There are big changes going on in Toyota’s lineup of cars and crossovers. In an attempt to make their vehicles more exciting, beyond whatever excitement exceptional reliability and high resale value might provide, the Japanese automotive juggernaut has been changing its look.
The tried and true Camry now looks hot, and some even have quad exhaust pipes out the back. The Corolla has gone through a transformation as well, both inside and out. Gone is the rounded, steady as she goes and somewhat boring good old Corolla that has been at times the best selling nameplate in the world.
I had a chance to drive a 2019 Corolla hatchback last week. For decades, European manufacturers have been doing well with the hatchback format and Toyota feels the Corolla hatch will do the same. Throw a mountain of sports gear, building supplies, groceries or whatever in the back because they are easy to load and unload and, in a pinch on that never-ending road trip, even to sleep in.
The Corolla HB is an evolution of the Scion IM and is available with a CVT automatic or, as was the case with my tester, a six-speed manual transmission. These days Toyota sells less than five per cent of their cars with manuals, so I was surprised to have a stick shift model.
With a 2.0-litre non-turbo engine and a base price of $20,980, the Corolla hatchback offers a lot of fun. Add on a $3,000 SE upgrade that includes a host of convenience and connectivity features from a heated steering wheel to wireless smart phone charging and the Corolla hatchback has a lot to offer for the price.
There is little doubt the manual is on the way out, especially in the North American market. Although many of today’s automatics have paddle shifters on the steering wheel I like to take the direct control between the engine and the drive wheels that a clutch pedal provides. Today’s smooth, quick-shifting automatic transmissions, with up to 10 speeds, accelerate faster and do not burn any more fuel than manual gearbox models so its understandable that manual gear shifting is becoming a thing of the past.
My time in the Corolla HB was cut short by a last-minute business trip to Calgary so I didn’t get to shift many gears, the hatchback didn’t hatch much and an afternoon on the winding roads out to Peggy’s Cove got scratched from my to do list.
Driving to the airport, I considered the lion’s share of Corollas sold in North America will be automatics driven by people less interested in dealing with a clutch pedal than connectivity and satellite radio. And lets not forget the subliminal power of a nameplate that personifies simplicity and longevity and a reputation that could be Corolla’s best marketing asset. Nothing like a grass roots thumbs up to sell an automobile.
How many times have I heard ‘Oh they will just go buy a Corolla’?
In the Calgary area, I had to check some drive routes and ordered the lowest priced rental car available. It’s not that I’m a rental miser but sometimes I order the base car just to see what it is, especially when it’s only a day or two rental.
As usual, I didn’t look at the key when the rental agent handed it to me. I simply gripped it in the palm of my hand and walked out to stall 14 and there it was, a 2020 Toyota Corolla. It wasn’t a hatchback and, of course, like all rental cars in Canada, it had an automatic transmission.
The white car for the masses was as new as it could be with only 61 kilometres on the odometer. I felt like I was on a Toyota press launch.
“Here, drive this Corolla HB around Nova Scotia then fly across the country and try a new sedan.”
I put 700 kilometres on the spanking new Corolla. A lot of it was back roads, dirt and dust galore, and I even poked its new face down some 4x4 trails for a few metres. In the land of the pick-up truck, the bug-splattered, grubby white Corolla was holding its own and getting a few bewildered looks on the back roads from folks wearing big hats and tall boots.
Too bad I didn’t have the Corolla HB with the six-speed manual. I’d have shown a few of them in their 4x4 automatic transmission pick-up trucks that the guy in the Corolla can still shift gears.