2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE New Dad Review: Stylish, But Awfully Small for Family Matters

Hot looks and good handling are big plusses, but the new Corolla hatch is a tight fit for kids and their gear.

I finally did it: I'm a dad. The funny thing is, I've always owned dad cars, even before I needed to. Owning anything with less than four doors never made much sense, which is how I ended up with a stable of souped-up grandpa cars from the Sixties and Seventies. Now that I'm a father, the '74 Oldsmobile sedan I brought my wife and son home from the hospital in seems a bit dated. And that, my friends, is how I found myself on this quest to find the perfect new dad car. The most recent contestant: The efficient, wild-looking Toyota Corolla Hatchback in XSE trim.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback: By the Numbers

  • Base Price (Price as Tested): $19,990 ($26,690)
  • Powertrain: 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline, 168 horsepower, 151 pound-feet of torque; continuously-variable automatic transmission; front-wheel-drive
  • Fuel Economy: 30 mpg city, 38 mpg highway
  • 0-60 MPH: 8.7 seconds
  • Random fact: While the hatchback gets decent gas mileage, it's not the best of Toyota's non-hybrid lineup; that would be the Yaris, at 32 mpg city and 40 mpg highway.
Benjamin Preston

When I was growing up, my grandparents owned a pair of Toyota Corollas: a 1980 sedan, and a 1983 wagon. Back then, they were perfectly adequate family cars, offering enough space for two small children and two or three adults (admittedly small ones, in my family's case). But times have changed. Americans have grown larger, as has the pile of stuff required to take care of a child. In the '80s, car seats were little metal-framed plastic objects, and strollers were umbrella-style ones you could carry hooked over an arm. The stuff parents need to cart around now is heavy—and worse yet for those interested in small cars, bulky. The new 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback—which in days gone by would have been just right for a small family in the city—has aged like a pair of pants on someone whose body has swollen with the continuous intake of processed foods: It's tight, and not particularly comfortable.

Benjamin Preston

With my son's child safety seat installed, my admittedly long-legged wife was unable to sit completely straight in the front seat. She had to sit at an angle, with her knees touching the dash. Open the rear hatch and there's only 18 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats. That's enough to carry a hefty Britax stroller or the week's groceries, but not both at the same time. With the seats folded down, cargo volume goes up only a little bit, to 23 cubic feet. Family shopping trips are as such a no-go in the new Corolla; even solo excursions to pick up larger items are compromised by the car's tiny seats-down capacity. The Mazda3, Honda Civic, and Volkswagen Golf offer more cargo volume, especially with the seats folded flat. 

Benjamin Preston

Spatial considerations aside, the Corolla hatch is fetching. Toyota's edgy design language spices up the manufacturer's entire lineup, livening up a brand that for decades has relied upon strong sales and bland styling to maintain its global sales position. But there's a lot of compelling competition now, so boring just won't do anymore. You may not like Toyota's big, maw-like grilles and crazy Japanimation body sculpting, but Toyota had to do something to keep from getting left behind in the styling arms race.

In the Corolla's case, its kinetic aesthetic hides good handling and road manners. A big part of that is the confidence-inspiring, 15-inch brake rotors on all four wheels; the car's braking feels firm and resolute. To improve handling, Toyota included a system it calls active cornering assist, in which the car's computer makes minute adjustments to braking and power output to control understeer in hard cornering. You don't feel it from the driver's seat, and the car is fun to huck into corners, so it must work pretty well.

Benjamin Preston

In an age when most automakers are going the turbocharged route, Toyota has stuck to the naturally aspirated mill. It generally does the brand well, and the Corolla's 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is no exception. The engine delivers good fuel economy and decent acceleration—as long as you keep the revs up. But it's not great at getting the car's 3,100 pounds going from a dead stop, a fact that reminded me of the gutless 1983 Corolla wagon I drove in high school. (My grandfather's old car, naturally.) Still, Toyota should go turbo, too. Good fuel economy when driven easy and faster acceleration when driven hard make for a more compelling car—although there's a maintenance argument to be made for natural aspiration that probably has something to do with Toyota's reputation for building reliable cars.

In terms of the transmission setup, the CVT works well, and its paddle-shifted manual mode does a decent job at feigning "gears." Although I haven't yet tested the six-speed manual version of this car, I'm keen to try it. From a "fun" perspective, I think it'll do a better job than the CVT at overcoming the naturally aspirated engine's drawbacks.

Benjamin Preston

For the family man, few things on the new-car feature list are more important than safety features, which the Corolla has plenty of. Pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, lane-tracing assist, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams, and adaptive cruise control all come standard. Blind spot monitoring is optional on the base-level SE trim (on CVT-equipped models), and comes standard on the XSE. Plus, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named the 2019 Corolla hatch one of its Top Safety Pick models—music to any dad's ears.

There's little doubt that new Corolla hatch is a charming little car. In everyday traffic, it has plenty of grunt to weave around left lane hoggers, and the good fuel economy numbers make it easy to justify daily use. Plus, it's fun to drive. But interior space is paramount in a father's quest for the ultimate family car, and the Corolla ain't got it.

Benjamin Preston

With so many equally capable but much more voluminous competitors on the market—again, the Civic, Golf, and Mazda3 spring to mind—I'd be hard-pressed to find a reason to buy a Corolla hatch, other than dead-to-rights reliability. Perhaps it could be a good second car, but even then, there are models out there that do everything the Corolla does, but still provide ample space for family members and all their junk. If you want to keep comparing the Corolla with that tight pair of pants—sure, they may take a while to wear out, but don't you want a little room for growth? You'll probably need it.