Comparison Tests

Head to Head: Hyundai i30 SR Premium Vs Toyota Corolla ZR

Both the Hyundai i30 SR Premium and Toyota Corolla ZR sit at the top of their respective line-ups, so which one’s the better buy?

Hyundai i30 SR Premium

Pricing From $33,950+ORC Warranty five-years, unlimited kilometres Safety five-star ANCAP Engine 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol Power 150kW at 6000rpm Torque 265Nm at 1500-4500rpm Transmission seven-speed DCT Drive front-wheel drive Dimensions 4340mm (L); 1795mm (W); 1455mm (H) 2650mm (WB) Boot Space 395L/1301L Spare Space Saver Fuel Tank 50L Thirst 7.5L/100km (combined)

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); 1475mm (H); 2600mm (WB) Boot Space 360L/1120L Spare Space Saver Fuel Tank 50L Thirst 6.6L/100km (combined)

What are we testing?

The all-new Hyundai i30 was recently launched in Australia and after our initial test drive we went so far as to suggest it was the new small car benchmark. Here we’re looking at the ‘sporty’ i30 SR which is one of our favourites in the line-up. The i30 SR Premium is priced from $33,950+ORC and comes with a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty. Alternatively, the i30 SR is priced from $25,950+ORC.

The Toyota Corolla ZR is one of the icons of the automotive world and recently racked up 50 years on-sale in Australia. It’s always been a solid, reliable and even sometimes exciting vehicle… anyone remember the 1980s-era Corolla with the 4A-GE (86kW) engine or the AE-86 Toyota Sprinter with RWD. The Corolla ZR recently copped a safety upgrade, including things like autonomous emergency braking. The Corolla ZR is priced from $31,290+ORC

What’s the interior like?

The design of the i30’s dashboard has moved from a Y-shaped dash on the old car that tended to pull your eye into the middle of the car making it feel a little small inside, to one that’s spread out horizontally, and with the infotainment screen and climate controls pushed up higher.

The fit and finish, and materials used in the new i30, no matter the variant, are a cut above their equivalent in the previous-generation cars. That’s in no small part down to the fact Hyundai has nabbed an ex-Bugatti materials expert to tweak the materials and feel of the surfaces in its cars, and she worked on the new i30.

There’s one infotainment screen across the range and it’s an eight-inch unit that runs the latest-generation of Hyundai’s infotainment system and offers both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. But, the standard system offers native sat-nav which is excellent and fast to re-route even when you try and purposely trick it.

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 strips, which largely works until you start touching the dash. There’s too much hard, scratchy plastic strewn about the place for my liking and the finger nail scratch test reveals the plastic is easily marked. 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.

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. 

What’s the passenger space like?

The i30’s back seats are well shaped and comfortable with good head, leg, shoulder and elbow room. The entry-level Active misses out of rear air vents, as does the SR, but Elite and Premium variants all get rear air vents which in our climate is a handy feature.

For those with kids, there are ISOFIX anchor points on the two outboard seats and high-mounted top tethers for all three seat positions. The rear door openings are nice and big and the hip point is high-ish too, making it easy to swing in and out of the back seat without running the risk of smacking your head either on the way in or out.

In the front and the leather-swathed seats on the SR variants offer more side bolstering than the entry level cars and help to keep you from sliding around when cornering.

The front seats in the Corolla ZR 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 that 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.

What’s the boot space like?

The i30 SR gets a dual-floor boot which offers 395 litres of storage space (expanding to 1301L), the non-SR models get a full-size spare, while the SR gets a space saver because of its multi-link bum and thus packaging issues (Hyundai wanted to maintain a full-size boot across the range); a full-size spare is available as an extra-cost accessory. 

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.

What are they like to drive?

This is where the i30 SR Premium is a convincing winner against the Corolla ZR. The Hyundai gets a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine is (exclusive to the SR and SR Premium) and makes 150kW at 6000rpm and 265Nm of torque from 1500-4500rpm and it convincingly outguns the Corolla ZR which runs a bigger engine producing significantly less power and torque. The engine is a 1.8-litre four-cylinder producing just 103kW at 6400rpm and 173Nm of torque at 4000rpm.

That said, 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).

With its multi-link rear-end and 18-inch alloys, the i30 SR Premium feels planted when cornering with quick and well-weighted steering. The i30 displays excellent body control through corners, good turn-in grip through the front-end and the ability to absorb mid-corner bumps without jolting through the cabin. And this is testament to the work done on the thing by local ride and handling engineers.

What are the safety features like?

The Hyundai i30 range gets a five-star ANCAP safety rating (35.01/37) with all variants except the entry-level Active running Hyundai’s SmartSense active safety package which includes, autonomous emergency braking, blind spot detection, driver attention alert, lane change assist, rear cross traffic alert and smart cruise control. Beyond this the i30 SR Premium gets traction and stability controls, reversing camera with dynamic guidelines, tyre-pressure monitoring and parking sensors front (SR Premium only) and rear parking sensors across the range. The range also offers airbags covering the front and rear, ISOFIX, seatbelt reminders, and more.

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.

So, which one wins and why?

This is not a tricky one. The i30 SR Premium might be slightly more expensive than the Corolla ZR but it’s an all-new vehicle with a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, has locally tuned ride and steering, a bigger boot and, my personal favourite, rear-seat air vents.

The Corolla is a good vehicle, make no mistake, it’s rock solid build and affordable running costs thanks to Toyota’s capped price servicing will see it as a default buy for some. But, it doesn’t feel as comfortable to sit in or drive, is nowhere near as dynamic or enjoyable as the i30 SR Premium.

The i30 SR Premium also beats out the Corolla ZR on its connectivity package which includes native sat-nav as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto which is nicer and more convenient for buyers than the clumsy system that Toyota persists with. 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.


  • John John

    You say that a full size spare is available as an option for the i30 SR. It’s not shown as an option on the Hyundai website (not the last time I looked).

    There seems to be a bit of disagreement about the availability of a full size spare. Can you say categorically that it is available as an option for the SR?

    • Hi John John, I was told about the full-size spare by Hyundai at the local launch. I’ll confirm and advise. – Isaac

  • Timothy771

    That’s a stupid comparison. The i30 is all new, the Corolla is a couple of years behind, face lift on the way. The engines are on different planets. Just because of some on paper spec similarities it does not mean you are comparing vehicles that should be in the same bracket. We all know Toyota doesn’t produce high performance hatch backs, or even high tech vehicles for that matter, well since the TRD which was 132kw but pretty dismal although handling was ok over previous gen. If you had compared the i30 to say a Ford Focus 1.5turbo Hatch(132kw) or something people could have gotten an idea as to how good or bad the i30 is. Last gen i30 was naturally aspirated and made sense comparing but now Hyundai obviously has its sights on better things. Now people just know that the i30 turbo will beat a naturally aspirated 1.8 Corolla. Whoohoo. It’s like comparing a Fiesta 1.0 with 91kw to a i20 with 54kw because they are both the same size or aimed at a similar market. The vehicles themselves are fundamentally different due to engine specs. Go further up the range and try again and if there are no vehicles that can reasonable go up against it, try another brand. Apples with apples please people. This is apples and grapes.

    • Hi Timothy771, I can see where you’re coming from but I don’t agree that it’s an invalid comparison. And, yes, I’ll get to the Focus and i30 comparison shortly but, both the SR Premium and Corolla ZR are priced similarly, leaving the performance issue aside, and people will indeed compare them when shopping. – Isaac

  • Chissy

    Hi,
    Isaac. I will be looking for a new vehicle in the next 6-12 months, and enjoy reading your car reviews, especially your ‘car comparisons’. My priorities in my next new car are low levels of tyre / road noise (especially ver course-chipped roads at highway speeds) & ride comfort.

    I would appreciate your opinion as to what vehicle might be the best choice for my situation, whether it is a SUV, sedan or hatch. Cars I am considering at the moment include the Subaru Impreza & XV, Honda Civic, Hyundai i30, and even the Tucson. My budget takes me up to $40,000.
    I will eventually test drive some these new cars, but the “test-drives” from car dealerships are only about 20-25 minutes and mostly on city-suburban roads. You don’t get to experience what these new cars are like at highway speeds on course-chipped / patchy road surfaces – that’s where I rely on motoring
    journalists like yourself for this type of information.

    • Hi Chissy, I like the sound of all of those cars you’re considering, but it’s a pretty broad spread. I think you should definitely have both the XV and i30 on your list, but for different reasons. Both are quiet with locally tuned ride and handling. The i30 is a little bigger inside and in the boot than the XV, but the XV gets good ground clearance and all-wheel drive. XV 2.0i-S and i30 SR Premium are the ones you should be looking at as they offer all of the safety features, etc.
      Tucson is a good one if you need some extra room. The Honda Civic isn’t bad but it’s not as good as either the i30 or XV… you could add Hyundai Elantra to your list as well as a Skoda Rapid. All the cars I’ve mentioned will give a good quiet ride. – Isaac

      • Chissy

        Thanks, Isaac

  • Sophie

    Thanks for the review! These are exactly the two cars I’m deciding between.

    I’ve had 3 Corollas in the past, and love how reliable and economical they are. But they’re missing the bells and whistles (opening sunroof and rain-sensing wipers being my two main frustrations) of other brands.

    My opinion of Hyundai was that they were poor quality, junky cars, and only test-drove because of all the great reviews they get. After driving I had a completely different view.

    My concerns in buying an i30 are the durability, and the cost of servicing. The i30 is significantly more expensive to service than a Corolla, and I’m worried how the car will stand up to 30,000kms per year, for 5 years. Corolla on the other hand is my comfort zone, but lacking some features.

    What do you think would be the better buy over the course of a 5 year ownership?

    • Hi Sophie, this is a tricky question to answer as I’ve never owned either of those cars for five years. But, my gut suggests the Hyundai would serve you fine over that time. I’ve had a good nose-poke around on some product review sites here in Oz and OS and the vast majority had nothing but praise for the i30 and the customer service they’d received from dealers.
      Toyota definitely has the largest network and its capped price servicing is cheaper than the i30 but the i30 gets a lot more kit than an equivalent Corolla and is much better to drive in any of the model variants you choose to compare.
      How will it stand up to 30,000km a year? That all depends on how well you look after it… For me, the additional features the i30 offers over the Corolla (like superior smartphone connectivity) and the fact the interior build quality and materials used are much nicer than the Toyota would seal it for me.
      And, if you need any further reassurance… remember the Hyundai Excel? The original $13,990 special? Well, motoring writers at the time said they’d last five minutes before they fell apart but many soldiered on well past 250,000km.
      Let us know how you get on. Isaac

Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober was born in the shadow of Mount Panorama in Bathurst and, so, it was inevitable he’d fall into work as a motoring writer. He began his motoring career in 2000 reviewing commercial vehicles, before becoming editor of Caravan & Motorhome magazine. He then moved to MOTOR Magazine before going freelance and contributing to Overlander 4WD, 4×4 Australia, TopGear Australia, Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, The Australian, CARSguide, and many more.