The 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback has a lot going for it, with a solid value proposition, the versatile cargo space of a hatchback, a plethora of standard safety features and vastly improved driving manners over its predecessor, the Corolla iM. That's all well and good, but what I'm going to focus on in honor of Cars.com's self-declared National Stick Shift Day is the Corolla Hatch's new six-speed manual transmission, which I've tested and am convinced is perhaps the best manual out there for learners.
The six-speed manual in the outgoing Corolla iM was a disaster — sloppy throws, a vague clutch pedal with uneven weight and unclear gates for gears, all of which made it very easy to miss shifts even for someone like me who first learned to drive on a manual. Those issues have all been addressed with the new six-speed manual in the Corolla Hatchback; it feels tighter, and each gear change comes with an added mechanical notchiness, which is a welcome change.
There's also a new concentric slave cylinder made of resin, a first for Toyota. It has a different friction material, which Toyota says makes the engagement range for the clutch larger. The simple way to put this is that the clutch is smoother and has more margin for error on launches — something manual newbies struggle with the most.
Toyota has also included a new feature on manual-equipped models of the Corolla Hatchback across both the SE and XSE trim levels: downshift rev matching, when the "intelligent manual transmission" is activated. This system modifies the engine speed to match the gear you're changing to, which results in smoother downshifts.
The other benefit to this technology is that it doubles as an anti-stall measure. I took the Corolla Hatchback to a flat parking lot to test this out and found that, as long as you aren't actively trying to kill the car, it will pretty much start rolling forward just using the clutch itself. Take your foot off slowly and you can hear the engine modifying its rpm to fight alongside you. With some dexterity, the car will roll forward at around 5 mph without touching the gas, and once it starts rolling, you don't even need to hit the gas as long as the ground stays flat.
With the iMT button activated (shown by a small indicator in the instrument panel), the car will also increase engine torque when it detects you letting up on the clutch too fast in order to help smooth out the car's starts. For beginners, I'd recommend leaving this setting on all the time; it's activated with a small button in front of the gearshift.
Learning to drive stick really boils down to learning how to start the car from a stop, and the 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback does enough hand-holding through that process to make it very beginner-friendly. So, for those who are looking to learn (or those who are teaching, frankly), the Corolla Hatchback is the car for the job.
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