The 2019 Toyota Corolla hatchback is powered by a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine that generates up to 168 horsepower and 151 lb.-ft. of torque. - Toyota

You don’t often see the words Corolla and sport in the same sentence. At least not under this byline. But Toyota has gone and created a sporty Corolla. It is not labelled as such, but the hatchback version of the new Corolla, with a six-speed manual transmission, in SE trim, is a fun-to-drive Corolla.

The 2019 Corolla is available as a conventional four-door sedan, and as a five-door hatchback. Based on the new and 60 per cent stiffer corporate TNGA platform, the latest Corolla is lower, wider and boasts a new look. In SE trim with a spoiler on top and 18-inch alloys beneath, the new Corolla has a purposeful, hunkered-down stance.

Like the exterior, the interior is all new. The main instruments are housed under a binnacle in front of the driver. A large screen sticks up in the centre of the instrument panel for the infotainment and navigation systems with buttons, knobs, touch and voice-activated controls. Apple CarPlay is standard, but Android Auto is not available.

The front seats are easily adjustable to most forms and visibility is good to all but the rear three-quarters. The blind spot monitor and back-up camera ease that deficiency. Rear-seat space is minimal at best and dramatically limited if the front seats are pushed back to accommodate large people and/or long legs.

Cargo space is adequate behind the rear seats, and greatly improved when it is folded down. In either case the sloping roofline does restrict it.

The 2019 Corolla gets a new engine and is the first to get the Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 package. Included as standard equipment on all trim lines, it brings a number of active safety technologies, including a pre-collision system that detects pedestrian and cyclists. A Lane Departure system alerts the driver when they get too close to the edge of the road.

A Lane Trace Assist system monitors position between the lines and a radar-based cruise control maintains a given position behind the vehicle ahead. Other standard features on the new Corolla include a backup camera and an electronic parking brake.

The new 2.0-litre “Dynamic Force” engine is both more powerful and more frugal than the outgoing engine. While fuel mileage is slightly better with the automatic, a continuously variable type, the manual is a lot more fun.

The tester was a hatchback with the manual gearbox in mid-level SE guise. Nowhere in or on it was there a promise of a sportiness. But I had to remind myself it was a Corolla. I, and I think the vast majority of car buyers, think of Corollas as having a longer life expectancy than nuclear waste. Of being boring, dull and bullet proof. I have recommended Corollas countless times over the years to folks looking for reliable transportation. To those I knew didn’t give a hoot about power or driving dynamics. One neighbour is in her fourth or fifth Corolla since I recommended that first one.

All this is what made it so strange to look forward to driving the little $24,000 hatch with meagre performance. Granted, the chunky little hatchback looked like more fun than a four-door version.

The new engine is silent and smooth, but has little more than adequate output. That was part of the fun, it made working the gearbox essential.

Thankfully, the gears are nicely spaced, the linkage fluid and gates well defined. The clutch is light and take-up gradual.

The new Corolla gets a significant upgrade in the suspension department. The old torsion beam solid axle has been replaced by a more sophisticated multi-link arrangement.

This allows a good combination of ride and handling. The ride is pleasant for such a small and light vehicle, and it is much more willing to tuck into corners with some verve. With more power this could be a hot hatch.

The 2019 Corolla is available in S, SE and XLE trim levels. The base or S model is pretty well equipped with power windows and locks. The move up to the SE brings air conditioning, larger (16-inch) alloy wheels and heated front seats. An upgrade package adds a heated steering wheel, 18-inch alloy wheels, a Blind Spot Monitor system, and wireless cell phone charging. To this, the XSE adds Satellite Radio, dual zone automatic climate control, upgraded trim, eight-way adjustable driver’s seat and a larger information screen.

Since 1966, the Toyota Corolla has been a functional, reliable, appliance. It is the world’s most popular nameplate — more than 45 million have been sold. It is Toyota Canada’s second-best-selling vehicle behind the RAV4. But the Corolla has never had any sporty pretensions — until now.

 The new Corolla gets a significant upgrade in the suspension department. - Toyota
The new Corolla gets a significant upgrade in the suspension department. – Toyota

The specs

  • Model: 2019 Toyota Corolla SE hatchback
  • Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, 168 horsepower, 151 lb.-ft. of torque, regular fuel
  • Transmission: six-speed manual
  • NRCan rating (litres/100km city/highway): 8.4 / 6.3
  • Length: 4,375 mm
  • Width: 1,790 mm
  • Wheelbase: 2,640 mm
  • Weight: 1,388 kg
  • Price: $20,980 base, $25,752 as tested, including freight
  • Standard equipment: power windows, locks and mirrors, remote keyless entry. Push button start, air conditioning, dynamic cruise control, 20-cm display screen with voice-recognition, USB and aux inputs, six-speaker audio system with Apple CarPlay, lane departure alert, rear view camera, pre-collision system with pedestrian and bicycle detection, LED headlights
  • Options on test vehicle: SE Upgrade package (heated steering wheel, 18-inch alloy wheels, Blind Spot Monitor System, heated front seats, wireless smartphone charging, theft deterrent system