be found here to merit consideration.
Certainly it looks the part.
Overview: Returning in ascending SE, XSE and Nightshade models (the latter featuring blacked-out exterior trim), the 2021 Corolla Hatchbacks get rear side-mounted airbags and an “Enhanced Space Option.” This no cost option adds six cubic feet of space by removing the spare tire and replacing it with a tire repair kit.
In addition, rear seat mounted side airbags and Rear Cross Traffic Alert with Blind Spot Monitor are now standard on the XSE, and optional for the SE with the SE Preferred Package. In addition, 1,500 Special Edition models will be offered with a custom body kit, “Supersonic Red” paint, and 18-inch alloy wheels.
Toyota provided an XSE model for testing.
Exterior: Wearing Supersonic Red paint with a black-painted roof and boasting a roof-mounted spoiler, the Corolla projected an air of athleticism that its more sedate sedan sibling can’t match. Featuring narrow LED headlights and a large front grille, it certainly looked sinister, a feeling enhanced by the wicked paint scheme. The haunch over the rear wheels lend it a pugnacious presence, although the overall look is fairly refined.
“… For those looking for a touch of nostalgia will find much to admire in this newest Corolla Hatchback …”
Interior: Toyota has done a masterful job with the Corolla’s interior. It’s elegant in its simplicity, imparting a premium feel despite the inexpensive materials. A good example is the lack of fake metal, wood or carbon fiber trim. Instead, a simple topstitch
breaks up the masses of color across the interior panels and coordinates well with the gloss and matte finishes of the instrument panel. Smartly, the center console and instrument panel don’t physically connect, lending the cabin a spacious feel while endowing a sculptural feel to the interior elements.
Front seat space proves roomy enough, while rear seat space is, well, theoretically comfortable. Better to fold down the rear seats and use the extra space for carrying cargo, or lend the illusion that you’re really driving a two-seater. The XSE’s heated leather seats proved comfortable and fairly supportive.
All models come with automatic climate control, leather shift knob, two USB ports and paddle shifters with the automatic transmission. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are here, as is an electronic parking brake, six-speaker audio system, SmartKey system, automatic up/down windows and voice recognition. And the options list includes some tempting upscale touches, like dual automatic climate control Qi wireless charging and heated front seats.
Powertrain: The front-wheel-drive Corolla Hatchback comes with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and either a six-speed manual or a continuously variable automatic transmission with simulated 10-speed sequential automated manual shifting with a Sport Mode, and steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
Technology and Safety: Driver assistance features include dynamic radar cruise control, pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane-departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beam, lane-tracking assist that proves to be helpful, but not overly intrusive. Rear cross-traffic alert with blind-spot monitor are standard on the XSE and optional for the SE with the SE Preferred Package.
A standard high-resolution 8-inch multimedia touchscreen that resides just above the simple row of climate controls.
The test car came with the XSE Preferred Package, which adds a JBL premium eight-speaker audio system, navigation, a USB media port, 2 USB charge ports, Bluetooth, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Amazon Alexa compatible, and SiriusXM satellite radio.
Driving impressions: This is an energetic little economy car, one with light steering and pedal feel typical of the breed. This hatch is fun to lob it into a corner, even if it’s benignly predictable, with the agility that comes from being so diminutive as well as the XSE’s 18-inch wheels.
Body lean is about and what you’d expect, but not excessive. Body motions were well-controlled. Ride comfort is good for all but the worst road intrusions. Road, wind and tire noise were present, but not unusual for the class.
Fuel economy is fairly good, although opting for the manual transmission brings lower numbers than the automatic, running as low as 31 mpg in combined city/highway driving to as high as 35 mpg with the CVT. The test car, rated at a combined 33 mpg, returned 30 mpg in mixed driving. The Corolla runs on 87 octane fuel.
Wrap Up: Prices start at just over $20,000, making the Corolla Hatchback a tempting little package, one that proves that size isn’t everything. More haute hatch than hot hatch, you’ll find that while it’s not quite the athlete that its competitors prove to be. But the 2021 Toyota Corolla Hatchback’s fetching personality will remind you of that 1980s Corolla hatchback that you owned when your waistline was smaller and youth wasn’t something you coveted.