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Adding a hatchback makes the 2019 Toyota Corolla more practical, and the XSE version looks good, too.

TOYOTA MOTOR SALES - The 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE is the perfect entry-level sporty car. It looks good, is fun to drive, and costs under $26,000, fully loaded.Toyota is making a big deal about the hatchback version of its completely redesigned 2019 Corolla. The company brought a couple to town for automotive journalists to test drive in September, and its representatives talked about how sporty they are. Which they are.

But the funny thing is, Toyota also offered a sporty Corolla hatchback last year, too. It was not a true Corolla, however. Although called the Corolla iM, it started life as the Scion iM before Corolla put its youth-oriented brand out of business. After being sold by Toyota for a couple of years, it has now been discontinued.

Although the iM was not based on the sedan version of the Corolla, it was still a good economy car that was fun to drive, especially when equipped with a manual transmission. It felt light and nimble, although a little underpowered.

TOYOTA MOTOR SALES - The interior of the 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback is well designed and can be ordered with premium materials. The XSE model shown here is equipped with the optional Continuously Variable Transmission.

The good news is, the new Corolla-based Corolla Hatchback that replaces it is much better. The 2019 Corolla Hatchback is larger and more sophisticated, especially the interior, which features a large dash-mounted display screen that is easy to read and operate.

Better yet, it can still be bought with a six-speed manual, which Toyota calls an "Intelligent Manual Transmission." It automotically blips the throttle on downshifts to rev match for smoothness. And the new Continuously Variable Transmission has a distinct first gear that improves performance off the line.

Our test version was a top-of-the line XSE model that comes with special exterior and interior trim, like a tall rear spoiler and leather-appointed front bucket seats. All the pieces make the Corolla Hatchback look faster than it actually is. The standard 2.0-liter only produces 168 horsepower and 151 foot pounds of torque, which is belw such genuine "hot hatches" as the VW Golf GTI.

TOYOTA MOTOR SALES - The rear seats of the 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback are roomy enough for three people, or two when the middle tray and cupholders are down.

But, although it is not turbocharged, the little engine revs freely and was a good match for the manual transmission in our test car. The combination was fully engaging during day-to-day driving, where more power would have been wasted, frankly. That's what we mean when we say the Corolla Hatchback is a "sporty" car — it looks good and is fun to drive, without risking too many speeding tickets. if that's what you want, go ahead and buy a real sports car.

The Toyota Corolla has, of course, been around since the dawn of time, or at least the dawn of Japan's entrance into the U.S. auto market. There have been too many generations to keep track of, and they have all sold well because they offer reilable and economical transportation at a reasonable price. The 2019 version is no exception. The Hatchback starts at under $20,000, and our fully equipped XSE version was still less than $26,000.

All of that makes the 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE the perfect entry-level sporty car.

TOYOTA MOTOR SALES - Additional cargo space is what hatchbacks are all about, and the 2019 Toyota Corolla version has plenty of it, even more with the rea seats folded down.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE

Base price: $19,900

Price as tested: $25,123

Type: Compact hatchback

Engine: 2.0-liter inline 4 (168 hp, 151 lb-ft)

Transmission: 6-speed manual (as tested); Continuously Variable with manual shift mode

EPA estimated mileage: 28/37 (as tested)

Overall length: 169.9 inches

Curb weight: 3,100 pounds

Final assembly: Blue Springs, Mississippi

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