CarCostCanada

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate Road Test

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
For 2019, Hyundai changed the trim names for the Accent, this version now dubbed Ultimate for top-of-the-line.

If you look at the 20182020 Hyundai Accent, you’ll be hard pressed to see any changes at all. The fifth-generation entry-level subcompact model arrived in sedan and hatchback form during calendar year 2017, and since then only had its trim levels changed from L, LE, GL and GLS to Essential, Preferred and Ultimate for the 2019 model year, and lost its four-door body style for 2020 (in Canada, the U.S. kept the sedan and dropped the hatchback).

Actually, there’s a lot more to the 2020 Accent than meets the eye, particularly a redesigned engine and all-new optional continuously variable transmission (CVT) for those wanting an automatic, replacing the 2019’s conventional six-speed auto. Another change is the elimination of the six-speed manual gearbox from top-line Ultimate trim, this version of the car only available with the CVT for 2020.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
Hyundai gave the Accent some seriously sporty styling for an entry-level model.

By the way, Hyundai isn’t the only automaker to kill off its subcompact sedan in Canada. Toyota dropped its Mazda-built Yaris Sedan for the 2020 model year too, while Nissan said so long to its Versa Note and won’t be offering the redesigned Versa sedan (that’s available south of the border) in our jurisdiction. Ford also discontinued its Fiesta four- and five-door variants after the 2019 model year, while Chevy dropped its Sonic the year before that, all of which leaves Kia and its Rio as the only choice for sedan buyers in the subcompact class.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
LED headlights, chrome-trimmed fog lamps, and 17-inch alloy wheels are standard in Ultimate trim.

The 2020 Accent’s new 1.6-litre Smartstream engine replaces a very dependable four-cylinder of the same displacement, with the new one optimized for fuel economy over performance. The 2020 mill has actually lost 12 horsepower and 6 lb-ft of torque for a rating of 120 horsepower and 113 lb-ft compared to 132 horsepower and 119 lb-ft of torque in the 2019 car I last tested. In a car so small and light, this should make a significant difference, but it’s possible Hyundai has worked magic in the car’s manual and new CVT transmissions, so I’ll have to test the new one to know for sure.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
The Accent Ultimate’s red-on-black interior really pulls eyeballs.

On the positive the new 2020 Accent is rated at 7.8 L/100km city, 6.1 highway and 7.0 combined with its standard six-speed manual, or 7.3, 6.0 and 6.7 respectively with the more efficient CVT. The outgoing 2019 Accent’s claimed rating of 8.2 L/100km in the city, 6.3 on the highway and 7.3 combined for both the manual and auto makes it easy to see Hyundai’s reason for change. In this class their choice of fuel economy over performance makes a lot of sense, being that most buyers are choosing Hyundai’s least expensive model in order to save money. After all, those who want a performance car can opt for the new Elantra N or one of the even sportier Veloster trims.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
The nicely organized cockpit provides good comfort and great control.

Then again, the 2019 Accent 5-Door Ultimate I tested is really fun when powering away from stoplights, and it has no difficulty passing long semi-trailers on a two-lane highway. The six-speed manual is a joy to flick through its notchy double-H pattern, the clutch take-up is near effortless to engage and well sorted, making it as good for those wanting to learn how to drive manual as it is for seasoned pros, while the Ultimate model’s four-wheel disc brakes are strong (the two lesser trims get rear drums), and the 17-inch alloys make a difference when pushing it hard through tight corners. I’m not going to pretend this is some sort of hot hatch, but the Accent can hold its own through a set of fast-paced S-turns, while it’s very good on the open highway thanks to a fairly long wheelbase. I had no problem cruising in this car for the better part of a day, whether running errands around town or out on the freeway. After a weeklong test I found it comfortable and more than just capable, it was downright fun to drive.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
The gauge cluster is simple yet effective.

I know it’s more popular to opt for crossover SUVs than regular cars these days, but those looking to save a couple thousand might want to fall in love with something like this low-slung hatchback instead of its more rugged looking alternative. Yes, Hyundai’s new Venue is tempting at just over $17k, but you can get into an Accent for under $15k and you’ll be getting a larger, more accommodating car with better performance or fuel economy (depending on the year).

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
The two top trims include a 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen, while the Ultimate gets automatic climate control.

Put the two side-by-side and some will be forced to admit the sportier looking Accent has the edge on the Venue when it comes to styling too, but that will come down to personal taste, of course. The 2018 redesign did a lot to improve the Accent’s cool factor, thanks to big, bold grille and plenty of classy chrome elements to on this Ultimate model. The metal brightwork is most noticeable on the front fascia around the fog lights, also exclusive to this trim, while the side window mouldings and exterior door handles are chromed too. A set of LED headlights with LED signature accents also improve the look and functionality of this top-tier model, as does the set of LED turn signals infused into the side mirror caps, while its 17-inch multi-spoke alloys add class as well as some sporty character to the overall design.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
The Accent’s large centre display features a big rearview camera with active guidelines.

As mentioned a moment ago, the 2020 Accent Essential can be had for a mere $14,949 (plus freight and fees), which a lot less expensive than last year’s base price of $17,349. As it was (and still is, being that 2019 models were available at the time of writing), the 2019 Accent came standard with a Comfort Package that’s now extra. The 2020 Essential with Comfort Package starts at $17,699, while the price for the Accent’s second-tier Preferred trim line has jumped up from $17,549 in 2019 to $17,899 in 2020, and the as-tested Ultimate has increased its entry price by $1,250, from $20,049 to $21,649, but remember that it now comes standard with the CVT. Willing to take a guess what the upgrade from six-speed manual to six-speed automatic is in a 2019 Accent? Yup, $1,250.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
The Accent’s six-speed manual is a treat, but if you want it in top-line Ultimate trim you’d better opt for the more powerful 2019 model.

Important to note, Hyundai Canada is offering factory leasing and financing rates from zero percent on all 2019 Accent models, or up to $750 in additional incentives for 2020 Accents. To learn more, check out our 2020 Hyundai Accent Canada Prices and 2019 Hyundai Accent Canada Prices pages, where you can find out about available manufacturer rebates, manufacturer financing/leasing rates, and best of all, dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. We’ve even got a free CarCostCanada mobile app to make your shopping experience easier and less costly, so be sure to find out how our intelligent car shopping system can work for you when purchasing your next vehicle.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
Sporty looking front seats are impressive for the Accent’s entry-level class.

This is the largest Accent ever, by the way, which translates into a roomier, more accommodating car than most will expect in this class, particularly when it comes to interior width. The Accent’s seats provide a lot of adjustability, as long as you’re not hoping to adjust the driver’s lumbar support as there’s no way to do so, and while I would have like more pressure at my lower back, as well as deeper side bolsters, the Accent is a one-seat-fits-all compromise and therefore not capable of matching everyone’s body type perfectly. The rest of the seat’s adjustments were good, mind you, while the tilt and telescopic steering wheel’s reach was very good, enough so that my long-legged, short-torso body had no problem getting both comfortable and in control, which isn’t always the case in this class and some others.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
A powered moonroof comes standard in Ultimate trim.

The rear seating area is spacious and comfortable as well, although those that want a centre rear armrest will need to look elsewhere. The seatbacks fold 60/40, however, expanding the already sizeable cargo area when needing to haul longer items. When lowered, the seatbacks sit about four inches above the load floor, so it’s not flat, but I was glad Hyundai chose to maximize available space instead of making it all level. A small spare tire and some tools are stowed underneath, and a hard-shell cargo cover rests above, all expected in this class.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
Rear seat roominess is good for the subcompact segment.

Less normal in this entry-level segment is the Accent Ultimate’s impressive cabin decor, not to mention its bevy of features. Access by proximity keyless entry ahead of starting the engine via button was a nice touch, while the interior is further spiced up with a two-tone red and black colour scheme. Hyundai doesn’t finish any cabin surfaces with soft-touch plastics, but all armrests are padded leatherette, and sharp looking seats are plenty soft of course, these finished with red leatherette bolsters, red stitching and some cool hexagonal embroidery on their cloth seatbacks. The red theme continues over to the door panel inserts, more red thread on the leatherette shifter boot, plus more on the inside rim of the leather-wrapped steering wheel.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
The Accent Hatchback’s dedicated cargo area is very generous.

The steering wheel is really nice, incidentally, while its spokes come filled with extremely high-quality switchgear, the toggles on the left adjusting the audio system and surrounding buttons for audio mode control, voice activation, and phone use, while the ones on the right are for scrolling through the monochromatic multi-information display and the Accent’s cruise control system.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
The rear seats fold in the usual 60/40 configuration.

The instruments in front of the driver are simple and straight-forward, with bright backlit dials on either side of the just-mentioned multi-information display. More impressive is the bright, colourful and well-endowed 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen on the centre stack, which includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, Bluetooth audio and phone streaming, regular audio functions, the latter including satellite radio, a large backup camera with moving guidelines, and more.

A single-zone automatic climate control system can be adjusted just below, which includes large dials for easy use while wearing winter gloves, while under that is a row of buttons for the three-way heatable front seats and even one for the heated steering wheel rim. Where the centre stack meets the lower console is a big tray for holding your smartphone, plus USB-A and auxiliary connections.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
Say goodbye to the 2019 Accent’s more powerful engine, and hello to the 2020’s model’s more efficient replacement.

The top-line Accent Ultimate also includes a powered moonroof and forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, by the way, while equipment pulled up from lesser trims include the tilt-and-telescopic steering column (the base model only gets a tilting wheel), cruise control, front seat heaters and the larger 7.0-inch centre touchscreen (instead of the 5.0-inch one on the base model) mentioned already, as well as automatic on/off headlights, six-speaker audio (an improvement over four speakers found in the base model), keyless access, and a USB-A charging port in the rear seating area from Preferred trim; the automatic transmission and Bluetooth noted before, plus power-adjustable and heatable side mirrors, air conditioning and powered windows from the Essential Comfort package; and finally variable intermittent front windshield wipers, a manually adjustable six-way driver’s seat, a manually adjustable four-way front passenger’s seat, and power door locks from the base Essential model.

There’s a lot to like about today’s Accent, especially when factoring in value. Add in a five-year, 100,000 km comprehensive warranty and it all starts making sense. If you’re not wholly sold on a new subcompact SUV like Hyundai’s Venue or Kona, I recommend you take a closer look at the Accent, and when you do, don’t forget to choose a 2019 model for performance or 2020 to save more on fuel.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo editing: Karen Tuggay

CarCostCanada

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door Road Test

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
Despite being three years into this current fifth-generation, the Impreza still looks very good.

Canada’s compact car class is amazingly competitive, but due to regularly enhancing its exterior design, massive improvements in cabin refinement, major gains made to its infotainment systems, and never-ending faith in its unique horizontally-opposed powertrain that connects through to standard all-wheel drive, Subaru has kept its Impreza wholly relevant at a time when competitors are cancelling their small cars.

News of discontinued models never goes over well with auto enthusiasts, even if the car in question is a rather mundane econobox. After all, the same marketplace sentiment that caused General Motors to axe the Chevrolet Cruze and its Volt EV counterpart is also responsible for the elimination of the Ford Focus along with its two sportiest trim lines, not to mention the once fun-to-drive Alfa Romeo-based Dodge Dart a few of years back. And these four are merely in the compact class; with many others falling by the wayside in the subcompact and full-size passenger car segments as well, all making way for new crossover SUVs and electric vehicles.

Subaru produces a full sleight of crossovers, its best-selling model being the Crosstrek that’s based on the Impreza 5-Door in this review. I happen to like that innovative little CUV very much, but I’m also a fan of compact wagons, which is pretty well what the Impreza 5-Door is.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
The 5-Door is the sportiest of the two body styles.

We can call it a hatchback or maybe a liftback to make it seem sportier, but in reality the Impreza 5-Door is a compact wagon. Without doubt someone in Subaru Canada’s marketing division would rather I didn’t call it that, but they should also be aware enough to know this Japanese brand has a faithful following of wagon lovers. The Outback is little more than a lifted Legacy Wagon after all, the five-door Legacy unfortunately no longer available in our market.

The Impreza’s styling was improved with its most recent redesign in 2016, and it truly looks more upscale, even in its less expensive trim lines. This Sport model get fog lights and LED-enhanced headlamps even though it’s merely a mid-range trim, not to mention extended side sills, a discreet rear rooftop spoiler, and stylish LED tail lamps, while machine-finish double-Y-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels with black-painted pockets underpin the sophisticated look.

Subaru produces the Impreza in two body styles, the second being a 4-Door sedan, but this 5-Door is the more popular option in the Canadian market. Both look good and serve their purpose well, and by that I don’t just mean the satisfaction of personal tastes, as the four-door provides the security of being able to lock valuables away in a trunk, and the five-door has more room for loading cargo. The sedan’s trunk can only carry 348 litres of gear, which while not all that bad for a compact sedan is nowhere near as accommodating as a hatchback. Case in point, the Impreza 5-Door’s 588 litres of cargo carrying capacity behind the second row of seats makes it much more useful, and that usefulness only gets better when dropping its 60/40-split rear seatbacks down to open up 1,565 litres of available space.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
The sport gets fog lamps and 17-inch alloy wheels.

The model tested for this review was a 2019, and yes I’m quite aware that the 2020 Impreza is already available, and therefore this review won’t be helpful for very long. Still, consumers willing to opt for a 2019 Impreza can save up to $2,500 in additional incentives (at the time of writing), as seen right here on our 2019 Subaru Impreza Canada Prices page, while folks wanting the updated 2020 Impreza can only access up to $750 in additional incentives, unless of course they become CarCostCanada members and take advantage of dealer invoice pricing that can save them thousands.

For 2020, Subaru is making its EyeSight suite of advanced driver assistance systems standard with Imprezas featuring automatic transmissions, but take note that EyeSight is only available with this Sport trim and the top-line Sport-tech model for 2019. The car tested didn’t include the advanced features, which means that it was missing pre-collision braking, pre-collision brake assist, pre-collision throttle management, lane departure warning, lane sway warning, lane keep assist, lead vehicle start alert, and adaptive cruise control. Subaru is making its Starlink connected services package available for 2020 too, and it’s included with most Impreza trims, while the new model’s styling has been updated on 4- and 5-Door body styles.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
Cabin quality and design is really impressive.

Nothing changes with respect to trim lines from 2019 to 2020, with the Impreza’s four trims remaining Convenience, Touring, Sport and Sport-tech. Model year 2019 4-Door pricing ranges from $19,995 to $30,195, whereas the 5-Door can be had from $20,895 to $31,095. The Impreza’s base price stays the same for 2020, but some pricing in between increases, with the new 5-Door adding $100 to its new $20,995 base price, and the top-line Sport-tech trim costing $30,795 for the 4-Door and $31,695 for the 5-Door.

The 2019 Impreza Sport 5-Door being reviewed here has a retail price of $25,395, but take note the new 2020 version will increase its price to $26,195. Like its two lesser siblings the Sport can be had with a five-speed manual transmission or an available Lineartronic CVT (continuously variable transmission) with standard steering wheel shift paddles, the latter how Subaru upgraded my test car. As usual, the brand’s Symmetrical AWD is standard equipment, which not only makes the Impreza the only car to feature standard AWD in the compact segment, but also one of the only vehicles in this class with available AWD period.

To clarify, Mazda recently showed up with AWD for its compact 3, while the latest Toyota Prius now can be had with an electrified e-AWD setup. VW will offer its Golf Alltrack crossover wagon until it sells out (sadly it’s been discontinued), but to be fair it’s more of a Crosstrek challenger as it is, while the brand’s Golf R competes directly with the Subaru WRX STI.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
The dash gets a very impressive contrast stitched leatherette facing.

Volkswagen in mind, am I the only one to find it odd that this relatively small Japanese automaker has managed to keep the German brand’s horizontally opposed engine design relevant for all of these decades? Subaru has long made the boxer configuration its own, now sharing it only with Porsche and, occasionally, Ferrari, with its newest 2.0-litre, DOHC, 16-valve four producing a dependable 152 horsepower and 145 lb-ft of torque by means of direct injection, dual active valve control, and electronic throttle control. This is considerably more engine output than most rivals’ base engines, with in fact just three competitors make more power, and then not much more, plus just four putting out greater torque.

On the road, the Impreza performs strongly in a straight line, from a standing start all the way up to highway speeds. Its torquey engine works really well with the CVT that provides particularly smooth, linear power, while the paddle shifters are helpful when downshifting mid-corner. Still, the engine and transmission combination worked best when left on its own. Also smooth, Impreza’s ride is excellent, while its capability through the curves is typical of its fully independent front strut and rear double wishbone suspension layout, improved with stabilizer bars at each end.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
This simple gauge cluster is easy to read under any light.

The Impreza therefore offers up a more sophisticated suspension setup than a number of its peers that incorporate less expensive torsion bar designs in back, and this is truly noticeable when driving it hard through fast-paced corners on less than ideal stretches of pavement. Instead of experiencing the rear end hopping over the uneven tarmac, my tester’s 205/50R17 all-seasons remained planted on course, the little wagon making its rally race-bred heritage apparent through each and every turn.

This was when I looked down at my tester’s centre console and longed for the standard five-speed manual gearbox, as it would have been more fun to drive and likely quicker as well, but as it was the paddle shifters worked well when more revs were required, even though they come hooked up to a CVT. It worked well enough, actually, that I’d even consider choosing the CVT if this one was staying in my personal collection, not only because it’d make city driving easier, but also because the automatic is better on fuel, with an estimated rating of just 8.3 L/100km in the city, 6.4 on the highway and 7.5 combined, compared to 10.1 city, 7.5 highway and 8.9 combined for the manual.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
The multi-information display atop the dash comes loaded with features.

While a great car to drive, the Impreza is wonderfully comfortable too, and not only because of its smooth ride. The front seats provide very good adjustability, but oddly the driver’s seat doesn’t have any lumbar adjustment in Sport trim. The seat is inherently supportive, thankfully, and due to plenty of reach from the tilt and telescoping steering column it was easy for me to get myself into an ideal driving position for good control of the leather-clad steering wheel and metal sport pedals. The steering wheel’s rim is shaped perfectly for a comfortable feel, while all the switchgear needed to control its audio, phone, cruise, and trip/multi-information display systems are on its spokes.

Unlike the majority of challengers, the Impreza’s mostly analogue instrument cluster simply divides its primary dials with a coloured TFT display for speed, gear selection, real-time fuel economy, the fuel level, plus the odometer and trip mileage readouts. Alternatively, Subaru houses the full multi-information display in a hooded 4.2-inch colour monitor on top of the centre dash. It incorporates a lot of information, with its top half-inch portion showing a digital clock, interior temperature reading, climate control settings, and the outside temperature, while the larger lower section can be organized as per a driver’s preference, with the options being audio system info, real-time fuel economy and projected range, all-wheel drive power distribution, a row of three digital gauges including water temperature, oil temperature and average speed, plus more.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
The larger 8.0-inch touchscreen is superb.

The multi-information display’s quality of graphics and display resolution has made big gains this generation, but Subaru’s most impressive upgrades in recent years have been made to over in-car infotainment, specifically the main touchscreen on the centre stack, plus and host of functions. Choosing Sport trim means the centre display increases in size from 6.3 to 8.0 inches, while it’s also an ultra high-quality touchscreen with clear definition, beautifully vibrant colours, and wonderfully rich contrasts. Subaru’s tile design is attractive, with big colourful “buttons” overtop a starry blue background that-style graphic layout looks good and is really easy to operate, with its main features being radio, media, phone, apps, settings, and the automaker’s Starlink suite of apps. Navigation isn’t part of Sport trim, but Android Auto and Apple CarPlay is, and by integrating your smartphone can provide route guidance. The apps panel features Aha and iHeartRadio, plus two USB ports and an auxiliary plug provide smartphone connectivity. The reverse camera is good too, benefiting from active guidelines.

All heating, ventilation and air conditioning controls are located on a dedicated interface just under the centre display, while single-zone automatic climate control comes standard with Sport. It operates via three dials and two buttons, but don’t look there for the two-way seat heaters that get controlled via a pair of rocker switches on the lower console. This said, even in their hottest settings they don’t feel anywhere near therapeutic.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
These sport seats are truly supportive.

Subaru doesn’t provide a heatable steering wheel rim in Sport trim, which was a disappointment, but not as disappointing as not being able to get rear seat heaters in any trim at all. This is unusual for a car that would make an excellent family ski conveyance during the coldest season, but just the same the Impreza Sport 5-Door’s rear quarters were nicely furnished, although strangely without secondary air vents.

It’s plenty spacious in the rear passenger compartment, however, with about eight inches of room ahead of my knees when I sat behind the driver’s position that was set up for my five-foot-eight, short-torso, long-legged body type. I also had plenty of space to stretch my legs out with my feet below the front seat, while there was ample side-to-side either room along with a nice wide folding centre armrest with the usual two cupholders integrated within. Finally, I had approximately three inches of air space over my head, making the back seat a viable option for six-footers. The rear window seats also provide good lower back support, which I suppose makes it easier to look past the rear quarter’s lack of amenities.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
The rear seating area is very spacious and the outboard seats are comfortable.

Speaking of the seats, my Sport trim tester’s cloth upholstery is mighty attractive, made up of a sharp looking patterned insert flanked by grey bolsters featuring contrast stitching. I have to say, every Impreza generation makes major strides in cabin refinement, with this most recent fifth-gen model a much more inviting place for driver and passengers with respect to materials quality and overall styling. One look at the contrast-stitched, leather-like pliable composite dash top and you’ll be impressed, this easily as good as this compact segment gets. The high-end surface treatment even flows down the right side of the centre stack and gets duplicated on the left section as well. It’s stunning.

The door uppers get a similarly soft synthetic covering whereas the armrests felt like real stitched leather. Subaru spruces things up further by adding carbon-fibre-like inlays, satin-silver/grey accents, chrome embellishment and more, while the interior buttons, knobs and switches are fitted tightly throughout the interior.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
There’s no shortage of space in the 5-Door’s cargo compartment.

I’ve already spoken about the cargo compartment’s impressive capacity, with its average amount of space behind the rear seats and better-the-average volume when they’re flattened, but I wish Subaru had included a 40/20/40-split instead of the 60/40 divide, or at least a centre pass-through. I know owners in this class are used to squishing their rear passengers into the 60-percent portion when loading longer items like skis in back, but there’s a much more elegant way that Subaru should adopt in order to further differentiate itself from most compact rivals. The Impreza does include a retractable cargo cover for hiding valuables, and it’s housed within a well-made, good looking aluminum cross-member that’s easy to remove.

All in all, I could see myself owning an Impreza 5-Door at some point, if I ever choose to give up this career and am forced to purchase a new car. It’s an ideal size for me, provides enjoyable performance and agreeable comfort combined with good fuel economy, is rated highly from a reliability standpoint, and is much more refined than many in this class. I like that its infotainment system is now in the top 10-percent of this segment, and even though I would have appreciated some additional features in my Sport test model, I drove a top-tier Sport-tech version couple of years ago and found it even more appealing than this model. All things said, the Impreza is a car you should consider seriously.

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Karen Tuggay

CarCostCanada

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback CVT XSE Road Test

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback CVT XSE
The new Toyota Corolla Hatchback looks fabulous, especially in top-tier XSE trim. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

If you remember the Scion brand and its superb little iM compact hatch, which was transformed into the Corolla iM when the youth-oriented brand was unceremoniously discontinued a few years back, the new Corolla Hatchback is a direct descendant of both, and therefore should be high on the shopping lists of those who like practical, fun-to-drive, well-made five-door compacts.

For a bit of background, the 2016–2018 iM was much more refined than most of its competitors, mostly because it was in fact a renamed second-generation Toyota Auris from Europe, where the majority of automakers finish their compact cars nicer than the versions we can purchase here. On the other side of the globe in Australasian markets, this five-door Toyota had long been given the Corolla Hatchback name, so it made perfect sense to drop the iM moniker in place of a simpler, more familiar nameplate when this all-new hatch arrived here for the 2019 model year.

Although not as popular as its four-door sibling, the Corolla Hatchback’s well-proportioned face, including eye-catching standard LED headlamps, should be familiar now that the 2020 Corolla sedan is proliferating like its predecessor. I like both cars’ new look, but the sportier Hatchback gets a slightly more assertive nod of approval from yours truly, mostly due to my personal penchant for five-door compacts.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback CVT XSE
XSE trim spiffs up the rear styling of the Corolla Hatchback too. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Interestingly, I’d take Honda’s Civic sedan over the same trim in the hatchback model any day of the week, because the Corolla’s arch-nemesis arguably looks good as the former and awkward as the latter, but most would probably agree that Toyota currently has the styling lead for all body styles in the compact segment.

While the Corolla has no shortage of razor sharp angles its overall shape is more organic, causing me to claim it’ll probably hold up better over the test of time. I’ll also hazard to guess the Corolla’s styling plays heavily into its impressive resale value, the Hatchback’s second-place ranking in the 2019 Canadian Black Book’s Best Retained Value Awards only improved upon in its compact car category by Toyota’s own Prius hybrid. Then again, this superb result should also be attributed to this car’s excellent value proposition, Vincentric also honouring the model with its 2019 Best Value In Canada Award in the Compact Hatchback class.

Model 2019 Corolla Hatchback pricing starts at only $20,980 plus freight and fees, which makes the new car $1,770 less expensive than its 2018 Corolla iM predecessor, and trust me that this latest version is almost wholly better. Its standard auto on/off headlights are full LEDs compared to halogen projector lamps in the old car, while the old iM’s remote access has been upgraded with standard proximity keyless entry plus pushbutton start/stop in the Corolla Hatchback, this convenient feature not even on the menu before. Additionally, the outgoing car’s old-school handbrake lever was replaced with an electromechanical parking brake.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback CVT XSE
The LED headlights come standard, but the 18-inch alloy wheels are now optional. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

What’s more, the compact five-door’s advanced driver assistance systems have been enhanced from just providing auto-dimming high beam headlamps, automatic emergency braking, and lane departure warning to now boasting front pedestrian and bicycle detection, lane and road departure steering mitigation, as well as adaptive cruise control.

Features such as LED daytime running lights, LED turn signals integrated within the side mirror housings, LED taillights, a rear spoiler, cloth-wrapped A-pillars (another sign the iM/Corolla Hatchback came from Europe), glossy black and metal-like interior accents, a tilt and telescoping multifunction steering wheel, a 4.2-inch colour TFT multi-information display, variable intermittent wipers, an intermittent rear wiper, power windows with auto up/down all-round, and fabric sport seats continue forward.

Having touchscreen infotainment on top of the centre stack is retained as well, with a reverse camera, Bluetooth connectivity with phone and audio streaming, voice activation, plus a six-speaker AM/FM/USB/AUX audio system, but the all-new 8.0-inch display is an inch larger and integrates Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Toyota’s proprietary Entune smartphone integration, which includes Entune App Suite Connect incorporating traffic, weather, sports, stocks, a fuel station locator, Slacker, Yelp, and NPR One, completely modernizing the new Corolla Hatchback.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback CVT XSE
It would’ve been difficult to improve on the Corolla iM’s quality, but the new Corolla Hatchback’s feature are now more up-to-date. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

On the contrary, the previous iM’s standard 17-inch alloy rims have been replaced with a comparatively lacklustre set of 15-inch steel wheels with full covers in base trim, while its leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob are now urethane, two-zone auto climate control now single-zone (but still automatic), heatable front seats now optional, and the list goes on and on. All of these downgrades remind us that Scion was a single-trim, no options (just accessories) brand, meaning its cars were always well equipped in their “base” trims, but their starting prices weren’t always the most affordable in their segments, and prospective buyers couldn’t add fancier features like factory wheels, fog lights, a nicer gauge cluster, embedded navigation, leather upholstery, and more.

The new Corolla Hatchback has no such problems, which can easily be seen by eyeing up its front fog lights and sharp looking machine finished 18-inch alloys. These are standard in my test car’s top-tier XSE trim, but ahead of delving into all its details I should give you a breakdown of the 2019 Corolla Hatchback’s lesser trim packages.

If a rev-matching six-speed manual isn’t on your priority list, just add a modest $1,000 to the bottom line for Toyota’s impressive Direct-Shift continuously variable transmission (CVT) boasting sequential shift mode, while this upgrade also includes full-speed adaptive cruise control and lane tracing assist at no additional charge. 

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback CVT XSE
The new dash design is stunning, and overall ergonomics excellent. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

No matter the transmission, Toyota offers three Corolla Hatchback packages above the base car, including the $1,600 SE, $3,000 SE Upgrade, and $6,000 XSE, all of which can be verified right here at CarCostCanada, where you can also find the latest rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands (CarCostCanada was also showing factory leasing and financing rates from 0.49 percent at the time of writing).

The SE, that increases the Corolla Hatchback’s price to $22,580 for the manual or $23,160 with the CVT, adds 16-inch alloys, some chrome trim on the rear bumper, a leather-clad steering wheel rim, a powered driver’s seat with two-way power lumbar support, heated front seats, a theft deterrent system, and steering wheel-mounted shift paddle with the CVT, while the SE Upgrade package, which pushes the price up to $23,980 for the manual or $24,160 with the CVT, includes heat for the steering wheel rim, plus a wireless device charger, blind spot monitoring, and the aforementioned 18-inch alloy wheels.

Top-line XSE trim starts at $26,980 for the manual and $27,980 with the CVT, includes those LED fog lamps noted earlier, a much larger 7.0-inch TFT digital driver’s display, Sport fabric upholstery with leatherette trim, the dual-zone auto climate control system, Entune 3.0 Premium Audio that includes embedded navigation (with map updates for three years), traffic and weather info, Entune Destination Assist (with a six-month subscription), satellite radio, and Entune Safety Connect with automatic collision notification, a stolen vehicle locator, an emergency assistance (SOS) button, and enhanced roadside assistance.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback CVT XSE
How are these gauges for bright and easily legible? Thought so. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

A shortlist of dealer-added accessories worthy of your attention include a $650 dash camera, a $155 cargo liner, an $80 cargo net, and $250 doorsill plates, while you can dress up the Corolla Hatchback’s exterior a super sporty extended rear rooftop spoiler for $535.

The Corolla Hatchback is as good looking and well constructed inside as outside, with no shortage of soft, pliable composites covering the dash, the inside section of the lower console, the front door uppers, plus the side and centre armrests. The mostly dark grey interior gets stylish light grey contrast stitching highlights in all the right places, while the sport seats noted earlier receive identical coloured contrasting thread as well as special medium grey cloth inserts. The two-tone seats’ two-temperature heaters warm quickly, and can be set to do so automatically every time the car is restarted, as can the heated steering wheel rim that made my Corolla Hatchback tester a lot more enjoyable to live with.

Unfortunately Toyota doesn’t add the light-grey contrast stitching to that steering wheel rim, but its thick leather wrapping is ideally shaped for performance driving, and therefore feels good in the palms and fingers whether hot or cold, while the telescopic steering column offers ample reach, allowing me to position the driver’s seat perfectly for my long-legged, short torso body, which wasn’t possible with the iM. Keeping comfortable and supported, the Hatchback’s two-way powered lumbar found the small of my back reasonably well, although it would’ve been even better if slightly lower. Obviously taller fellas will disagree, but such is the challenge with two-way lumbar support.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback CVT XSE
The centre stack is well laid out and filled with optimal features. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

With the steering wheel and seat set exactly as required, the bright primary gauge cluster is easy to see. It gets the usual assortment of dials, including a tachometer, speedometer, fuel and temperature meters, the first formed from a semicircle at the very left, the second arcing over the largest middle display, and the latter two combining into another semicircle at the right. The digital speedometer wraps around a multi-info display, complete with trip, fuel economy, cruise info and more, all prompted by a well-organized set of high-quality steering wheel switchgear.

The new infotainment touchscreen is fixed upright above the centre stack like so many others these days, and includes a row of analogue buttons down the sides, plus a power/volume and tune/scroll knob at the base of each. The display responds to tap, swipe and pinch gestures quickly, this particularly useful for the navigation map that’s otherwise beautifully clear and easy to read, this because of a high-resolution screen that also aids the rearview camera’s clarity. The system’s colours are nice and contrast good, but the graphics are more functional than artistic.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback CVT XSE
Rear visibility is better than ever thanks to this big 8-inch display. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

If you’ll grant me some creative license, I’d say the Corolla Hatchback’s wonderfully agile suspension borders on artistry, or at least makes a decent driver feel like an artist. Unlike some in the compact class, including the old Corolla sedan, the new Corolla Hatchback (and new 2020 sedan) incorporates a fully independent suspension with a multi-link setup in the rear, this also true of the Corolla iM. The independent rear suspension (IRS) is part of the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform architecture that underpins both new Corollas, making them two of the more engaging performers in the category. Also important to handling and safety, the TNGA platform’s torsional rigidity is 60-percent stiffer. This added rigidity is immediately noticeable on a twisting road, the increased structural strength allowing Toyota’s engineers to dial in more suspension compliance resulting in better adherence to the road over imperfect pavement, plus much improved ride quality even with its larger 225/40R18 Bridgestone tires.

While I never complained about the previously Corolla iM’s 16-valve, DOHC, 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine, as its free-revving 137 horsepower and 126 lb-ft of torque was ample for my needs and met my expectations in this class, the new Corolla Hatchback has made big gains in straight-line performance. Output is up by 31 horsepower and 25 lb-ft of torque to 168 horsepower and 151 foot pounds, and the direct-injection 2.0-litre mill is still plenty of fun to wind out. It’s easily enough power to offset the new Hatchback’s 1,388-kilogram (3,060-lb) curb weight, which is 118 kilos (260 lbs) more than the iM.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback CVT XSE
Seating comfort is very good. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I had good things to say about the iM’s six-speed manual when first driving it, so I imagine Toyota has done a good job with the base transmission in the Corolla Hatchback too, while I was impressed with the old model’s CVT-S automatic, the “S” implying Sport, and for the most part living up to it. This said the new Corolla Hatchback’s Direct-Shift CVT is downright amazing, with truly fast, snappy shifts when set to Sport mode. It features 10 pseudo gear ratios that feel much more realistic than any CVT previously tested, and those aforementioned paddles are truly worth flicking (unlike with most other CVTs), while it’s ultra-smooth when allowed to do its own thing, and improves fuel economy too.

Even though it puts out more power and moves a car that weighs more, the new Corolla Hatchback delivers better fuel economy than the old iM, with a claimed 7.5 L/100km in the city, 5.8 on the highway and 6.7 combined compared to 8.3 city, 6.5 highway and 7.5 combined. The new Toyota’s manual gearbox is easier on the budget too, with a rating of 8.4 L/100km city, 6.3 highway and 7.5 combined compared to 8.8, 6.8 and 7.9 respectively.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback CVT XSE
Rear seating room is down a bit compared to the old iM, but should be good enough for most body types. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

So I mentioned the Corolla Hatchback is heavier than the iM, right? That’s at least partially due to being larger in almost every outward dimension, the Corolla Hatchback stretching 100 millimetres (3.9 inches) farther from nose to tail than the iM, with a 40-mm (1.6-in) longer wheelbase, and 30 mm (1.2 in) wider, while it’s just 25 mm (1.0 in) lower overall, but strangely its increased footprint doesn’t mean its bigger inside. On the contrary, while the Corolla Hatchback’s front legroom, rear headroom and rear shoulder room were fractionally increased by 7 mm (0.3 in), 2 mm (0.1 in) and 10 mm (0.4 in) apiece, the car’s front headroom is lower by 33 mm (1.3 in), its front shoulder room narrower by 10 mm (0.4 in), and its rear legroom shorter by 71 mm (2.8 in), while cargo area behind the rear seats is a shocking 14-percent less generous, shrinking from 588 litres (20.8 cubic feet) to a mere 504 litres (17.8 cubic feet).

Just the same I found it plenty roomy and wholly comfortable in every outboard position, but consider for a moment that I’m only five-foot-eight, so bigger people might want to thoroughly check out each seat before signing on the dotted line. Like the iM the Corolla Hatchback’s carpeted cargo floor is removable, exposing some added stowage and a compact spare tire underneath, while a 60/40-split divides the rear seatbacks when the need to add more cargo arises. Oddly, Toyota continues to make the Corolla Hatchback’s ultimate cargo capacity unknown, just like it did with the iM.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback CVT XSE
If you’re thinking of moving up from the iM, consider the Corolla Hatchback’s cargo compartment is 14-percent smaller. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

On the positive, the Corolla Hatchback gets the IIHS’ a best-possible “Good” rating in every category except “Crash avoidance & mitigation,” which only shows its headlamps managing “Acceptable” or “Marginal” capability, depending on trim or option, but keep in mind the IIHS is a U.S. agency testing the U.S.-spec Corolla Hatchback, which isn’t necessarily the same as ours in every way. Interestingly, the new Corolla Hatchback gets a rare “G+” rating in the NHTSA’s “LATCH ease of use” category, which means it should be easy for parents to strap in child safety seats, while this U.S. agency also gives the car a five-star safety rating.

How do I rate the 2019 Corolla Hatchback? How about four stars? After all, while it’s a great looking, well-built, nicely outfitted, fun to drive compact car, I was disappointed to find out it’s up in weight and simultaneously down on usable space when compared to its predecessor. It would certainly meet my mostly city driving needs, as my kids are grown and gone and I’m not toting around kayaks or towing dirt bikes anymore. I’m still young enough to have fun behind the wheel, however, and the new Corolla Hatchback is certainly up for that.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann