In 1999, Mike Judge, best known for being the creator of MTV’s ‘Beavis and Butthead” cartoon, released the movie ‘Office Space’. Today the movie is considered a cult classic, an ode to the drudgery of working in corporate America. Here, we find our “hero”, Peter, a cubicle dweller whose job appears to be sucking the joy of living out of him. Peter slogs through the day, enduring the daily grind of commuting, to return home to his cookie cutter condo. Worth noting is that Peter’s whip is a beige Toyota Corolla, a car completely devoid of character or personality.
The beige Corolla was the rolling metaphor for “I give up” in the car world. It was the ideal car for people who cannot be bothered, and do not want to think about cars. A soulless appliance that will never fail you, nor provide you any driving pleasure. It is the most invisible of cars yet speaks volumes about the person who plunks their hard-earned cash for a brand new one. And while that might be money in the bank for Toyota, it also carries a worrisome taint that Toyotas are boring cars. And no automaker wants to carry that mantle.
Out of Spec Score: 83.6/100
To counter that, in 2019 Toyota debuted its twelfth generation Corolla with a sporty looking hatchback model to join the more traditional four door sedan model. Its fun, youthful looks go a long way in taking the Corolla from a Maytag refrigerator on wheels to suggesting a drive in this car could actually be an enjoyable experience. Side skirts, rear spoiler and handsome 18″ alloys accentuate the sporting lines of this Corolla. And yes, you’re completely forgiven if you think Toyota’s current enormous front gill obsession is a little over the top. To keep things interesting, Toyota has borrowed a page from MNI’s playbook with a contrasting roof color. Unfortunately, most of the time I almost never even noticed. Our test car was finished in a dark Magnetic Gray Metallic with black roof and mirrors. Only in the brightest sunlight and being aware of the different colors could you ever notice this. To really appreciate this you need to get your Corolla in a color that actually makes the black roof treatment pop.
Inside, the Corolla is a pleasant place to be. The hatchback provides an airy cabin with decent visibility. The light gray dash and seating surfaces did a lot to brighten up the cabin. And as expected, Toyota’s build quality and fit and finish are second to none. To see how the Corolla hatch was up for road tripping duty I left my native southern Connecticut for a weekend on the very tiny, thirteen mile stretch of Atlantic Ocean coast in New Hampshire. The car was a more than willing companion, thanks in part to comfortable, supportive sport seats up front. I had room to spare for my 6’1″ frame up front, and the rear hatch happily swallowed up luggage and bounty from a trip to a local microbrewery. Gauges are clear, easy to read, and all controls are fairly intuitive. Blessed with premium audio and the latest in infotainment, the Corolla proved to be an excellent travel companion.
Motivating all Corolla hatchbacks is a 2.0L four cylinder rated at 168hp, a fairly generous figure for this class. Buyers can choose between a six-speed manual and a CVT. Naturally, I was disappointed to have received the test car and not get three pedals. That said, the CVT was actually not terrible. It generally stays out of your way and the motorboating effect you get on most CVT equipped cars was thankfully mostly absent. To my surprise, the Corolla was a fun to drive car. No, it is not competition for a GTI or Civic Si, but the ride and handling exceeded my expectations. While no hot rod, the Corolla had ample passing power. And on longer drives, some drivers may welcome the softer edged Corolla. Our CVT equipped Corolla has an EPA rating of 30/38 MPG city/highway. During my week with the car in mixed driving I managed an acceptable 33 MPG.
The Corolla hatchback is available in three trim levels. Our test car was the top spec XSE. Standard equipment includes dynamic radar cruise control, lane departure assist, blind spot monitor, auto LED headlights, 8″ touchscreen infotainment center, leather heated front seats, power driver’s seat and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto capability. Options on our test car included adaptive front headlights, the black roof/spoiler/mirror treatment, and premium JBL audio, navigation and wireless phone charging. All in, including destination charges, our Corolla rings in at $27,985. To some, that might sting a bit for the everyman’s Toyota, but this is top of the line with all option boxes ticked. Yet on my New England journey I found myself hard pressed as to what else would have improved my trip. The XSE trim is the Corolla hatchback you want, with desirable creature comforts and sporty exterior touches.
Toyota no longer makes a beige Corolla, for which we should all be thankful. My fear, and history will prove me right, is that while this is the best Corolla you can buy in America right now, it will be the most overlooked. While Europeans have long embraced the practicality of the hatchback, Americans typically snub their noses at them, the perception being they look cheap compared to a more traditional sedan. Perhaps more troubling is the coming of the Corolla Cross-yes here comes the Corolla crossover which will no doubt eat at sales of the Corolla hatchback. While the masses may flock to a Corolla on stilts, the smart buyer will see a practical roomy car that offers a rare combination of comfort, a fun to drive factor and personality that is becoming increasingly harder to find.
Exterior Design: 8/10
Interior Design: 9/10
Build Quality: 10/10
Connected Services: 9/10
Active Safety: 8/10
Editor’s Assessment: 7.3/10
Market Placement: 6/10
Editor’s Influence: 8/10