As one would rightfully suspect, the Corolla Hatchback has a lot in common with the Corolla sedan (which is a good thing) but one peek around at its backside, and it becomes instantly clear that the stylists went for some added edge. The focus on styling may have cost some utility points but for the individual seeking practicality and a sense of individuality, the “HB” is an appealing small car.
It Looks the Part
The Corolla HB’s low and wide stance is enhanced with an extended front bumper and carved side sills while the rear of the car provides the most visual conversation. A massive rear spoiler feels inspired by a Toyota WRC Rally car while the vertically-positioned red reflectors and horizontally-placed bright faux-exhaust outlets add to the athletic look. Overall, it’s a bit of an oversell in terms of power but it captures the imagination of being a hot-hatch.
Suited for the Winding Roads
Blessed with Toyota’s latest chassis and a sport-tuned suspension, the Corolla Hatchback provides its thrills when carving through the canyon roads. These fast curves show off the HB’s commendable body control while the independent rear suspension keeps the car tied to the desired line – a highly desirable trait when the margin for error is pretty slim. The steering feel doesn’t earn the same praise, however, and gives little feedback as to what’s happening underneath. It is accurate, though, and nicely ratioed for smooth and quick back-and-forth transitions.
Managing the Daily Grind
Considering how smartly the Corolla Hatchback’s sport suspension handles the curves, it provides an admirably comfortable ride whether in town or on the highway. Its low-profile tires, however, send low-level road vibrations through the cabin and their noise is fully present at highway speeds though. Wind noise, on the other hand, is nicely subdued and the seats are comfortably shaped and eight-way adjustable, making it easy to find an ideal position.
Much of the area immediately surrounding the driver is softly padded with faux contrast stitching for a nice look and feel, however, the closer one looks, the more one is reminded of the Corolla’s mid $20k price point and it’s only imitating what the luxury vehicles authentically provide.
The center tunnel’s uncluttered look comes at the expensive of usable storage space and the swooping style of the door panel locates the grab handle far forward (closer to the hinge), making it more difficult to open and close the door than what is typical.
Looking ahead, the leather steering wheel looks handsome yet it lacks a comfortable contour for natural hand placement. Its buttons are easy to find yet the precision feel of the rest of the interior is missing and while the paddle shifters may not be used all that often, they at least have a nice heft and dampened feel to them.
The center instrument panel includes a high-dollar gloss-black trim piece with a row of slim and precisely made HVAC buttons which are flanked by two finely-finished temperature control knobs. An 8-inch infotainment display rises from the dash panel and its speed and graphics feel on par with other manufacturers’ systems at this relatively low price-point, meaning they’re not particularly impressive. The same is true of its surrounding buttons and gloss-black garnish which lack the smooth glossy surface and precise button movement of the HVAC area. That being said, the controls are within easy reach and the infotainment system’s physical menu buttons are spaced far apart and easy to locate with a quick glance.
Rear passenger room is a bit snug and the sloping roofline will have passengers leaning forward to look outside. The cargo area isn’t as expansive as one might expect due to the full-size spare tire which raises the cargo floor and good luck closing the tailgate in one throw. Overall though, the hatchback’s added practicality over the sedan is undeniable, especially when it comes to hauling large boxy items.
Pleasant But Not Powerful
With an electric water pump, electric variable intake valve timing, and direct and port fuel injection, the new 2.0-liter four-cylinder is well suited for achieving good power and even better fuel efficiency. Getting the power to the ground is the work of a novel continuously-variable transmission that features a fixed gear to provide a natural rise in speed and sound when accelerating from a stop. Once underway, the CVT takes over although sometimes it is a little too eager to step in and an abrupt shift back into the fixed gear is required causing a bit more drama than one might have expected. Also, the CVT is programmed to shift like a stepped-gear transmission when the pedal is to the metal but it causes the car to lurch forward at each “gear” change – an inherent trait of the belt-pully system – and feels uninspiring.
The powertrain is a gem in everyday commutes. The engine is heard but is hushed and revs without any distracting noises or vibrations. The CVT is also happiest when tooling around town or cruising along the interstate where it’s able to provide slight adjustments to the engine RPM to attain the power being demanded. During my time of mixed driving, the Corolla Hatchback returned 35 mpg, meeting the EPA’s combined rating estimates.
Fully Equipped for a Safe Trip
Toyota incorporates its latest suite of active safety technology to help avoid a collision from happening. Automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and blind-spot monitoring are all included while an automatic emergency notification system is always ready in cases where a collision is not avoidable. The Corolla Hatchback is also equipped with adaptive headlights that better illuminate the road ahead and lane-trace assist which provides another level of autonomy on the highway and stop-and-go traffic.
Throughout the 11 generations that came before, the Corolla nameplate held a resounding call for sensibility and durability. And while this new Corolla Hatchback could do with “more” in the powertrain department to better compete with its turbocharged competitors, the HB has a level of practicality and sportiness that disses the need for a larger crossover. Its high-fashion interior details provide an upscale everyday experience and its exterior styling embraces both hot hatch and sophisticated designs. In a market where the crossover is king, the Corolla Hatchback is a refreshing alternative and a remarkable advancement for the Corolla family.