Toyota has always built great cars, but they’ve rarely been engaging, stylish, and a hoot to wail down the road. High quality? Yes! Fun to drive? No, not really. The Supra and Celica have been exceptions, and so was the Scion iM – a Corolla hatchback disguised as a member of Toyota’s youth brand. Back for a second generation as a proper Toyota, the Corolla Hatch XSE is ready to slap fun-loving drivers down the road.
I’d definitely get it in Blue Flame paint so there’s no doubt other drivers will see you, but that’s only eye-popping icing on a stylish cake. The sleek hatchback body starts with squinty headlamps, morphs into curvy flanks with sharp creases, and ends in a rounded rump with over-sized spoiler. Adaptive LED headlamps up front and LEDs in the rear illuminate the journey. It’s a pretty sporty-looking ride given how practical it is.
Opening the door reveals the Corolla’s inner Lexus. I just drove the UX200 and the Corolla gives up little posh or tech in its transformation from upscale crossover to road hugging sportster. Flatscreen instruments, stitched dash coverings, padded doors, and thick leather-wrapped steering wheel are high fashion. Heated leather seats with cloth inserts grip your sides and keep front passengers toasty in the frosty. Dual-zone climate control ensconces each in air-caressed wombs.
High and proud in the center dash is a sleek touchscreen with proper volume and tuning knobs. Connect and command devices with Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, and Siri Eyes Free. Navigation gets you where you go. Keeping you safe on the way is a full suite of safety gear that includes radar adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning with steering assist, pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, rear cross path detection, and rearview camera. Lane tracing assist follows the road, even around corners, but please keep hands on the wheel.
Paint a car “Blue Flame” and it better have a rocket in its pocket, otherwise it is just frontin’. Well, there’s no turbo on the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, so drivers will rev out 168 horsepower and 151 lb.-ft. of torque from a bottle rocket. A CVT is available, but the six-speed manual transmission is the one to own – when you get the hang of revving it ever so slightly before putting wheels to motion. Killing the engine off the line is quite embarrassing (so I’ve heard). Put it in iMT mode for rev-matching downshifts. Meter power carefully to see 28/37-MPG city/highway.
Toyota began rolling out a new architecture for its compact cars with the Prius and continued with the C-HR, Corolla, and Lexus UX. Corollas past had suspensions that seemingly danced with clogged feet and electric power steering that felt better suited to playing video games than piloting automobiles. The all-new architecture is much more engaging with an independent front, multi-link rear suspension – sport tuned in the Corolla HSE. Steering feel is not quite up to top competitors, but much more enjoyable. Best of all, it just rumbles over rough city streets without squeaks, creaks, or rattles.
The previous Corolla Hatchback was one of my favorite Toyotas, and this one is even more so. I imagine it lasting forever while I have a blast driving it. All that, and it is a pretty practical and luxurious ride. It’s also really affordable with a Hatchback base price of just $19,990, coming to $25,418 as-tested in XSE trim. Competitors include the Honda Civic, Subaru Impreza, VW Golf, and Hyundai Elantra hatchbacks.
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