The automotive industry is ripe with contradiction. Who could imagine a four-door sports car or a sub-compact also defined in the sports realm?
Porsche may have its old-guard enthusiasts who still don’t consider the four-door Panamera a sports car, but it is.
The Toyota Corolla is at the opposite end of the car-buying spectrum. Once firmly positioned in the entry-level malaise of boxiness and boredom, the Corolla is now offered in a hatchback with hard-to-hide sports car tendencies. It’s available with a more expensive continuously variable transmission, but the smooth-shifting six-speed manual is the way to go.
The base level Panamera begins at about $85,000, but it’s easily a six-figure vehicle perfectly capable of daily family duties. But it’s also superior on the open road while accelerating from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 3.2 seconds.
A 2019 Toyota Corolla, a $25,000 hatchback, is nothing like a Porsche Panamera with one exception. It’s about as far removed from an original Corolla as a Panamera is from its iconic predecessors.
Dependability, versatility and value have vaulted the Corolla into the yearly top-10 sales for decades. Honda, Hyundai and Mazda, among others, all want increased market shares and have tried to infiltrate Toyota’s dominance with worthy choices, including sport-oriented hatchbacks.
Toyota realized it couldn’t retain its top perch forever on its well-heeled reputation and thus its new hatchback emerged. It replaces the Toyota Corolla iM, which was originally the Scion iM.
The hatchback SE and XSE shine with strong standard features and some surprising extras. Consider: LED headlight and taillights, a Smart Key and push-button start/stop, two USB ports, 60/40 folding rear setbacks and high-resting eight-inch touchscreen infotainment display. The top-line XSE trim features leather seating, heated front seats, a power driver’s seat and dual-zone climate control.
The new hatchback is marketed toward younger buyers and offers nothing subtly. It has 10-spoke wheels, angular lights and Toyota’s signature too-large honeycomb grille. The roof-mounted spoiler looks sharp but serves little purpose.
While the Corolla previously wasn’t an interior catastrophe, nor was innovative — until now. Doors handles and the dash are upholstered and the steering wheel is leather-wrapped. Armrests and center console are attractive and well-padded. Space is at a premium but proportioned with forethought.
The hatchback’s features list is impressive. But its looks and overall driving personality are even stronger attributes. The new 2.0-liter 168-horsepower engine has plenty of zip, particularly when matched with the six-speed transmission. Standard are 18-inch wheels.
Toyota calls its transmission as an Intelligent Manual Transmission (iMT). It automatically matches engine revs on upshifts and downshifts. The result is smooth shifting throughout the gears. Gas mileage averages of are 30 miles per gallon in city driving and 38 miles per gallon during freeway conditions.
Combined with its new lower profile, the hatchback’s overall sportiness is further assisted by its peppiness, firm and responsive steering and an upgraded multilink rear suspension.
Not all is good with the new Corolla. While modern and sharp-angled, the Corolla would look better without its roof wing. The back seat space legroom is insufficient for adult passengers. The infotainment system offers adequate application integration. Navigation is a $1,600 option, but it’s standard on less expensive cars.
Like Porsche, Toyota has stretched its long-standing comfort zone with its new hatchback. The Panamera is now embraced, and Toyota’s new entry will be as well. Tradition is revered in the automotive industry, modest vehicles to precision racing machines. But the Panamera and Corolla hatchback prove that change is good, too.
Article Last Updated: November 1, 2018.
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A sports, travel and business journalist for more than 45 years, James has written the new car review column The Weekly Driver since 2004.
In addition to this site, James writes a Sunday automotive column for The San Jose Mercury and East Bay Times in Walnut Creek, Calif., and a monthly auto review column for Gulfshore Business, a magazine in Southwest Florida.
An author and contributor to many newspapers, magazines and online publications, James has co-hosted The Weekly Driver Podcast since 2017.