by Aiden Eksteen
The 2020 Toyota Corolla Hatchback is a dynamite package. It's a compact hatchback based on the latest Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA), promising to deliver a more engaging drive complemented by Toyota's renowned durability, reliability, and value. The Corolla Hatchback is not only a fun-to-drive daily, but also an affordable, practical, and safe family commuter. It's powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder mill with peak outputs of 168 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque, all of which are driven to the hatch's front-wheels via either a six-speed manual gearbox or a continuously variable automatic transmission. With core class rivals such as the Honda Civic, VW Golf, and even the Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback, the new Toyota Corolla Hatchback may not be the most driver-centric hatch out there or the most utilitarian, but it does deliver an appreciable balance of perks overall, making it an option worth taking a closer look at.
The current generation Corolla Hatchback is still a relatively new vehicle - having made its debut for the 2019 model year - and has subsequently undergone minimal enhancements and alterations for the 2020 model year. There is an all-new Nightshade Edition which is a completely blacked-out version of the base SE model, bearing black exterior badges, door handles, mirrors, rear spoiler, and wheels. Every Corolla Hatchback's infotainment system now comes standard with Android Auto compatibility, completing the connectivity trifecta and expanding listening choices to the already standard Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa connectivity. SiriusXM Radio is also now standard in every model with an all-access three-month trial.
The Corolla Hatchback's design aesthetic is very easy-on-the-eyes, it's a little sporty with more of a sophisticated overtone, which marks a massive improvement over Corollas of old. The ES is equipped with 16-inch silver-metallic twin-spoke alloy wheels and XSE with 18-inch dark gray alloy wheels with bright machined finish, both are fitted with color-keyed exterior trimmings that are blacked-out on the SE Nightshade Edition. Completing the look on the Nightshade Edition are 18-inch black metallic alloy wheels. All models are fitted with LED automatic high-beam headlights with integrated LED daytime running lamps, only the XSE is fitted with LED fog lights.
The Corolla Hatchback is a little more compact than the Corolla sedan; with an overall length of 169.9 inches, the hatchback is 12.4 inches shorter than the sedan, it's 0.6 inches taller though, with a height of 57.1 inches and 0.2 inches narrower with a width of 69.9 inches. At 103.9 inches, the hatchback's wheelbase is 2.4 inches shorter than the sedan's, and both ride with a ground clearance of 5.1 inches. All three models within the hatchback's lineup carry a curb weight of 3,060 lbs, regardless of your choice of manual or CVT transmission.
For cruising around the city streets and around town, the Corolla Hatch's 168-hp, 151-lb-ft 2.0-liter four-pot engine proves perfectly competent, it's at higher speeds such as on the highway where it begins to feel a little underpowered. Acceleration from a standstill is peppy and responsive, and overtaking isn't too much of a hassle. With the standard six-speed manual gearbox, the Corolla accelerates from 0-60 mph in a gradual 7.8 seconds; the CVT automatic stretches that time to a lackadaisical 8.3 seconds. Unfortunately, the Nightshade Edition does not come with the manual gearbox option. The manual gearbox is slick-shifting and smooth, and its responses are eager and better matched to those of the engine than the CVT automatics. The CVT automatic is, nevertheless, pleasantly polished as well - its responses are smooth and it works discreetly with the engine.
Though the Corolla Hatch's TNGA platform has noticeably improved its handling and driving dynamics, it's still not the most enjoyable or most capable driver's hatchback around. The bulky steering wheel feels good in hand but turn-in is a little sluggish and the sense of communication plagued by the vagueness of electronically assisted steering; there's not much tire or road feel ceded through for the driver at all. The clutch's take-up feels non-linear too and while the brake pedal does feel soft and squishy, it is easy to modulate in traffic and stopping power is suitable for everyday driving conditions and effective in emergency stops.
The Corolla's chassis is nicely balanced, delivering a surprising level of fun and engagement around twisty roads and dealing with most typical road imperfections and undulations with poise. It's to no extent a Honda Civic, which is far more capable, but body roll is suitably managed and confident levels of stability always present.
The Toyota Corolla Hatchback delivers typical gas mileage figures for the class. With the CVT automatic gearbox in play, the base SE Corolla Hatch returns EPA estimates of 32/41/35 mpg city/highway/combined while the XSE model with the CVT automatic performs a little less efficiently, returning 30/38/33 mpg. With the manual gearbox, the Corolla Hatchback returns 28/37/31 mpg. The Honda Civic proves a little more efficient than the Corolla Hatch when equipped with its manual gearbox, getting 29/37/32 mpg, but a little less efficient with its CVT automatic, achieving 31/40/34 mpg. When filled to the brim, the Corolla Hatch's 13.2-gallon gas tank accords the CVT-equipped model with a total driving range of around 462 miles.
There is seating capacity for up to five passengers in the Toyota Corolla Hatchback, although even just two adults will find the rear seats rather cramped. The front seats are suitably comfy and feature moderate bolstering for decent support, and there's a relatively decent range of adjustability offered in the driver's seat and via the steering column. Passenger room up front is ample, though overall room in the rear seats is rather limited, meaning passengers over six-foot tall won't be comfortable. Access to the cabin is easy enough though and, typical of Toyota products, the ergonomics are sound and all controls within easy reach of the driver.
The Corolla Hatchbacks TNGA platform puts 17.8 cubic feet of cargo room in the trunk, that's 4.7 cubes more than what's offered in the sedan model and enough room to hold two large suitcases or a month's worth of grocery shopping. The Honda Civic boasts a sizeable 23 cubes of cargo room under the hatch. If more room is required, the Corolla's back seats do fold down in a 60/40 split, although Toyota doesn't make any claims as to what the maximum cargo volume is.
On the inside, there's a small front console tray, dual cupholders, a moderately sized rear console box, a usable covered center console compartment, and a sizeable passenger-side glove box compartment. The front and rear doors all feature narrow pockets with small bottle holder slots, and there's a seatback map pocket behind each front seat as well as two cupholders in the center rear-seat backrest.
The base model's standard features list is expansive. The SE features a leather-wrapped steering wheel with a tilt and telescoping column, a 4.2-inch multi-information driver display, a six-way manually adjustable driver's seat, four-way manually-adjustable front passenger's seat, and single-zone automatic climate control. The SE Nightshade Edition is upgraded with a leather-wrapped steering wheel with paddle shifters. With an upgrade to the top-spec XSE comes a seven-inch multi-information driver display, heated front seats, an eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat, and dual-zone automatic climate control. In the way of safety and driver assists, every model comes standard with Toyota's Safety Sense 2.0 suite of features, which comprises a pre-collision warning system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, dynamic radar cruise control, and road sign assist. The SE Nightshade Edition exclusively gets full-speed adaptive cruise control and lane tracing assist, and the XSE gets a blind-spot monitor as standard.
In the way of infotainment, every model comes fitted with a high-mounted eight-inch touchscreen display located on the center dash. The user-interface is one of the more intuitive around and the graphics are crisp, and the six-speaker sound system it's tethered to delivers decent audio quality. While Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa functionality have been long-time staples in Toyota's range, Android Auto functionality is also finally standard for the new year. Also standard, you'll find HD Radio and SiriusXM satellite radio connectivity, hands-free phone capabilities and music streaming via Bluetooth, and voice recognition. There are two USB ports provided for device charging and a single auxiliary input jack for media streaming. For the CVT-equipped XSE, native navigation, dynamic voice recognition, and a handful of other trial-based Connect services are available, along with an eight-speaker JBL audio system.
The 2020 Toyota Corolla has been subject to two recalls already; one pertaining to rear seatbelt assemblies that may not lock as intended and the other to non-permanent text on the load capacity label. J.D. Power is yet to avail the Corolla Hatchback with a reliability rating, but with Toyota's reputation, expectations are high. Every new Corolla Hatchback is covered by a three-year/36,000-mile basic warranty and a five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty. Toyota also offers two-years/25,000-miles worth of complimentary maintenance too.
The NHTSA availed the 2020 Toyota Corolla Hatchback with an overall safety rating of five stars out of five. The very same model, having earned top scores of Good for all six crash test evaluations conducted by the IIHS, was awarded a 2019 Top Safety Pick title within the compact class. All models come standard with eight airbags including a driver's knee airbag, as well as with Toyota's Safety Sense 2.0 and the essentials such as a rearview camera, dynamic cruise control, hill-start assist, automatic high beams, and ABS. The XSE comes with additional blind-spot monitoring.
The 2020 Toyota Corolla Hatchback may not be the benchmark in its class for any one specific aspect, but it is a well-rounded and highly-appealing package nonetheless. It delivers a prized balance in casual performance and appropriate ride quality; it's not particularly adept when it comes to performance and handling, but it's relatively impressive for the class, and without any compromise in ride quality. This means while the driver is allowed some level of driving enjoyment, passengers are also taken care of and kept suitably comfortable. The Corolla Hatchback is better than ever before, thanks to the inclusion of Android Auto for the new year, in addition to Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa - all displayed via an industry-leading, user-friendly infotainment system with an eight-inch touchscreen display. In comparison with some rivals, the Corolla really lacks in rear cabin room and cargo space. Ultimately, the Toyota Corolla Hatchback is a value-rich economy car, packaging a little bit of everything from performance, safety, and features to everything in between for an affordable, well-rounded entry-level car.
Toyota presents the base-spec Corolla Hatchback SE with a starting MSRP of $20,290 while the new-for-2020 SE Nightshade Edition follows as a mid-spec model with an MSRP of $22,290. The top-spec model, the XSE has a sticker price of $23,240. Those are all excluding Toyota's delivery, processing, and handling fee of $955 as well as any tax, registration, or licensing fees. It'll cost an extra $1,100 to option on the CVT automatic to either the SE and the XSE.
With only a $3,000 up-charge from the base-spec SE to the top-spec XSE, we recommend shooting straight for the top-spec XSE model. In addition to the decent levels of standard equipment like LED headlights and Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, the XSE comes standard with a larger, more contemporary driver information display, leather seating surfaces, heated front seats, an eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat, and dual-zone automatic climate control. It's also the only model that comes with a blind-spot monitoring system as standard. Like the SE, it's available with a choice of either the manual or CVT gearbox, so if you prefer impressive gas mileage, get the CVT, but we recommend the manual for more driver engagement. If you decide on the CVT-equipped version, we suggest opting in the available premium eight-speaker JBL audio system purely for the improved enjoyment of the contemporary infotainment system.
If the Toyota Corolla Hatch's sporty aesthetic is more misleading than appealing, then consider the Honda Civic Hatchback. Compared to the Corolla, the Civic is a warm-hatch disguised as a commuter, with a more potent 1.5-liter turbo-four available that makes the most of a driver's chassis to deliver better performance and more involvement. It's also almost as frugal as the Corolla. Both vehicles are comprehensively equipped and loaded with safety and convenience features, but the Civic feels more premium inside. It's also vastly more spacious with more passenger room and cargo capacity. Despite being slightly more expensive than the Corolla, the Civic is a better all-rounder and easily justifies its price premium.
Despite the fact that the Camry is a midsize vehicle and only available as a sedan, there's just an $85 price difference between a top-spec Corolla Hatch and a base-model Camry. The Camry boasts a potent 2.5-liter engine to start with, and an available V6 higher in the range, both offering far greater performance than the Corolla - but both also proving considerably less fuel-efficient than the Corolla's four-pot. The Camry is better purposed for enthusiastic driving, feeling more capable around corners and delivering a sportier driving experience. Moreover, the Camry is available with an all-wheel-drive system, which may be an important consideration for those in all-weather regions. While the Camry offers a more commodious cabin, it's left with only 15.1 cubic feet of cargo room within the trunk, which is only a little less than what's offered in the Corolla. The Corolla takes a certain win when it comes to feature specification, offering far greater value at the base level. Obviously, the Camry will look better at the upper echelons of the lineup, but at the end of the day, the Corolla will be the more sensible pick if the Camry's focus on performance and rear-passenger space aren't a high priority.