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This 2019 Corolla Hatchback SE is cooler than you think

06 Apr 2019 9:09 AM | Danny Harrison

You don’t need me to tell you that any Toyota Corolla is a good vehicle to consider if you’re in the market for a compact car, especially if you’re shopping the used lots. Up to now, the Corollas have been practical, reliable and predictable. And then came the 2019 Hatchback, and there went predictability.

It took me a few days to get used to driving the all-new 2019 Corolla Hatchback, partly because the copy Toyota delivered was a manual six-speed, and partly because it rode so low to the ground. Even more, it was difficult to get used to the new stylings Toyota baked up for this new model, but well done, I say. Well done.

I specifically asked Toyota to send me a compact, because I wanted to test my theory that they tend to pack most of their best features across the brand unlike some makes that strip their low end and try to pack too much into their top models and trims. I was right, which I’ll prove in a minute, but I was completely surprised that I would enjoy so much the process of proving my point.

Since the fall of 2010, I had only for one day driven one vehicle with manual transmission (a 2016 Mustang GT 350-R, if you must know), so getting the feel for this Corolla took a couple of days. In the meantime, I checked out all the standard features, which still amaze me that they were included in this SE copy that stickered just below $21K. It had the entire Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 package, which features pre-collision detection, dynamic radar cruise, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams and road sign assist. In fact, this completely stock Corolla even had the new pedestrian detection technology that I later learned isn’t even available on the 2019 Lexus GX 460. (What’s up with that, by the way, Lexus?)

The first real open-road experience with this Corolla came on a short trip for coffee and a browse to the nearest Barnes & Noble. There’s one short way and several fun ways to get there, and windows-down, we enjoyed every minute of a fun way. Pushing through turns, testing get-to-the-limit times, and flexing this car’s audio muscle was over-the-top fun, and it took me completely by surprise. Up to that Saturday, I had just driven it in traffic to work and back.

Coming out of one of those turns, during which we stayed in second gear, I’m sure the engine made the same growl a linebacker makes when he has just made a big tackle and is gloating just a little. For such a small car (2.0L, 4cyl, 168hp), it projects confidence in its acceleration, its handling and even in its engine note.

I have always appreciated the Corolla sedans, but after this six-speed hatchback experience, I’m not sure I could handle stepping back.

The great thing about a car like this is that it’s fun to drive aggressively or conservatively. It’s a near-perfect car for parking in small spaces and mastering the grocery lots. But it also puts you in front of the traffic if that’s where you want to be. Because you’re hugging the ground, topping hills is a thrill as well.

Something I found particularly endearing is how this Corolla Hatchback is just as aerodynamically crafted aft as it is forward. If you look at it from the five or seven o’clock positions, it looks a lot like the front of a European passenger train. You really can’t stop looking at this car from any angle, it strikes such an interesting figure.

Forgive me for gushing, but this may be the surprise review vehicle to beat them all over the last five years.

Consumer Reports ranked the 2019 Corolla Hatchback SE sixth out of 17 compact cars, trailing the number-one Subaru Impreza Premium by four points (76-72). In their scoring, they predict this vehicle will be more reliable than average for its class, but they also only forecast average owner satisfaction, to which my only comment is that Consumer Reports isn’t always right.

I believe you will have a difficult time finding these on the used car market in the year to come. They’ll get there, because ultimately some people will just grow weary of driving a manual transmission, but they won’t stay on the used lot long. It’s just too fun to drive.

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