by Michael Butler
The 2021 Corolla Hatchback doesn't reinvent the wheel, but instead, Toyota refines it into a family-friendly hatch that will never offend. Its exterior design looks great but promises the driver something that the car will never be able to offer: excitement. Don't get us wrong; the Corolla does many things very well - it is comfortable to drive, gets good gas mileage, and will keep you safe in the event of a crash, but the Corolla is an appliance and we can't quite get over how dull it is. Powered by a naturally-aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine producing 168 horsepower, the Corolla is no athlete but offers enough go to match its suburban image. The 2021 car goes up against the Honda Civic and Mazda 3, both compelling alternatives in the compact hatchback segment.
The 2021 hatchback Corolla features improvements to its safety suite, with rear seat-mounted airbags added for a total of ten airbags for all trims over last year's eight. The new spare tire deletion kit also adds six cubic feet to the cargo area. A brand-new Special Edition car is offered with an exclusive body kit, a cool-looking Supersonic Red paint job, and black-painted 18-inch alloy wheels, but is limited to just 1,500 units. The body kit adds a front splitter, side skirts, black rear roof spoiler, rear bumper garnish, and a unique Special Edition badge. Rear cross-traffic alert with blind spot monitoring is now standard on XSE models, and optional on SE models. Two new colors are also on offer: Magnetic Gray Metallic and Wind Chill Pearl. Both are available with the Black Roof option.
The new Toyota Corolla Hatchback looks pretty fantastic from the outside and dispels the idea that the Corolla name should symbolize dullness. If only it offered a more exhilarating driving experience, it would be the full package. The exterior of the 2021 Corolla features auto on/off headlights, with LED taillights standard on all trims. XSE models get a chrome front upper grille surround and LED fog lights, while SE derivatives get a dark gray front upper grille surround. The Nightshade is fitted with a black front lower grille surround. All trim levels except the Nightshade get a single exhaust with dual chrome diffusers while the latter gets a black diffuser. SE examples roll on a set of 16-inch twin-spoke alloy wheels, while XSEs get machine-finished 18-inch alloy wheels. The Nightshade gets 18-inch Black alloy wheels and a black rear spoiler. The Special Edition features a custom body kit, Supersonic Red paint, as well as black-painted 18-inch alloy wheels. The body kit includes a sporty front splitter, side skirts, black rear roof spoiler and unique badging.
The 2021 Corolla Hatchback is classified as a compact hatchback by its slight dimensions. The car makes use of a 103.9-inch wheelbase and is 172 inches long. The overall width is 70.5 inches, and the total height is 57.1 inches. Ground clearance is 5.1 inches. The curb weight of the 2021 Corolla hatchback is 3,060 lbs.
The Toyota Hatchback Corolla was never intended to be a hot hatch, but we wish it came with the option of a small capacity turbocharged engine. All trim levels for 2021 are fitted with a naturally-aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. This engine produces a maximum power output of 168 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque. That doesn't sound too bad, but power only comes in higher up in the rev range, making this engine feel unrefined and raspy when pushed hard. The Corolla Hatchback isn't about performance numbers, although independent testing has shown an acceptable 0 to 60 time of eight seconds. This power plant is all about chilled suburban cruising. Slow speed driving is a pleasant affair, and there's enough power on tap for city driving, but the issue of power becomes apparent as soon as you enter the highway. Sport Mode sharpens up the throttle response somewhat but doesn't make a big enough difference on the open road. You'll have to downshift a lot to get the Corolla in the correct powerband. The manual transmission is not the most engaging but works well. And the continuously variable transmission is as dull as any other, but it succeeds at keeping the 2.0-liter mill on the boil. While the current Corolla isn't exactly a firecracker, Toyota USA's announcement that the GR hot hatch, powered by a turbo-three, will be arriving soon is a boon for Toyota fans.
The Corolla excels at isolating the car's occupants from the bumpy and noisy world outside the cabin. Like its larger sibling, the Camry, the Corolla puts comfort ahead of dynamic ability, which is perfectly fine if a comfortable ride is all you're after. Compared to more athletic rivals such as the Honda Civic and Mazda 3, the Corolla feels dull to drive. The SE and XSE have a sport-tuned suspension setup, but that doesn't say a whole lot, as the Corolla still feels slightly wallowy when turned into a sharp corner. Driving this car hard reveals controlled body roll and understeer, and in the end, the Corolla is very predictable at the limit in a boring way. Still, it's not the best at offering a comfortable ride, so it's kind of stuck in the middle of the pack.
We know that the new Toyota Corolla Hatchback isn't the top performer when it comes to handling prowess and straight-line performance, but it does offer reasonably good gas mileage figures. With that 2.0-liter mill purring away, the 2021 Toyota Corolla Hatchback will return best numbers of 32/41/35 mpg city/highway/combined with the CVT fitted. The XSE model will offer 30/38/33 mpg in auto form, while those equipped with the manual will return 28/37/31 mpg. With a fuel tank capacity of 13.2 gallons, the Corolla has a range of between 409.2 miles and 462 miles.
The Corolla Hatchback's interior is a streamlined and contemporary-looking space that feels premium enough to compete with the likes of the Mazda 3. All models get sport seats in the front which are supportive enough for everyday driving, but don't expect them to keep you in place around a racetrack; these seats were designed for comfort and long-distance road trips. Both SE models get sport cloth upholstery with manual adjustment six ways for the driver and four ways for the front passenger, upgraded to leather with eight adjustments for the XSE. The Corolla Hatchback offers space for five adults. The headroom in the front is 38.4 inches, dropping to 37.6 inches in the rear. Legroom is an impressive 42 inches in the front, but a disappointingly low 29.9 inches in the rear.
The Corolla Hatchback offers a decent amount of trunk and cargo space for its class. With 17.8 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats, you get 4.7 cubic feet more than you would in the sedan. That's enough space to hold a few weeks' groceries or the kids' school bags and other assortments. The Honda Civic, on the other hand, offers 25.7 cubic feet of space, but if you choose to do away with the spare wheel and opt for a puncture repair kit on the Corolla, you gain another six cubic feet of space for a total of around 23 cubes. Fold down the 60/40-split folding seats and you get even more space.
Small items can be stored in the front console tray with dual cupholders, as well as a rear console box, front center console storage box, and glovebox. There's also seatback map pockets behind the front seats and a center armrest with cupholders in the back.
The list of features in the Corolla ranges from mediocre to good, depending on the configuration. The base model SE offers interior features such as sport fabric seats, a manual adjustment driver's seat, leather steering wheel with paddle shifters, as well as single-zone climate control, keyless entry, and push-button start. Standard safety features included in the Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 suite of driver aids are pre-collision with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, automatic high beams, and road sign assistance. The XSE features leather sport seats, an eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat with heating, optional wireless charging, as well as dual-zone climate control and a seven-inch multi-information driver display. It also gets blind-spot monitoring as standard. The Nightshade Edition gets black heated power outside mirrors with turn signal indicators and other exterior details, as well as full-speed adaptive cruise control and lane tracing assist. The driver assistance features mentioned are all standard on CVT-equipped models.
Toyota has stepped up its infotainment game in recent years, and the 2021 Corolla Hatchback is a testament to this. All trim levels come fitted with a standard eight-inch touch screen that is mounted high in the dashboard, which make reading and interacting with the system more accessible. The user interface is intuitive enough for most to get used to in a few hours, and the images are crisp and clear. All models get a USB and auxiliary input in the lower central panel and a USB port in the center console box. All models also come with a six-speaker audio system that sounds pretty decent, especially when banging out Pain by Boy Harsher. The CVT-equipped XSE also gets optional navigation, dynamic voice recognition, and an eight-speaker JBL audio system. All models get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration.
The 2021 car has not been subjected to a recall, which is good news for new buyers, but unfortunately, the vehicle has suffered two recalls in 2020. The first had to do with back-up lights that could fail and the other for a misprinted label, so there were no severe reliability issues to worry about.
Toyota will cover the Corolla Hatchback with a three-year/36,000-mile basic warranty, a five-year corrosion warranty, a five-year/60,000-mile drivetrain warranty, two years of roadside assistance, and a two-year/25,000-mile maintenance plan.
While the 2021 edition of the hatchback is yet to be tested by the NHTSA or IIHS, the 2020 reviews of the Toyota Corolla hatchback delivered outstanding results. The NHTSA scored the Corolla a full five out of five stars, and the IIHS gave it a Top Safety Pick rating, and six top scores of Good for all crashworthiness evaluations carried out.
Standard safety features include ten airbags, including front knee airbags and rear side airbags, and Toyota's Safety Sense 2.0 package, which includes features such as automatic high beams, pre-collision warning with pedestrian assist, and road sign assist. XSE trims get blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, too.
Toyota has covered most of the bases with the 2021 Corolla Hatchback. Playing it safe has delivered a competent and comfortable car, but one that doesn't exactly tingle the senses. From the outside, the Corolla Hatch looks great; its sharp lines look sporty enough to rival the Honda Civic, but aren't as reserved as the Mazda 3, and in Nightshade Edition, looks like a hot hatch. Unfortunately, those handsome looks hide a car with only mild performance. Toyota has shied away from using a turbo petrol engine and instead offers the Corolla Hatchback with a sedate 2.0-liter naturally-aspirated motor that does nothing to excite the driver, and in fact, feels unrefined when pushing hard. The interior is on par with its contemporaries, and the infotainment system is easy to use. Out on the road, it is a comfortable machine but takes on a comfort bias instead of offering sporty driving appeal. The Corolla manages to do everything in comfort and style; just don't expect Golf GTI-level performance.
Depending on configurations, the MSRP of the 2021 Toyota Corolla will vary slightly, but overall there isn't much difference in the pricing of the various trims. The base model SE goes on sale for $20,290 while the CVT-equipped car will set you back $21,390. The SE Nightshade Edition is yours for $22,290, and the most expensive of the bunch is the XSE which goes for $23,240
Look at the facts, and you'll see that the Corolla Hatchback doesn't pretend to be a high-performance hatch. Instead, it focuses on being the comfortable hatchback that the US has come to love and adore, and at a price that won't cost you an arm and a leg. We get what Toyota has tried to do with the Nightshade Edition, but we'd skip out on all the fake bling and head straight for the XSE model, which not only looks the part but also offers all the features and specs you need. The XSE includes features such as integrated LED fog lights, 18-inch alloy wheels, a seven-inch multi-information display, an eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat, heated front seats, and two-zone climate control. The XSE also gets the option of an eight-speaker JBL sound system and navigation, as well as blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic control.
The Honda Civic is the quintessential hatchback in the USA and has been at the top of the pile for a very long time. Why? Because Honda has always managed to perfectly combine a fun-driving package with excellent safety and standard features, along with a cleverly packaged trunk and cargo space. Looking at it in photos, you wouldn't say it looks as good as the Corolla, but it grows on you. The Honda is a more dynamically pleasing car to drive thanks in part to its 1.5-liter turbocharged engine, which produces a more substantial 180 hp, but most importantly more torque, much lower down in the rev range. In terms of features, the Honda and Corolla match up relatively evenly, but we feel that the Honda offers more overall in the higher trims. Ther build quality of both models interiors is excellent, but we prefer the interior design of the Honda, and rear-seat occupants will appreciate the extra inches in the back. Both are competitively priced, so there's no real advantage for the Toyota, and at the end of the day, the more fun, more practical Honda gets our vote.
Mazda has been building some of the best cars in the subcompact and compact class, and the Mazda 3 is one of them. The 3, as with the Corolla, takes on a more mature approach to the hatchback segment. The exterior of the Mazda 3 is more refined and not as in your face as the Corolla, which should make it a more attractive buy for older parties. Under the hood lies a naturally-aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that offers a more powerful 186 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque, but a 2.5-liter turbo engine is an option for the 2021 model year and packs a 250-hp punch. Power is sent to the front or all four wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission. On the road, the Mazda 3 is just as comfortable as the Corolla, but in the same breath is also more entertaining to drive. The fact that you can get the Mazda 3 in all-wheel-drive will be a massive bonus. The Mazda 3's interior is a step above that of the Corolla: the design is more refined, and the overall feel is that of a car in a higher price bracket. The Mazda also offers a good level of standard features and stacks up against the Corolla in terms of safety features, but is a tad more expensive. We'd go with the Mazda.