The simplest explanation for the Corolla’s continued presence on the global car sales chart is that it remains the smartest choice for consumers who want an affordable and dependable car.
Not that too many people would purposefully say no to an exhilarating drive. It’s just that for many motorists, that quality by necessity takes a back seat to other daily-driving priorities, such as practicality, fuel economy, low maintenance costs borne of sturdy reliability and value for money.
Which brings us to the 2019 Toyota Corolla. This year’s edition, as we await the next generation due next year, has upgraded safety/drive assist features, and it comes in three flavours: the CE, LE and SE. The SE is the sportier of the three, and it was that trim with the XSE package that I had for a late-winter week of driving.
No luxury car but it’s still highly livable
While the CE and LE versions have few new adornments to call attention to themselves with, aside from LED headlights and plastic wheel covers over the steel wheels, the XLE package does bring with it interior upgrades like Softex leather for the seats, heated front seats and 8-way power-adjustable driver’s seat.
The SE with the XSE package includes 17-inch alloy wheels, as well as push-button start, heated steering wheel, navigation system via the 7-inch screen, Softex leather seats, Smart Key system and other goodies. Add it all up and you still don’t get a luxury feel, but let’s say the refinement level goes up with this package.
Styling-wise the exterior of the car is relatively unchanged for 2019 as we await the big revision to come with the next generation in 2020.
The cabin of the 2019 Corolla is a pretty pleasant environment, particularly given the price point attached to the car. The ergonomics are solid, most of the elements of good quality and there’s a descent amount of space, especially in front.
The front seats provide good support for the body, while in the back there’s enough room for three, although in the case of a full house it does get a little cramped if you’re going to drive any distance. It goes like this: the Corolla offers more generous legroom than the Jetta and Civic (10 cm in fact), but because the car is narrower it gets tight for the shoulders and hips when there are three passengers abreast.
The trunk offers a mere 368 litres of space, which isn’t great but would do for normal use. Here the Corolla comes up short versus the Jetta and the Civic, and also the Elantra from Hyundai. If you think you’ll need more trunk space than this car can give you, the all-new Corolla Hatchback and its 503 litres of space is probably a better choice.
The dashboard is adorned by two screens – 7-inch and 8-inch. The first displays main fuel and safety data and gives access to the Entune system, which comes standard.
The overall environment is quite pleasant and airy, but as mentioned we’re not in luxury territory here by any stretch.
New safety functions
Toyota did not in the past stand out from the industry average when it came to safety and drive-assist features, particularly in the base trims, but that changes here with the Toyota Safety Sense P package included as standard equipment in all versions of the 2019 Corolla.
The package consists of five main components: pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert, automatic high beams, road sign identification, adaptive cruise control. Keep in mind that, as the new 2019 Corolla Hatchback now has the updated and enhanced Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 system, we can assume that that new system will make it into the next-gen Corolla due next year.
These systems are not particularly rare in new models these days, but what makes the Corolla interesting is that it offers them for a better price.
In addition to the Toyota Safety Sense P suite, the 2019 Corolla at the base level also comes with heated front seats, LED headlights and power-assisted heated exterior side-mirrors, among other goodies.
Beyond that, another $1,500 will get you a power sunroof or upgraded alloy wheels. Then if you want SiriusXM, auto-dimming rearview mirror or leatherette seating, you’ll have to get the XLE package.
If you’re ready to go all in and opt for the XSE package, you get a lot of elements that are stand-apart extras on the base model, such as heated steering wheel, power driver’s seat, Softex leather, 8-way power-adjustable seat, push-button start and SiriusXM, etc. That package will set you back $4,080, and it really does turn the Corolla from a basic car to a more refined creature.
No matter how much you fork over, however, you won’t get Apple CarPlay or Android Auto compatibility. This year anyways, it’s still not on the menu…
Working with a front-wheel-drive system, the 2019 Toyota Corolla comes with a 1.8L 4-cylinder engine wedded to a 6-speed manual gearbox (only in the SE) or the CVT, otherwise the default unit. This powertrain delivers 132 hp and 128 lb-ft of torque as of 4,000 RPM.
You can’t hide the fact that those numbers put the car at a disadvantage versus others in the segment, and it results in acceleration that’s competent but never more than that. What’s more, as soon as you have more than one or two people aboard, you can feel the powertrain strain a bit to get up to cruising speed and make passing manoeuvres.
The steering is light but not overly so, and in this respect the Corolla is well adapted to city life. Nimble in traffic and on corners, it can make you forget that it’s gotten quite a bit bigger over the years (believe it or not the Corolla of olden days was smaller than the present-day Yaris!).
In terms of fuel consumption the Corolla is no guzzler but it’s not the best to be found on the market. Its combined average of 7.5L/100 km puts in behind the Honda Civic sedan which gets 7.4L, as well as the Volkswagen Jetta and its 7.1L. We’re not talking about huge differences here, mind you. As for me, my week of driving the Corolla SE with XSE package resulted in an average of around 9.0L/100 km. This is not write-home-about-it level, but it was mostly spent in the urban setting and on winter tires.
On the other hand, the LE ECO version of the Corolla is optimized to reduce fuel consumption, and top of that its engine’s output of 140 hp puts it ahead of the regular trim’s power unit.
Like every Toyota since seemingly forever, this car is of excellent quality overall and offers a solid, secure diving experience when you’re at the wheel. I also noted a fairly quiet cabin, even when driving on dry asphalt on winter tires.
Its main and eternal rival is of course the 2019 Honda Civic, still the standard setter in this category thanks to its excellent combination of fuel economy, performance, roominess and overall quality. Then there’s the 2019 Hyundai Elantra, which outperforms the Toyota entry for fuel economy while carrying a lower price tag, and the ever-popular Volkswagen Jetta.
As for the pricing, a bare-bones base model CE with manual transmission (yes that’s right, still on the menu!) will set you back $18,834. With a CVT transmission this version climbs to $22,519. Then there are the LE at $23,354 and the LE ECO at $23,854. Perched at the top of the model hierarchy is the SE; with manual gearbox it costs $23,169 or more, while with the CVT is starts at $24,154. Add the XSE package and you get a final-destination price tag of $28,234 – which still keeps the Corolla well within the parameters of “affordable car”.
As we said before, the Toyota Corolla is the virtual definition of a safe and reliable car, which sits planted firmly in the middle of its category for a number of criteria. It is possible to find more bang for the buck elsewhere, for example in terms of fuel economy, road handling and the infotainment system; but nothing beats it for indestructibility, until proven otherwise.
Take note that Toyota has finally worked things out with Apple and is starting to offer Apple CarPlay in some of its new 2019 models; in the case of the Corolla, it will have to wait until 2020 and the new generation. As for Android Auto, still nothing concrete…
If you are of the more patient persuasion, you might want to hold off and wait for the next Corolla, expected to get a comprehensive overhaul. Others, and those who want a bit more power and the versatility of five doors, there’s the very compelling Corolla Hatchback at dealers now.
- Unquestioned reliability
- Spacious cabin
- Nimble performer in the city and when cornering
- Attractive front end
- Toyota Safety Sense P package included standard
- You won’t get a ton of stuff in the trunk
- Power is lacking from under the hood
- The next generation is just around the corner
- No Android Auto, Apple CarPlay compatibility
- Soporific rear-end design