2022 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE: Geared up for fun?

Price: $25,954 as tested. Black roof, spoiler and mirrors added $500; adaptive headlights, $415; Carpet Mat Package, $249. Six-speed manual — free!

Conventional wisdom: Edmunds.com likes the “enjoyable handling as well as a smooth ride quality, lots of standard advanced driving aids, easy to see out of,” but not that “rivals offer more cargo and cabin space, not much rear legroom.”

Marketer’s pitch: “Get into it.”

Reality: Nice mix of fun and usefulness.

What’s new: The versatile Corolla Hatchback continues to move along simply as it did when it debuted in 2019. But it goes back even further: It was the Scion iM in the mid-2010s, and before that, the Toyota Matrix.

Up to speed: If you’re not in a big hurry to get places, the Corolla Hatchback will take you there. Car and Driver managed to get it to 60 mph in 7.3 seconds, but that seems optimistic. The 2.0-liter four kicks out 168 horses, on the low side for passenger cars these days.

A GR Corolla is coming for the 2023 model year to offer more spirited performance, but when I test that, I’m going to whine about the fuel economy.

One surprise from the Corolla Hatchback was the ability to climb some pretty decent highway grades while still in top gear.

Shifty: The six-speed manual transmission made the Corolla Hatchback experience more fun than the 0-60 numbers would have you believe, simply by letting me practice my clutch skills. But don’t expect a closely spaced transmission to help things along; it’s not a sporty hatchback.

But to add to the fun, the Corolla has something called Intelligent Manual Transmission, which smooths out some of the rough edges when shifting by adjusting the engine revs.

Rowing through the gears was pleasant. The clutch never irritated my leg and wasn’t touchy or overlong.

On the road: The Corolla Hatchback remains much as it has since this generation started. It’s pleasant enough to drive and handles the corners with aplomb, but it’s just doing what it does by instinct. There’s no real joy here or excitement, and pushing the car hard does make it glare at you and threaten to fall over in a sharp curve.

Still, the car’s handling has advanced light years since the 2012 Corolla sedan.

The Corolla Hatchback is fairly smooth on highways for a small car, so that’s a plus.

Driver’s Seat: The leather-appointed seat offers stellar comfort, which we’ve come to expect from Sturgis Kid 1.0′s 2016 Scion iM.

Gauges are easy to follow and adjust, and controls offer few surprises. The dashboard looks more pricey than it actually is; I traded in an Audi A3 for this and didn’t think that I’d sacrificed much in interior touches. (I missed the A3′s power, though.)

Friends and stuff: “Can you give a car a zero?” Those were the words from Sturgis Kid 4.0 as he climbed into the backseat for a return trip home.

The rear seat was snug — legroom, headroom, and foot room are all dear. Toyota has shrunk this machine, as the Sturgis Kid 1.0 2016 Scion has decent legroom and headroom in the backseat.

Play some tunes: I thought perhaps Toyota had inched toward a better stereo system for its low-end unit. I was able to adjust the bass and midrange to great effect on a favorite tune. But then a different song came on and the bass and drums turned into “bang-thud-bang-thud-thud.” It’s a sound system designed for talk radio. B-.

Toyota really should get its sonic act together, because operation of the system is among the easiest out there — dials for tuning and an 8-inch touchscreen with easy-to-find settings.

Keeping warm and cool: Dials control the temperature and silver buttons control fan speed and blower location. Switches behind the cupholders operate the seat heaters. Not a bad setup.

Night shift: Seems like a long time since I’d been in a vehicle with headlights this clear, so perhaps that $415 line item is worth it. And the interior lights don’t interfere.

Fuel economy: I averaged about 32 mpg in a driving-heavy week that included a return trip from the Poconos. Feed the Corolla Hatchback whatever.

Where it’s built: Aichi, Japan

How it’s built: Consumer Reports predicts the Corolla Hatchback reliability to be a 2 out of 5.

In the end: The Toyota Corolla Hatchback is really good, economical, comfortable (in the front), and practical. I wish the sound system were up to the task.

One of my nemeses will surely write in and say “Mazda3, you idiot,” and I’ll reply, “Pennsylvania Turnpike bumps, moron.” The GTI could be a challenger except for the hard seats and higher price.