Car Reviews

2018 Toyota Corolla ZR Review

Isaac Bober’s 2017 Toyota Corolla ZR Review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.

In a nutshell: Updated Toyota Corolla ZR gets improved active safety features and a bigger infotainment screen… it’s the same old Corolla buyers will love.

2017 Toyota Corolla ZR

Pricing From $31,290+ORC Warranty three-years, 100,000km Safety five-star ANCAP Engine 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol Power 103kW at 6400rpm Torque 173Nm at 4000rpm Transmission CVT Drive front-wheels Dimensions 4330mm (L); 1760mm (W); 14475mm (H); 2600mm (WB) Turning Circle 5.4m Boot Space 360L / 1120L Spare Space Saver Fuel Tank 50L Thirst 6.6L/100km (combined)

THE TOYOTA COROLLA has racked up 50 years on-sale in this country and is the world’s best-selling nameplate. The Corolla hasn’t always been the most fashionable car on the market, but it has always been considered solid, reliable and dependable… and with a huge sales network in this country, cost of ownership has also always been one of the thing’s strong suits.

The Corolla ZR we’re testing copped a safety update earlier this year to bring the thing into line with its sedan sibling, which received the upgrade late last year. But, also to keep the Corolla on the front foot against key competitors all hitting the market with comprehensive active safety suites. The additions included, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, automatic high beam, and forward collision warning.

The Corolla has never been the flashiest hatchback on the market or even the best to drive, but that doesn’t make it a bad car. See, looked at from a practicality point of view, it’s always hit the mark; the interior has always been hard wearing (if scratchy to the touch) with enough cubby holes, the rear seats roomy enough and the boot at the bigger end of town with 360 litres with a space saver spare underneath. There are two cup holders and two bottle holders in the front and the same in the back.

2015 Toyota Corolla ZR hatch

In the Corolla ZR there’s a leather-accented interior, dual-zone climate control and a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment unit with native satellite navigation, unfortunately, Toyota is refusing to include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity which is this car’s Achilles heel in this small car segment – its infotainment covers the basics, but the call quality via Bluetooth is poor and the media sync is a hit and miss affair, sometimes only responding to phone-based song selection and sometimes responding to the touchscreen.

The engine is a 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol, shared across the Corolla range (except for the hybrid variant) which makes 103kW and 173Nm of torque, and is mated to a CVT.

The Corolla is in its 11th generation, which was launched in 2012 and while it’s fundamentally still the same car mechanically, a refreshed look last year helped to keep the Corolla looking sharp on dealer lots against fresher metal. It already had a five-star safety rating, but the updates for Corolla ZR would likely see that car retain its five-star rating if tested under 2018 five-star requirements, which include things like AEB being standard to qualify for five stars.


The Corolla has a safe and functional interior and in ZR specification gets plenty of kit, but it’s not the nicest interior and the infotainment system is poor.

2015 Toyota Corolla ZR hatch

The Toyota Corolla’s dashboard is neatly laid out and the ZR tries to spice up the base model’s bland interior via contrasting accent plastics, which largely works until you start touching the dash. There’s too much hard, scratchy plastic strewn about the place for my liking, but given it’ll be hard-wearing I probably shouldn’t be too hard on the thing.

The dash itself is stretched out horizontally giving the interior, the front at least, a sense of being a little broader and roomier than perhaps it is. The cost-optional panoramic glass roof on our test car added to the airiness of the cabin, but I can advise that leaving the cover open, even on a 20-degree day for an hour, will see the cabin heat up ridiculously… and with the black leather accented interior it was a little uncomfortable.

Toyota Corolla ZR Infotainment

Like most Toyotas, the infotainment is a weak spot in the Corolla. Sure, it’ll sync via cable or Bluetooth with your phone and so you’ll be able to play your music (but not easily), and there’s native sat-nav which looks very old but does the job and offers live traffic updates via SUNA.

But, not offering Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity is a disappointment, in my opinion. And Toyota’s argument that it offers things like sat-nav as standard in the ZR and so doesn’t need smartphone integration doesn’t hold water. See, the Hyundai i30 offers native sat-nav as well as smartphone integration.

2015 Toyota Corolla ZR hatch

The seven-inch screen is clear to read, but a little clumsy in its menu structure. I connected my iPhone via Bluetooth to test the call quality and with strong signal the call receiver suggested it sounded as if I was driving through a tunnel with the window open. I wasn’t. And trying to play music from my phone was a nightmare with the song either not playing when selected via the touchscreen and having to be ‘played’ via the phone (which kid of defeats the purpose of hands-free) or not displaying my albums, meaning it wouldn’t allow me to scroll and select the song I wanted… and, every time I got in and plugged in it wouldn’t play the last song listened to but would select a random song to play. Unfortunately, this is not the best infotainment unit on the market.

Toyota Corolla ZR Passenger Room

The front seats are comfortable and offer good adjustment forwards and backwards and for the seat back, so, it isn’t hard to find a good driving position. The steering wheel offers minimal reach and rake but the seat adjustment makes up for the shortfall.

Vision right around from the driver’s seat is good, even if the rear three-quarters are a little slabby, but the reversing camera isn’t great. It offers a wide view, but the quality isn’t amazing.

In the back, there are 60:40 split-fold seats which are comfortable for adults, if you’re sat in the two outboard positions. The middle seat has no seat shape and is just a perch. Foot room isn’t too bad, as the transmission tunnel isn’t particularly intrusive and I managed to set the front seat for myself and then climb into the back and found I had adequate room. I also fitted my daughter’s booster seat and both my children claimed they had enough room and good vision out the rear windows, even if they both did complain about the plastic smell; I didn’t think it was that bad.

There are ISOFIX points on the two outboard seats and top tether anchor points on all three seating positions running across the backs of the seats. There are map pockets on the back of the front seats but no USB or 12V outlets for backseat passengers.

Toyota Corolla Boot Space

The Corolla offers a 360-litre boot (1120 litres with the rear seats folded down and loaded to the roof) across the range which measures 860mm deep and 1350mm wide. There’s a false floor which means you can store things underneath and on top of the space saver spare. The load lip is low and that means swinging things in and out is easy. The boot is shallow, so it literally isn’t a stretch to reach things up against the back seats. Against one of its newest key rivals, the Corolla’s boot seems a bit small, with the new Hyundai i30 offering 395 litres of room, but it betters the Subaru Impreza which offers just 340 litres.

What’s it like on the road?

The Toyota Corolla ZR does its best to feel zesty but isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed.

2015 Toyota Corolla ZR hatch

The Toyota Corolla ZR tries to strike a balance between sportiness and comfort, but ends up feeling just okay rather than great. The steering is direct and quick enough, but there’s absolutely no feel and while the action is consistent at high or low speed, the steering is very light, feeling more Playstation than real-life.

Body roll is kept in control at speed-limit speeds but the suspension struggles to contain bigger bumps or sharp-edged ruts/expansion joints in the road where the impact will jolt through the cabin as the wheel crashes into the rut/hole/expansion joint on poorer surfaced roads… it comes off feeling and sounding like the transportation blocks have been left in. The suspension arrangement is like that of the Hyundai i30 (some variants) with a MacPherson strut front-end and torsion beam rear, but the tune isn’t even in the same postcode as the i30. That said, around town and on smoother surfaces, the Corolla feels fine.

Road and wind noise aren’t a huge problem around town, but as the speed builds you’ll notice the wind buffeting around the wing mirrors and the 17-inch alloys and liquorice strip thin tyres tend to transmit quite a bit of coarse chip noise into the cabin. And, whether by design or fault, I found at highway speed, those travelling in the back struggled to hear what those in the front were saying.

The engine is a 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol that produces a not-huge 103kW at 6400rpm and 173Nm of torque at 4000rpm. This is less than the Subaru Impreza but you don’t read people complaining about the Corolla the same way they do the Impreza. And, like the Impreza, the Corolla runs a CVT that while it doesn’t feel quite as good as the one in the Impreza, it’s still quite acceptable. It’s good while accelerating and only feels a little clumsy when coming on and off the throttle, meaning it’s good on a constant throttle, and not so good on a varying throttle. There are paddle shifters but using them is a little pointless in this sort of car, simply drive it in Sport Mode and let the computer sort out the CVT.

The engine, despite is dismal on-paper numbers, does a good job of hauling a family of four around without fuss and is, in all, a comfortable small car that’ll handle around town and highway driving with equal ease. The Sport Mode doesn’t offer more power, it just revs the engine a little higher for a quicker response and more sporty sound (thanks to the higher revving engine).

Value for Money

The Toyota Corolla ZR gets plenty of kit and is priced competitively

Probably the one key disappointment with the Corolla, in terms of its value for money, is its relatively short warranty at just three-years, 100,000km, when other brands are offering five- and seven-year, unlimited kilometre warranties. But, it pegs back some of this loss in its capped price servicing which is around $140/scheduled service.

The Corolla ZR comes with seven-inch touchscreen infotainment unit, leather accented interior, keyless entry and start, dual-zone climate control, 17-inch alloys, Smart Sense active safety system, Bi-LED headlights with Adaptive Front Lighting System and Automatic High Beam, LED daytime running lights, front-seat heaters and exterior-mirror heaters, and the extra-cost option of a Skyview panoramic roof ($1500) and more.

Toyota Corolla Safety Features

2015 Toyota Corolla ZR hatch

The Corolla range gets a five-star ANCAP safety rating carried over from 2014 but, for 2016/17 copped a safety upgrade for the Corolla ZR (cost-optional on SX), which includes autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, automatic high beam, and forward collision warning. The Corolla ZR also has active headlights which will turn slightly in the direction of travel, something few other cars in this price bracket offer. And the automatic high beam works well, dipping the lights when the car is within 60 metres.

Practical Motoring Says

Like buying an appliance, buying a Toyota Corolla has been because it’s not necessarily the one with the most bells and whistles, but because it’s the one that gets the job done. And for most new car buyers in the market for an affordable hatchback that’s all a car needs to do. That the Toyota Corolla ZR we tested is priced at $31,920+ORC and that makes it just a little cheaper than the top-spec Hyundai i30 SR Premium; but the i30 is newer, roomier and gets more kit than the Corolla, and has a longer standard warranty.

And that is likely to dissuade most people from the Corolla ZR, not to mention that it’s not as nice to drive as the Hyundai. But, there will still be those for whom the Corolla is the very archetype of practicality and robustness and, to them, I’d suggest they’ll be happy with the Corolla because it doesn’t really do anything bad, it’s just not as exciting as the newer, shinier cars it’s competing with.

Editor's Rating

Passenger Room
Boot Space
What's it like on the road?
Value for Money
Safety Features
Like buying an appliance, buying a Toyota Corolla has been because it’s not necessarily the one with the most bells and whistles, but because it’s the one that gets the job done. And for most new car buyers in the market for an affordable hatchback that’s all a car needs to do.

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4 years ago

Maybe it’s just me, but when will car designers start off with enabling the driver to see out of the car as a priority? I drove a 3 litre Magna for a few years (company car). It was great! Easy to park, I knew where it started and finished and minimal blind spots. Alright, it had the turning circle of the Queen Mary and the brakes were not up to a quick downhill windy road run. But blind spot monitoring was unnecessary. It had enough grunt and it was comfortable. What more do you want?

Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober