DEL MAR, CA – With the new ’19 Corolla hatchback, Toyota is seeing potential.

Noting the hatchback variant makes up 20% of rival Honda’s Civic sales in the U.S., Toyota thinks there’s opportunity for its compact hatch to take a bigger slice of total Corolla sales.

The Civic hatch’s performance “gives us confidence there’s a little bit more (possibility) in that market,” Lisa Materazzo, vice president-vehicle marketing and communications, tells WardsAuto here during a ’19 Corolla hatchback and Avalon media event.

Toyota’s current Corolla hatchback, the Corolla iM, started life as a Scion in 2015 before the brand was put out to pasture a year later. Materazzo says the car makes up just 7% of total Corolla sales, admitting it wasn’t a very strong product given its “mono spec” nature.

Having only one grade was a Scion strategy, but now with two grades, SE and XSE for the redesigned Corolla hatch, she believes interest should rise.

The Civic hatchback – a new addition to the Honda lineup in 2016 – as well as the Volkswagen Golf, are the key competitors to the new Corolla 5-door, Toyota says.

Volkswagen says it sold 12,012 Golfs (and its high-performance variant, the GTI) in the U.S. in first-quarter 2018, down 33.2% because the changeover for facelifted '19 models has taken longer than expected. A fully redesigned Golf is likely to debut at next year's Frankfurt auto show, going on sale in 2020.

Toyota delivered 5,029 Corolla iMs in the quarter, down 6.0% from like-2017, Wards Intelligence data shows. Honda doesn’t parcel out Civic hatchback sales, but sold 82,149 Civics in the January-March period, a 0.6% increase from like-2017. Using Materazzo’s data that 20% of all Civics sold are hatches, Honda sold roughly 16,000 Civic 5-door’s in the first quarter. Wards Intelligence installation data estimates for the ’17 model year 17.5% of all Civics built were hatches.

In video shown here, Toyota promotes the Corolla hatch’s superior handling capabilities vs. the Golf, showing the two tested for an emergency handling maneuver and on bumpy roads.

The Corolla has active cornering assist technology, which the Japanese automaker touts as providing grip during heavy cornering and helping fight understeer, via controlling drive force and adapting brakes to change the yaw rate.

The car’s center of gravity also is lower than before, and it is wider than the outgoing iM. Structural and torsional rigidity also are higher due to the car’s new platform, Toyota’s New Global Architecture (TNGA).

As the Corolla hatch is based on the European-market Toyota Auris hatch, it has a variety of safety technologies that help the car earn Europe’s NCAP 5-star rating, says Corolla and Auris Chief Engineer Tatsuro Ueda.

These include the ability to detect pedestrians in low lighting and to detect bicyclists during the daytime, as well as recognizing a variety of road signs. These technologies are packaged under the banner of Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, the automaker’s most advanced suite of advanced driver-assist technologies yet in North America.

Ueda says Toyota will introduce TSS 2.0 “step-by-step” across its lineup, but it may be a slow rollout beyond the Corolla hatchback as it cannot be retrofitted to existing models, requiring a new generation of a vehicle. The redesigned ’19 Avalon large sedan, also shown here to media, does not have TSS 2.0, but it is slated for the next-gen RAV4 CUV coming this fall.

While the Auris offers two hybrids in Europe, there is no Corolla hatch hybrid slated for the U.S. Ueda says the automaker is studying it for the U.S., but wants to be careful it won’t negatively impact Prius hybrid sales. The Prius and Corolla roughly are the same size.

The new ’19 Corolla hatchback goes on sale in July in the U.S., with pricing to be announced near that time.

The current ’18 Corolla iM starts at $18,850, plus an $895 destination and handling charge, putting it below the Civic hatch ($20,050 to start) and the Volkswagen Golf ($20,910 for a base model).

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com