Driving Experience Review: 2019 Toyota Corolla in Dubai, UAE

Why would anyone talk about a five-year-old Toyota now? Well, I like to drive different cars and write about my experiences. I recently got my driving license in the UAE (I’ve held a license from home for years) and decided to start exploring the UAE with a rental Corolla.

I drove the GCC spec 2019 Toyota Corolla all across the UAE. Over a month, I clocked a little over 3,700 km. With that many kilometers behind the wheel, I gathered some wisdom that I believe would benefit anyone looking to buy a 2019 Corolla in the UAE or elsewhere in the GCC market.

I also have POV driving footage for the 2019 Corolla that you shouldn’t miss if you want to feast your senses on what it’s like to drive the fuel-efficient Japanese family sedan.

POV Driving: Toyota Corolla in the UAE

GCC spec 2019 Toyota Corolla 1.6 SE vs American spec

I won’t go too much into the specifications like torque or curb weight since you can simply Google and find out. My focus will be primarily on driving experience. However, you should know that the UAE version of the Toyota Corolla I drove, which is technically called the GCC spec, is severely underpowered and lacks many features compared to its American counterparts.

For example, the Corolla SE trim I’m reviewing doesn’t even have a proper infotainment with a reverse camera. It has a digital display that looks straight out of the 90s. I know 2019 was four years ago, but it’s terrible even by 2019’s standards.

Under the hood, the GCC spec base 2019 Toyota Corolla, made in Taiwan, packs a 1.6-liter petrol engine with 122 horsepower. Compare that to the base trim of the American spec 2019 Toyota Corolla, and you get a slightly more powerful 1.8-liter petrol engine with 10 more horsepower at 132.

This trend continues in many aspects of the car. What’s standard in the base trim of the American Corolla is missing in the GCC spec. The aforementioned rear camera is standard on all American spec Corolla. You have lane departure warnings, daytime running lights, and LED headlamps standard across the entire range. All of those are missing from the GCC spec Corolla.

I have yet to delve into the other carmakers, but the GCC spec Toyota costs significantly higher than the American spec in their local markets. Yet, you get a lot less for your money if you’re in the Middle East.

And that’s just sad.

Exterior design

With that frustration out of the way, let’s look at the design. Thankfully, even though some exterior features may also be missing in the base trim, the US and GCC spec 2019 Toyota Corolla look somewhat similar.

It’s not a groundbreaking design, but I like the simple front end of this generation of Toyota Corolla. The square bracket-ish design on both sides of the bumper gives it a symmetrical design that I quite like.

The headlamps look pretty neat when they are off. But the stylishness vanishes as soon as they are on. Halogen bulbs simply don’t elevate the look of a car in 2023. I doubt it did in 2019, either.

The side profile is your typical sedan. There’s nothing to write home about here. And the same can be said about the rear as well.

Overall, it’s a generic sedan design. And that’s okay. It could be a lot uglier. Of course, it doesn’t hold up compared to the similarly priced Hyundai and Kia sedans. But if reliability and resale value are high on your list of priorities, the Toyota Corolla has always been the safest choice.

Interior first impression

If you turn a blind eye to where the navigation display would be, if it had any, the rest of the interior actually looks nice.

Sure, the dials in the instrument cluster look ancient, and the manual air-conditioner knobs are laughable, but those are expected in this segment, at least in Japanese vehicles. (Korean and Chinese cars have far nicer interiors, even in the same price range as the Corolla.)

What I didn’t expect was how the color combination looked. Despite those ancient technologies, I actually felt nice and comfortable in the 2019 GCC spec Toyota Corolla. The fabric seats were comfortable. There was plastic material all around, but it didn’t feel cheap.

The steering wheel has a nice heft and employs all the buttons you would expect. The soft-touch material around the wheel gives you a nice feeling when driving for long periods of time.

Cruise control is, thankfully, standard. So you wouldn’t have to scream at the car on the UAE highways, where cruise control is a must-have. The gear shifter feels a little lighter, but I wouldn’t complain.

My biggest gripe with the car is its infotainment system or the lack thereof.


You could say that the 2019 Toyota Corolla 1.6 SE does have an infotainment system. It has FM/AM band radio and Bluetooth audio, so you can connect your phone and play music through its okay-ish sound system. But, in my car enthusiast’s book, it’s not an infotainment without a proper screen.

It’s just a stereo.

It looks clever, though. If you don’t turn on the ignition or look at interior pictures only, you would almost think that the car has a nice screen. But if you pay close attention, those vertical buttons would give away the fact that it’s just a calculator-like display.

It will show you which FM band you’re tuned into or which BTA (Bluetooth Audio) source you’re connected to. But that’s it. If you’re reversing, it will not show you what’s behind.

I don’t mean to say that parking without a reverse camera is impossible. Mind you, I drove the Corolla for over 3,700 KM across the UAE over a month, and while I missed having a rear camera in tight parking spots, I didn’t feel stuck. But, as I mentioned earlier, even by 2019’s standard, a rear camera can be called a safety feature. And I’d be better off with one than without.

Even if we forget about the rearview camera’s absence, the center of the dashboard is just ugly to look at. If you watch my POV driving videos of the 2019 Toyota Corolla across the UAE, you’ll see just how ugly it looks. I doubt it’d look as bad if there was a proper screen.

Driving experience

Now that I talked about the 2019 Toyota Corolla’s exterior and interior, it’s time to start the ignition and talk about the driving experience.

As mentioned above, this GCC spec Corolla has a 1.6-liter petrol engine under the hood with a power output of 122 horsepower.

For some context, the car I own back in my home country (JDM 2008 Toyota Allion) has a power output of 109 horsepower. That engine is over 14 years old, so it probably doesn’t have the same output today. This will help you understand what I’m used to as a daily driver.

What is it like to drive?

The 1.6-liter petrol engine with the CVT transmission won’t exactly throw you back in your seat. But it’s not the slowest car, either.

I drove all over the country in the Corolla to explore the UAE, from Ras al Khaimah in the north all the way to Abu Dhabi via Fujairah, Al Ain, and Dubai.

Having driven on all the major UAE highways, I can say that the Corolla did not feel underpowered anywhere. Not even on the Abu Dhabi highways with a speed limit of 140 km/h.

It’s sluggish, yes. And if you’re used to anything faster, even a Mazda 3, it will feel slow. But that’s to be expected, right? If this is your first car or you’re upgrading from a hatchback with a smaller engine, you will not be disappointed.

How is it to drive a 2019 Toyota Corolla drive at 140 km/h speed?

If you live in Abu Dhabi and must drive on the 140 km/h highways frequently, you will discover that getting up to that speed when merging takes a little while.

You can use the simulated manual mode to rev high and accelerate faster, but doing that daily is probably not a good idea. One, you’d use more fuel. Two, you’d be putting excessive stress on the engine.

Either way, you won’t find anything to complain about once you’re up to speed, apart from the high wind and engine noise.

It certainly didn’t feel like the car struggled to stay at 140 km/h on the Dubai-Al Ain road, even though 1.6-liter is considered a small engine by UAE standards.

A larger engine with more horsepower would undoubtedly be comfortable at such high speed, but you should remember that a more powerful engine will also consume more fuel.

How about driving a 2019 Toyota Corolla in heavy wind?

In my one month of driving the Corolla across the UAE, I encountered heavy wind quite a few times. It was better than I thought it would be. Of course, wind is more powerful than even the largest SUV out there. Not to mention that the larger the body, the more surface area for the wind to do its thing.

In my experience, the Corolla driving experience in the desert winds of the UAE is acceptable. I drove in the E611 from RAK to Dubai most days, and even on the windiest days, driving the Corolla was never terrible. And I never felt the car was violently moving about when hit by a wind gust.

Comfort and ride quality

If you know the price of the car you’re in, you won’t be disappointed. And that says enough of the comfort you’ll get in this car.

The suspensions are also nothing to write home about. But it’s not the worst, either. Driving a sedan over a crossover SUV has some advantages, and one of those is that the ride quality on a proper sedan is generally better.

The engine doesn’t make too much noise, even at high speeds, and the smaller body height (compared to small CSUVs) also means you get less wind noise.

I did, however, like the steering wheel. Whether at low or high speed, the wheel feels connected to the road. I only realized how much I liked the Corolla steering when I drove the Hyundai Creta, which had a steer-by-wire system. The Creta review will be next. If you’re interested, remember to subscribe!

Overall, I have nothing to complain about regarding comfort and ride quality in the 2019 Toyota Corolla. That could be because my expectations weren’t that high, to begin with.

Driving conditions

The Corolla is made for city and highway driving. It’s the unmistakable daily driver that may even outlive you. That means, whether you need to drive to the office in city traffic or go between different emirates daily, the Corolla is up for the job.

I drove the Corolla to the top of Jebel Hafeet in Al Ain and Jebel Jais in Ras Al Khaimah. You would be pleased to know that the car had absolutely no trouble pulling me up with the AC in full blast.

Would it struggle with five passengers and heavy cargo in the back? Probably a little bit. But I doubt it’ll be noticeable unless your cargo is really heavy. (I don’t know why you’d be hauling heavy cargo up the mountains, though! Camping gear will be just fine.)

Lastly, you should absolutely never go off-roading or into the sand with a front-wheel drive sedan. You’ll find sedans driving onto gravel roads, and it’s fine there, but these cars are not made for proper off-roading.

Driving modes

Unless I missed it, the GCC spec 2019 Toyota Corolla SE has no buttons to change its driving mode. Like many Toyotas, an automatic ‘Eco’ mode will be engaged based on your driving style, and you’ll see the word ‘Eco’ light up on the dashboard when you’re driving economically. But other than that, a dedicated Eco mode selector is missing.

What is present, though, is a manual mode in the gear shifter. The Corolla has a CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission), meaning the manual mode only simulates gear shifts. But it was fun (as much fun as you can have in a Toyota) to accelerate in manual mode.

The simulated manual mode is great if you want to get into some spirited driving on empty roads. The engine noise is also much nicer, as you get to rev the engine a bit higher than the regular Drive mode. You do sacrifice a bit on the fuel economy. A higher RPM on the tachometer means more fuel into the engine. But the trade-off is often worth it.

One particular time when I enjoyed having a manual mode was on hill descent. On my way down from Jebel Jais, I could engage in a simulated low gear and use ‘engine braking’ without having to ride the brake on my way down.

Speaking of braking, I didn’t mind the braking performance at first as a regular Toyota user. But I drove a Hyundai Creta after the Corolla, and I was pleasantly surprised how much better the Creta’s braking performance was. It’s not a fair comparison, as Creta has rear disc brakes. But transitioning from Creta to another Toyota (RAV4) made me furious just for the poor braking performance at seemingly every Toyota.

AC performance in UAE

The UAE summers can get brutal. Even when the weather is reasonable, you don’t want to be stuck with a car that can’t keep you cool under the hot desert sun.

In that regard, I’m happy to report that the GCC spec 2019 Toyota Corolla, with more than 120,000 km on the clock, still had a powerful air conditioning system that cooled the cabin reasonably quickly.

Naturally, it takes a little longer if the car has been sitting under direct sun, but it immediately starts blowing cold air. So, if you’re driving, just put one of its AC vents directly into your face, and you’ll be cool in no time.

Driver-assistance technology

At this point, you may get mad at me instead of the Corolla if I talk about the missing rearview camera one more time. Fortunately, of all the tech you expect to see in a car of this price, the rearview camera is the only thing missing.

The Corolla has cruise control, which is reasonably straightforward to use. I don’t know why you need to activate it every time you start the engine, though. I tried to set the cruise control by pushing the lever down a few times, only to realize that I hadn’t pushed the button on the side to activate it. (Activating and setting are two different actions here.)

I enjoyed having parking sensors all around the Corolla. They can be helpful when parking in tight spots. However, there is no indicator on the dash to show which side of the car the sensors detect objects.

So, when reversing, the sensors start to beep rapidly if the front right or left side is next to a pillar. But you cannot tell if it’s beeping because of that or because you’re too close to an object in the back of the car.

Most modern cars have an indication on the instrument cluster that tells you which side you’re closing in on an object. Because the Corolla has an ancient instrument cluster and lacks a rearview camera, the beeping parking sensors can sometimes cause sensory overload. A button to turn them off isn’t placed in an obvious location if it exists.

Oh, and I also missed having the option to ‘tap’ the indicator lever when switching lanes on the highway. I had to engage the full left or right indicator and then manually cancel it after the switch. It’s a minor inconvenience, but it can be annoying, especially if you drive another car that allows you to lightly ‘tap’ the indicator lever to flash the turn signal three times.

Fuel efficiency

In my moderate daily driving, much of it on the highway and on the mountain roads near Jebel Jais, I got around 5.5- to 6.5-liter per 100 km mileage from the trusty old Toyota Corolla. Put differently, that’s 15.38 to 18.18 km per liter of fuel.

I topped up with Special 95 each time. I could save a little and go for E-91. But it’s not available at every station, and I’ve been told the difference is insignificant.

So, I opted for the convenience of just pulling into whatever petrol station I came across and filling up the tank with Special 95. (Bless those attendants working in the UAE summer heat!)

Is the 2019 Toyota Corolla worth it in Dubai/UAE?

Honestly, you have to look in the mirror to answer the question. Why do you want to buy a car, and what do you want it to reflect if anything?

The 2019 Toyota Corolla will be the perfect car for you if you need a reasonably fuel-efficient vehicle for daily driving without having to worry about breakdowns and frequent trips to the workshop. Reliability is your top-notch priority, and you don’t mind your car’s lack of advanced technologies (regarding infotainment and driver assistance features).

As a bonus, if you want to sell the car in the future, you’ll get a reasonable price since Toyotas retain a high resale value in the used UAE car market.

On the other hand, you should avoid the Toyota Corolla if you want an excellent car to look at and has any road presence. And if you’re going to take pictures with the car with iconic Dubai landmarks in the background, the Corolla simply isn’t going to cut it.

You should also avoid it if you want a fun and engaging driving experience. Toyota engines are known to be reliable, but at the bottom tier, they won’t bring out a big smile when you’re driving one around.

GCC spec 2019 Toyota Corolla price

The GCC spec 2019 Toyota Corolla goes from AED 60,000 to AED 70,000 in the used market today. For a four-year-old model, that’s a steep price.

You can add a couple thousand more and get a brand-new car from Hyundai and Kia. Plenty of Chinese vehicles in the market can also be had if you are okay with the longevity risk.

You would be tempted to buy a new car with a far nicer interior and better technologies at such high prices. The problem with those cars is one, you don’t know how reliable they will be long term. And two, they depreciate like crazy. The resale value for cars without a Toyota or Honda badge is poor.

So, if you plan to sell your car in a few years, the already-old 2019 Toyota Corolla will be a good choice. Unless you have a “YOLO” mindset, in which case, you only live once. So get the better, newer car and forget about resale value.

In conclusion

The lack of features that I thought were standard made me a little upset with Toyota, but I didn’t mind driving the Toyota Corolla across the UAE. It’s a good family sedan that gets you from point A to B without fuss. And it’s proven to last long.

I would be okay with owning one if I considered buying a car in the UAE. But if budget allows, I’d look at the Mazda 3 Sedan instead for a better interior, slightly more engaging driving experience, and a more digestible price point.

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