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Road Test: 2021 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE 6 M/T

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by Kivi

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11.10.2020


Sporty Hatchback, Made Even Sportier with Six-Speed Manual

Hatchbacks with a six-speed manual transmission are getting rarer all the time. Which is a shame. So a big shout-out as the 2021 Toyota Corolla Hatchback does not disappoint, delivering a fun and nimble driving experience.

2021 Toyota Corolla Hatchback 6 M/T
Now available in a sporty package

Since it was introduced in 1966, not many people’s first thought about the Corolla was that it was an enjoyable small car do drive. Times have changed as will your opinion of the 2021 Corolla Hatchback. The fit and finish, especially the interior, is a step-up from previous versions, making a strong case for the Corolla to be considered as a top value proposition in the compact car category.

The engine and handling performance are respectable, as is the fuel economy. The comfortable ride, sharp styling and standard equipment need to play an important part in your purchase consideration. Considering these, the Corolla stands strong.

The Art of Shifting: Hitting the Open Road

Clean Fleet Report drove thefront-wheel drive 2021 Corolla Hatchback XSE, fitted with a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder non-turbocharged engine putting out 168 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque. Running on unleaded regular, our test car had a six-speed manual transmission with rev matching through the iMT drive mode setting. According to Toyota, the iMT “automatically adjusts engine rotations when changing gears, ensuring smooth gear shifting.” A manual can lead to a bit more aggressive driving, so using the iMT option might improve fuel economy.

2021 Toyota Corolla Hatchback 6 M/T
Delivering fuel economy and some fun

The 6 M/T has short, smooth throws so searching for gears was non-existent, and the clutch had a good mid-pressure setting. While the iMT will automatically rev match, we turned off this feature. Mastering the heel/toe and manual rev matching using the accelerator and clutch, is where a manual transmission becomes fun. Good shifting is not ramming through the gears, but developing feel and finesse. To be smooth takes practice.

The EPA rates fuel economy at 28 mpg city/37 highway/31 combined for the six-speed manual. In 360 miles driving throughout Southern California, we averaged 33.8 mpg. However, in a 100-mile highway run we achieved 40.1 mpg by making sure we shifted into sixth gear as soon as possible, and then just cruised. These respectable numbers demonstrate how a car with a manual transmission can break that magic 40 mpg mark. If you opt for the continuously variable transmission, or CVT, the EPA estimates are up-to four mpg more. So if fuel economy is more your goal than having a third pedal, go with the CVT, which we tested last year. Or, you can go for the Corolla Hybrid, which only comes as a sedan, and bump your fuel economy up into the 50s.

Zero-to-60 times were right around 7.4 seconds, which felt peppy and quasi-sporty for the 3,060-pound hatchback. The engine has a pleasant low roar when pushed hard, but out on the highway all you hear from the engine is…nothing. The 2.0L non-turbo had smooth linear acceleration, which is a benefit of it not being a turbo, where there can be stumbles–that hated turbo lag.

2021 Toyota Corolla Hatchback 6 M/T
Good cornering and good looks

The 2021 Corolla’s electric power-assisted steering was not programmed to be too light, providing good feel around town, particularly when parking. As speeds increase the steering becomes heavier, delivering more responsive turns of the wheel and good road feedback communication to the driver. Turning the Corolla hard into a tight corner results in a bit of manageable understeer, but overall the car remains flat. The Yokohama Avid GT 225/40R tires, on 18-inch machined alloy wheels, and the Active Cornering Assist were up to the task of keeping the Corolla Hatchback planted. With this said, the sport-tuned suspension helps make it feel more European than Japanese. If you are looking for true sports cars from Toyota, check-out the very fun 86, or the very, very cool Supra.

Stopping with the Corolla Hatchback was straight with no fading. The power-assisted front ventilated and rear solid disc brakes, assisted by the four-wheel anti-lock system, brake assist, electronic brake-force distribution and smart stop, comprised the braking technology.

One thing of minor note, is the parking brake cannot be released unless the brake pedal is depressed. No big deal, just different.

Driving Experience: Exterior

2021 Toyota Corolla Hatchback 6 M/T
More style than you’d expect

The Corolla sedan and hatchback were all-new for 2019, and that included a complete makeover of the exterior design. Clean Fleet Report’s test car was painted in a deep Magnetic Gray Metallic and sported a black roof. The color cut line is tastefully done on the C pillar.

The three-dimensional, hawk-like LED headlights sit above the gaping grill, with small fog lights tucked nicely on the far outer edges of the fascia. Toyota says the Corolla Hatchback has a “muscular physique accented by chiseled character lines” What we see is a sharp-looking hatchback, nearly devoid of chrome, with some unique design cues. The biggest of which is the high stance of the tail, with what might be one of the largest spoilers on the market. The LED taillights and twin, chrome exhaust tips finish off what is sure to be a popular design for Toyota.

Driving Experience: Interior

The interior also was completely updated in 2019, adding soft materials and accent top stitching to the seats, doors and dash. The simple, cleanly designed interior had both matte and high gloss surfaces, including piano black accents. The 7.0-inch color multi-information display in front of the driver has royal blue digital gauges with white numbers that were easy on the eyes.

2021 Toyota Corolla Hatchback 6 M/T
Simple and clean

Our 2021 Toyota Corolla’s front seats were heated and leather trimmed in black, with stylish lighter gray fabric inserts. The driver seat was power adjustable with lumbar, and comfort was supportive for long trips, with plenty of leg, head and hip room up front. Putting the three adults in the rear seat might work for short jaunts, but it is best for two adults. The back seat really shines when split 60/40 and folded-flat, providing for good storage space. It will not be surprising because of the versatility and nod to an active lifestyle, if most Corolla Hatchback owners keep those rear seats in the down position.

The Toyota audio-plus system, with six speakers, played through the 8.0-inch center-mounted touchscreen. Entertainment was through SiriusXM/FM/AM, with USB media port with iPod connectivity, music streaming via Bluetooth wireless technology, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Clean Fleet Report was pleased to see channel and volume knobs, as well as larger control wheels for the dual zone automatic climate system. The XSE also comes with Wi-Fi and a three-month 2GB trial.

Safety and Convenience

The 2021 Corollacame with the Toyota Star Safety Sense system that included 10 air bags, a tire pressure monitoring system, tire repair kit, smart key with push button start, pre-collision system, lane departure alert, traction control, blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert and a backup camera. The 2021 Corolla Hatchback earned a Five Star front, driver and passenger side crash rating by NHTSA, the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration.

Pricing and Warranties

2021 Toyota Corolla Hatchback 6 M/T
All business from this angle

The 2021 Toyota Corolla Hatchback comes in five grades, or trim lines. These are the base prices for each model, including the $955 delivery fee.

  • SE 6M/T              $21,560
  • SE CVT               $22,660
  • XSE 6M/T           $24,510
  • XSE CVT             $25,610
  • Nightshade CVT   $23,560

Clean Fleet Report’s 2021 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE with the 6 M/T had a base price of $23,415. With $915 in options and the $995 delivery fee, the MSRP came to $25,285.

The 2021 Corolla Hatchback comes with these warranties:

  • Powertrain – Five years/60,000 miles 
  • Basic – Three years/36,000 miles      
  • Corrosion Perforation – Five years/Unlimited miles
  • Toyota Care Complimentary Maintenance – Two years/25,000 miles
  • Roadside Assistance – Two years/25,000 miles

Observations: 2021 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE 6 M/T

Since it was introduced in 1966 not many people have the Corolla’s main trait was that it was an enjoyable small car do drive. Times have changed as will your opinion of the 2021 Corolla Hatchback. The fit and finish, especially the interior, is a step-up from previous versions, making a strong case for the Corolla to be considered as a top value proposition in the compact car category.

2021 Toyota Corolla Hatchback 6 M/T
Long-time player ups its game

The engine and handling performance are respectable, as is the fuel economy. The comfortable ride, sharp styling and standard equipment need to play an important part in your purchase consideration. Considering these, the Corolla stands strong. As noted earlier there are not too many hatchbacks on the market, with the Honda Civic SI, Mazda3 Hatchback and Hyundai Veloster being the strongest competitors to the Corolla Hatchback.

Then there are Euro and Asian plug-in models, which offer a whole different approach to the category.

When at your local Toyota dealer, take the Corolla Hatchback for a lengthy test drive, whether it has a manual or automatic. Find some highway onramps for hard acceleration, and tight corners to judge for yourself if the Corolla Hatchback ticks off enough boxes to be parked in your garage. Toyota hopes you agree, and become one of the 300,000+ new Corolla owners in 2020.

Make sure to opt-in to the Clean Fleet Report newsletter (top right of page) to be notified of all new stories and vehicle reviews.

Whatever you buy, Happy Driving!

Story by John Faulkner. Photos by John Faulkner and Toyota.

[See image gallery at cleanfleetreport.com]

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Disclosure:

Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

The post Road Test: 2021 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE 6 M/T first appeared on Clean Fleet Report.



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