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2021 Toyota Corolla Hatchback

2021 Toyota Corolla Hatchback parked at a dim-lit gas station.

Yeah, it's a manual... Why? Because a stick is fun!

The 2021 Toyota Corolla Hatchback has style, snap, and reasonable room for four. What more can you ask for?

By Doug Stokes

Wed, Jul 14, 2021 12:04 PM PST

The first question that comes to mind here is: Why? - Why, with this smart-looking little 4-door ridge runner, as accurate as automatic transmissions have become (I used the paddle-shifters on the C8 Corvette that I recently drove for a week, exactly twice), would anyone want a new car with a 6-speed manual transmission?

And the number one answer is: Because it’s fun, it’s modern/retro, and (like a lot of earned/learned skills) it feels very good when one does it right. Toyota catchphrase here is: “SHIFT UP”, and this Corolla seems a darn good car to order up with a “stick”.

2021 Toyota Carolla Hatchback sitting idle with a yellow wall in the background.
The Corolla might have been around for ages, but the design is keeping up with the times.

Engine & Power

The feisty 2-liter motor (that’s breathlessly billboarded in ad copy for this one as the: “Dynamic Force Engine”) kicks out a nice pair of performance numbers: 168 horsepower and 151 pounds/feet of torque. (Not sure if you remember, but I always say the closer these two figures are, the better the overall performance will be). This makes for a fun combo of grunt and go that’s a ball to mix and match with a good 6-speed manual transmission like this one.

image taken a little from above of a 2021 Toyota Carolla Hatchback - gray with a black roof - with an office building in the background.
The optional black roof gives an extra kick to the 2021 Toyota Corolla Hatchback.

Exterior Design

The 2021 Toyota Corolla really “has the lines”, here’s a hot hatch with distinctive good looks - the sharp “magnetic gray metallic” body paint topped by a gloss black roof works quite well - and those naughty-looking twin exhaust pipes out back project an attitude that’s all: “Hey, ready when you are…”. It's got style, snap, and reasonable room for four. The optional ($500) black roof over the metallic gray body paint makes the car seem nicely low-slung - yet not menacing mind you. Sort of crouching, playful (did we already mention “naughty”?) and ready to for adventure.

Enhanced Trunk Space

You, as I did, might wonder about the “Enhanced Trunk Space” that’s listed as an option for this Corolla. What is it? Where does it come from?  How do they do it? 

Actually that option is available on the car that you drive right now (yeah, no, I'm serious!). The option entails removing (or just not supplying one at all) the spare tire and instead supplying only a jack, a repair kit, and an electric tire pump. These take up somewhat less space than one of those generally unloved “mini/compact” spares that’s buried in most car trunks these days and thus gift Corolla owners with: “Enhanced Trunk Space”.

close-up of the left taillight on the 2021 Toyota Carolla Hatchback
Sharp lines both front and rear - the Corolla Hatchback makes its presence known.

Interior Comfort

This 2021 Toyota Corolla will carry four - and a weekend’s worth of luggage for them - with a smile, all the while fitting in nicely as a regular part of the family’s transportation system all week long.

Gas Mileage

Our EPA/DOT friends peg this one’s thirstiness at 28 miles-per-gallon (city driving) and 37 mpg (highway driving) with a 31 mpg average. Thirty miles to the gallon is a good benchmark here. But don’t think that sort of mileage means weak-kneed performance. No, the Corolla does well - scooting right along when traffic and weather permit is a joy here.


We mentioned a fun, crisp-shifting, 6-speed “stick” here, but truth be told, the Corolla is also available with an “automatic transmission” (just in case). It’s a “CVT” (continuously variable transmission) that I have yet to try - but in all honesty the Corolla with a stick is such a joy and I'm afraid a CVT would take some of that away. This 6-speed manual is nice and precise, and if YOU are in the wrong gear YOU need to fix that yourself.

a close-up of the shifter knob in the 2021 Toyota Carolla Hatchback.
Get your shift together!

With this snazzy new Corolla, Toyota has made a nod back to the days when driving was more of a craft than a coma. You shifted your own gears, you kept YOUR car in YOUR lane, you steered into a skid when required, you instituted and modulated heavy braking yourself, and you did “driving a car” stuff like that.  

Most of the above is now under the command of hidden electronic helpers, but here you’re (at least) free to chose what gear you’ll use under what circumstance. Which means that you can occasionally get it wrong, but that’s the fun, the challenge, the skill. Not for all, but cool as an option for some.

Shifty Business Side-Note:

None other an authority than the venerable (and now quite stylish) Road & Track Magazine, in their August/September 2021 edition, has told us that the last car (on sale in the US) that came standard with a 4-speed manual transmission was the 1996 Toyota Tercel. (We've listed some other fun "lasts" found in that R&T article below our article...)

a close-up of the infotainment screen on the 2021 Toyota Carolla Hatchback
Easy to use, no-fuss infotainment system

Sticker Price

The sticker price for our tested 2021 Toyota Corolla Hatchback checks in at 285 dollars north of $25,000. This seems like a fair price for the sort of solid design and workmanship that we see here. This Corolla will work as well around town as out on the open road, and look sharp doing both.

I’m not sure how many brave souls will opt to join in this adventure of shifting gears, and am just a tad worried that if some adventurous soul puts their hand up for this one, they might have a hard time finding someone to teach them the ways and whiles of the 3-pedaled automobile. I’m available in the greater L.A. area (where else) if that’s what anyone needs in order to latch on to one of these trick Corolla hatches, and I work cheap.

Not at all their entire list, but these are some of the other famous “lasts” listed in Road & Track’s recent pages:

Last tape cassette player: the 2010 Lexus SC400

Last (US market) vehicle with a carburetor: the 1994 Isuzu Pickup

Last car with pop-up headlights: the 2004 Corvette

The last car that came without power steering: the 2020 Alfa 4C.

About The Author

Doug Stokes's profile picture

Doug Stokes

Doug has a long and wide-ranging history in the motoring business. He served five years as the Executive Director of the International Kart Federation, and was the PR guy for the Mickey Thompson's Off-Road Championship Gran Prix. He worked racing PR for both Honda and Suzuki and was a senior PR person on the first Los Angeles (Vintage) Grand Prix. He was also the first PR Manager for Perris Auto Speedway, and spent over 20 years as the VP of Communications at Irwindale Speedway. Stokes is the recipient of the American Autowriters and Broadcaster’s 2005 Chapman Award for Excellence in Public Relations and was honored in 2015 by the Motor Press Guild with their Dean Batchelor Lifetime Achievement Award. “… I’ve also been reviewing automobiles and books for over 20 years, and really enjoy my LA Car assignments.” he added.

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