For many drivers, the first driving experience is with a compact car. It could be a Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic (reviewed here), Ford Focus, or anything else in the segment. These are the preferred choice not only due to simplicity, but also for their inexpensive price tags and long-term cost of ownership. Even though there has been a new crop of compact crossovers introduced to the market in the past few years, there is still an appeal to compact cars. We recently had the opportunity to put the promising 2020 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE to the test to understand if that appeal is still valid.
The Corolla Hatchback we have on hand is a great looking vehicle; the design team at Toyota has focused on creating a car that looks agile and eye-catching. The Corolla has great proportions, and its bulging fenders give it an athletic stance that is not seen in any of its peers. The optional Blue Flame with Black Roof paint scheme gives it a splash of youthfulness for those seeking it; whereas those who are not can simply choose a subtler colour. The XSE trim comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheels and fog lamps to round out the sporty looks.
All Corolla Hatchbacks are powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, producing 169 horsepower at 6,600RPM. While the power figure might not jump out at you at first glance, the Corolla Hatchback feels lively and eager, and its engine is responsive enough that it does not feel sluggish in most situations. Buyers have a choice between rowing their own geasrs using Toyota’s Intelligent Manual Transmission (iMT) with rev matching, or using a Direct-Shift CVT unit like the sample we have this week. The CVT is good for daily commute uses, with quiet operation and smooth power delivery, but it is not our preferred transmission for spirited driving due to a noticeable lag between aggressive throttle inputs and engine response.
The Corolla Hatchback rides on the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA), with specific focus on reducing its centre of gravity and enhancing body rigidity to improve handling. Toyota’s effort paid off as the Corolla Hatchback is one of the better handling cars in its segment. Its chassis is nimble, and the steering rack offers plenty of honest feedback to its drivers. There is understeer during hard cornering, but it does not arrive in a surprise, and the 2020 Corolla’s communicative driving dynamics make it a great vehicle to learn to drive on.
Fuel economy ratings are 7.5L/100km in the city and 5.8L/100km on the highway, for a combined average of 6.7L/100km. Our week of mixed driving returned consumption of 6.4L/100km, which was similar to what we observed in the Honda Civic (reviewed here) in a similar commute setting. The Corolla Hatchback will happily accept regular grade gasoline into its 50-litre fuel tank.
The Corolla’s interior carries a simple yet futuristic design. The floating dashboard design creates a welcoming effect and makes for some extra legroom. The materials and craftsmanship used throughout the cabin are of high quality. Our XSE trim tester adds dual zone automatic climate control, an eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat, and comes standard with the seven-inch touchscreen display for the infotainment system. The seats are comfortable even for longer trips, but the relative flat back cushion means it fails to hold the driver tightly during spirited driving.
Head and legroom in the Corolla Hatchback are generous upfront, however rear passengers will notice a tight space due to a thick C-pillar as well as shallow legroom. The cabin needs a sunroof to help make it seem airier, and unfortunately that is not offered in the Corolla Hatchback’s options list. Its 660-litre cargo capacity is bigger than the Mazda3 Sport’s 569-litres, and only a little smaller than the Civic Hatchback’s 727.7-litres. But in reality, the Corolla’s usability is compromised by a high loading floor and a shallower depth than many chief rivals.
The XSE comes standard with a premium audio system that includes embedded navigation. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are compatible, and the former feature is particularly important for smartphone users who are deciding whether to choose the sedan and the hatchback, as the hatchback is the only model that gets Android Auto for the 2020 model year (2021 Corolla sedans will have it). The touchscreen is easy to use, with an assortment of shortcut keys to help drivers make commands on the fly. Our tester is equipped with standard wireless charging capability, but we noted the location of the wireless charging pad in front of the shifter is hard to reach and there is a general lack of storage space around the cockpit.
Safety is a priority for Toyota, and they have included a host of drivers assist features to aid even the most novice user. The 2020 Corolla Hatchback comes standard with Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist and Road Edge Detection, Auto High Beam, Lane Tracing Assist, and Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise control. Any trim level other than the base model will also receive a standard Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert system to offer extra confidence on the road. Our XSE trim also includes a ten-year subscription of the Safety Connect feature suite which includes automatic collision notification, stolen vehicle locator, emergency assistance button, and enhanced roadside assistance for a year.
The 2020 Toyota Corolla Hatchback starts at $22,250, and our XSE model starts at $28,200. The only option added was the black roof for an extra $540, bringing the as-tested total to $28,740. It competes in a hotly contested segment, going head to head with the Honda Civic Hatchback and the Mazda3 Sport (reviewed here), and comes out ahead in the handling department. The only downside is a smaller rear passenger area and cargo capacity, which happens to be the Civic Hatchback’s strong suit. While the Mazda3 Sport manages to best both the Corolla and the Civic with its luxurious interior appointments, its infotainment is the least user-friendly of the trio.
After spending a week with the 2020 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE, I was reminded why I enjoy compact cars so much, and why they continue to be the vehicle of choice for new drivers despite changing consumer trends. Its recipe of being simple and fun does not get old, and buyers focused on driving fun should give the Corolla a long hard look.