Isaac Asimov issued many predictions in a New York Times article highlighting the 1964 World’s Fair and what such a fair would be like in 50 years.
Some of his predictions turned out to be fairly accurate. The author and biochemistry professor prophesied the world’s population would double by 2014, which it did, plus another few hundred million. He predicted that machines would outperform humans in many routine jobs, and that “mankind will therefore have become largely a race of machine tenders.”
In a way, Asimov predicted FaceTime, Skype and video calling, stating “Communications will be sight-sound, and you will see as well as hear the person you telephone.” He also foretold of computers being “much miniaturized that will serve as the brains of robots.” Extremely precise when you consider the smartphone and, though he may not have predicted it this way, how it has turned every teenager into a robot that only has three audio responses, two of which are grunts.
Of course, Asimov was no perfect soothsayer. Unsurprisingly he also penned many forecasts that greatly missed the mark.
Asimov said appliances would be powered by radioisotopes and the United States would likely have one or two experimental fusion power plants by 2014. Even five years after that, it looks as if such technologies are still far, far away from reality.
I wish this one were true, but Asimov foretold of homes where ceilings and walls glow softly in a variety of colors that will change at the touch of a button.
And in case you forgot this is a car review (or is supposed to be, anyway), Asimov predicted the way we would get around.
Like his other forecasts, the writer was accurate in some regards but wildly off in others.
The raised, moving sidewalks he predicted would become a staple in urban areas are seemingly only found in airports, used by people who suddenly forget how to walk while upon them. His prediction of vehicles traveling on a bed of compressed air is only accurate if you consider hovercrafts, which I imagine are not too easy to navigate in traffic.
Nothing has come of what Asimov described as “one of the city’s marvels” — compressed air tubes that would carry goods and materials to specific locations. Amazon is trying something similar with its drone delivery, but even with people ordering toilet paper online, I don’t think it is quite up to the scale Asimov presumed.
But he was spot on for his prediction of the engineering of driverless cars.
“Much effort will be put into the designing of vehicles with ‘robot-brains,’ vehicles that can be set for particular destinations and that will then proceed there without interference by the slow reflections of a human driver,” Asimov wrote.
That brings me to the 2019 Toyota Corolla hatchback (Editor: Finally!), because it shows us how technology once thought of as the makings of sci-fi is now commonplace, while simultaneously proving that some things are better left unchanged.
Despite testing the base, SE Corolla, it still included loads of “robot brains.” The Corolla hatch comes standard with a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, radar guided active cruise control, lane departure alert that will give the wheel a nudge to keep you in the white lines, and automatic high beam headlights. New for 2019 is a Lane Tracing Assist which supplements the dynamic cruise control by providing “steering assistance” when no lane makers are present. Toyota has also added Road Sign Assist which identifies certain road signs and displays visual and audio warnings if, for instance, you are about to roll through a four-way stop.
That is a lot of technology banking that “robots” can do routine tasks better than humans. The Corolla hatchback SE is, depending on your transmission choice, just over $20,000, and that amount of tech for the price shows that the future has arrived.
But the Corolla is not all pills replacing meals or daily flights to Mars, it also gives us a glimpse of where we came from. And I mean that in the best way.
For starters, it’s a hatchback, and that is a designation that slowly seems to be dying amid the flood of crossovers and SUVs.
I happen to be of the mindset that hatchbacks are, in many important ways, superior to crossovers.
A hatch provides all the space, convenience and practicality of a crossover while typically offering a better ride, far superior handling characteristics, more efficient fuel economy and, often enough, better looks.
While the hatchback in 2019 may seem a thing of the past, nothing harkens to yesteryear more than the way our tester Corolla changed gears — a manual transmission. Not a dual-clutch, not a CVT, no, a good old fashioned clutch pedal and a lever in the middle of the car.
Although, calling the Corolla hatchback’s third pedal a clutch gives the wrong impression. It implies it must be pushed down to engage, when in fact, the Corolla’s clutch is easier to depress than Eeyore.
With its easy-to-shift transmission, the Corolla serves up silky smooth gear changes and adds a bit of fun to the hatchback.
It’s not something you often hear connected — Corolla and fun — but the hatchback does provide an enjoyable drive.
It doesn’t hit the mark of a hot hatch, however. The 168-horsepower four-cylinder is initially sprightly but runs out of steam around 4,000 rpm, and the Corolla’s steering is a bit feathery and it suffers from understeer in corners.
But its small stature and peppiness does make for a not-so-boring commute.
That diminutive size does come into play where room in the hatchback is concerned. While things are spacious for those in the front seats, it’s cramped for adults in the rear.
The Toyota provides 18 cubic-feet of storage space with the rear seats erected, which goes against my aforementioned argument that hatches are just as accommodating as most similarly-sized crossovers. Sure, it’ll haul home the groceries, but hauling bulky items like large strollers will be a challenge.
The Corolla sports the angular, trapezoidal styling of new Toyota’s, but unlike other offerings, it seems to fit well on the hatchback. While there are not many frills to the interior styling, it’s simple, clean and user-friendly.
The interior also features an 8-inch infotainment panel, USB ports, Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa connectivity (sorry, Android users), LATCH anchors for the rear seats and a leather steering wheel as standard on the base SE trim with added amenities in the XSE level.
While the Corolla hatch is not powered by radioisotopes, it won’t cripple your wallet while filling up with old-fashioned gasoline. Estimated fuel economy is 31 combined mpg in the SE with a manual transmission and 36 combined in the automatic.
Unlike Asimov, I’m not one for making predictions. However, if you are in the market for a small, affordable, not too frilly but well-equipped and peppy-without-being-a-hot-hatch hatchback, I’ll forecast your approval of the Corolla.