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2015 Toyota Corolla ZR review long-term

The Toyota Corolla is undoubtedly Australia’s best-selling car. Follow our weekly updates on life with the 2015 Toyota Corolla ZR review.


OKAY, IT’S BEEN A WEEK OR SO between write-ups for the Corolla and I’m sorry for that… but this week I’m struggling with the Corolla. Well, more specifically, I’m struggling with the infotainment and sat-nav system. Don’t get me wrong, this new system is one million years ahead of the old system Toyota used to employ in its cars, but it’s still not foolproof.

See, I’ve just bought a new phone, an iPhone 6S to be precise, and the Corolla doesn’t seem to like it one bit. My old phone, a 5S, could be plugged in via USB to charge and act as an iPod, would play via the car’s touchscreen, but not so the new phone, and I’m not the only one to encounter this problem.

So, what is the problem? Well, I plug my phone in, select iPod to play music, scroll through the albums, select one, and hit play and then… nothing. So I hit pause and then play and… still nothing. So I unplug the phone and plug it back in thinking there might be a glitch because it was plugged in before I started up the car, but no. It still won’t work. And this hasn’t just happened once, it happens every single time.

If I select Bluetooth then it will stream the audio, which is fine but sometimes I don’t want to connect via Bluetooth because I don’t want to answer the phone. Sometimes I just want to drive, listen to music and not be disturbed… like driving a car in the old days, and by the old days I mean about 20 years ago.

While I’m talking about Bluetooth… I find that I can turn the car’s audio up to max and unless I adjust the volume via my iPhone the music will only play very quietly. Meaning, I’ve got to turn my phone volume up and then control the volume via the car.

But back to the phone and car not talking when plugged in. To get the music to play, despite all of the controls appearing on the touchscreen, I’ll have to ‘play’ the song via my phone. Then, once it’s playing I can skip forwards and backwards, but if I want to choose a new album then I’ve got to go back to the phone to ‘play’ it… I can scroll around via the car and get the album I want to play, but have to physically hit ‘play’ via my phone.

And, as I said, I’m not the only one who struggles with this. A friend of mine just purchased a top of the line RAV4 and he has exactly the same problems. And his phone is a Samsung Galaxy something-or-other.

And then there’s the sat-nav. Setting your destination is simple enough and the voice commands and map is fine unless the intersection is a little tricky and then it can become confused, but once you’ve reached your destination, and it announces so, you’ve got to physically cancel the destination. And if you don’t, you’ll drive off, and the car will keep trying to direct you back to where you’ve just come from. It’s a first-world problem, sure, as is the phone connection, but it’s annoying.


GETTING BACK INTO THE Corolla after a week with the Land Rover Defender 90 Heritage was like climbing out of a sandpaper bean bag filled with gravel and onto a sumptuous Chesterfield lounge wearing a velour tracksuit. It was a comfortable change.

More than the difference in ride comfort, the Corolla is also a little more advanced than the Defender when it comes to fuel efficiency. Indeed, the Defender’s fuel efficiency is directly linked to the weight of your right foot and the incline you’re driving up. Not so, the Corolla which offers two ECO modes. Huh?

Yeah, I was a little confused upon getting back into the car to see the Eco light illuminated on the dash when I hadn’t actually pressed the ECO mode button. But then it all came back. So, the Corolla has a default ECO mode that, any time you’re not accelerating will see a little light illuminate on the dash with the word ECO and if you don’t see it light up it means you’re driving like a loon and using too much fuel.

The idea of the word illuminating on the dash and the little bar lighting up in the multi-function display between the tachometer on the left and the speedo on the right is to encourage you to be lighter and smoother on the throttle. But, in effect, it will illuminate whenever you’re not stomping on the throttle and are just cruising, and I mean when you’re driving at an even speed, not the other type of cruising… Basically, when you see the little blue bar lighting up in the MFD it means you’re using more fuel than is optimal, according to the car’s parameters anyway.

When you floor the throttle the display will stretch beyond the ECO zone and the green ECO display will disappear.

But this function is not the same as pressing the ECO mode button down by the shift lever. See, pressing this will retard performance, meaning the Corolla will accelerate more slowly. Toyota describes acceleration in this mode as being smooth, but to me it feels like the handbrake is on. More than throttle and gearbox response, ECO mode also tweaks the air-conditioning to respond to temperature changes inside the cabin a little more slowly in order to reduce the drain on engine power. While driving in ECO mode will likely save you fuel, probably not much more than a cupful, however, and I’ll be performing this test this coming Monday for confirmation, the thing doesn’t feel as comfortable as when you’re driving for efficiency in normal mode.

And, like SPORT mode, if you select this mode while driving it’ll only last until you either press the button again and turn it off, or switch off the ignition.


DESPITE MY CRITICISM of the Corolla’s CVT, the little battler is starting to work its way into my good books. See the more time I spend with it, the more I realise that while it might not be as thrilling as some of its rivals, it’s actually a lot deeper than I initially gave it credit for.

I’d written it off early as mere transport. But it’s more than that. The Corolla is proving to be a tough little workhorse that’s capable of swallowing two child seats, and giving them plenty of legroom in the back, or the dog in the boot (yes, with the cargo cover removed), and the carpet is resistant to trapping dog hair, so that’s a bonus, and if driven sensibly actually can be quite fun.

Sure, it’s not overly endowed with power and torque but there’s enough to keep it moving with traffic, even with the family on-board. And, in Sport mode, yes, there’s a Sport mode in the Corolla ZR the computer tweaks the transmission to act more like a traditional automatic, with seven speeds no less, holding gears longer. It doesn’t transform the thing into a hot hatch, but on the right road and driven with attention to the clumsiness of the CVT can cover ground quite quickly. And, no, my tongue isn’t in my cheek.

But it’s the little things that make this refreshed Corolla a standout over its predecessors. The touchscreen display, for instance, is a massive leap ahead of the unit Toyota used to offer, and infinitely easier to use than many other systems. Usually, within one touch you can get to exactly where you need to. The screen is clean and easy to see, even in direct sunlight, and the touch sensitivity is perfect.

The multi-media unit offers quite a bit of customisation too, and you can move around your ‘favourites’ and arrange them the way you like it, at the touch of a button. Nice. And it even has a CD player… if any of you reading this actually know what a CD is…



IT’S BEEN A LITTLE quiet for the Toyota Corolla in the last two weeks as we’ve had a succession of metal across the driveway, including the Land Rover Discovery Sport and, right now, the Range Rover Sport Hybrid. Both will have reviews up by the end of the week.

That’s meant, Mrs B has been piloting the Corolla ZR on her daily 100km commute to and from work. And I’ll be filing her impressions of the Corolla this Friday. I’m also preparing a video demonstrating the Corolla’s touch screen system, because it’s lightyears ahead of the system it used to run and is pretty user-friendly, but it’s the speed of the touch sensitivity that I want to particularly show off. For instance, the system in the Range Rover seems to be glacially slow and particularly confusing by comparison, adding numerous layers to functions that don’t need it.

Anyway, that’s enough for now. Stay tuned for more updates later in the week.


WITH SCHOOL HOLIDAYS upon us the Corolla has spent most of its time running between the shops and indoor play gyms (the weather in the Blue Mountains hasn’t been that flash this week) – and so fuel consumption is up a touch from 6.5L/100km to 6.6L/100km.

I whinged about the CVT the other week and I’m still down on it but I’m becoming used to it and learning best how to drive around its clumsiness. See, driving a CVT isn’t like driving a conventional automatic, indeed applying a slight ‘manual’ philosophy to the way you use the throttle while keeping an eye on the revs, and keeping an ear out for the engine will allow you to work out the car’s rhythm. It all sounds terribly touchy-feely but, trust me, a CVT isn’t like a normal gearbox even when it’s got ‘artificial’ shift points like this Corolla ‘seven-speed’ unit.

Fail to ‘work out’ your CVT car and you’ll come away with the superficial thought that the thing is buzzy and underpowered. The trick is how you drive the thing; you can’t just keep your foot mashed into the carpet. But I’ll write more about how to properly drive a CVT at another time, in the meantime you can read more about how they work HERE.

Away from the CVT, the kids are loving the panoramic glass roof which runs literally from the front of the car, back past the rear seats. It’s excellent. And the sun shade does a perfect job of shielding the car when it’s closed. Indeed, so good is the block-out that anyone climbing in who didn’t know it had a glass roof wouldn’t pick it.

It’s only been a short week with the Corolla as I’ve been in a new Nissan Navara since Wednesday, and you’ll be able to read my first thoughts of the Navara NP300 ST next week. The Corolla will be back too.


MY THINKING IS THAT I should get all of the bad news out of the way before launching into all the Corolla’s good points and the clever little bits that make it such a good car for getting from A to B. So, while I’m not a fan of the transmission, I’m learning to drive around its clumsiness.

But there’s no getting around the suspension. On the whole Toyota has done a good job with it, push the Corolla ZR hard through corners and it hangs on showing little body roll and a general feeling of stability and composure even with adjustments through the wheel. But it’s under damped.

And you particularly notice the poor damping when you run across an expansion joint in the road or a speed hump and the front and then the back of the car bounces.

In general, the Corolla behaves quite well, but as the road surfaces becomes poorer its composure goes out the window, lagging behind the likes of the Ford Focus, or Volkswagen Golf, or even the Peugeot 308.


DESPITE KNOWING the Toyota Corolla ZR was fitted with a seven-speed automatic transmission my first thoughts were that there must have been some sort of mistake. Quite often it’s the transmission most car buyers notice first, overlooking a number of other shortcomings if the transmission ensures smooth progress.

And in that department the Corolla’s seven-speeder CVT is a disappointment, feeling more like a clumsy four-speed traditional automatic. With the 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine producing 103kW and 171Nm of torque it’s vital the transmission works to get the best out of the engine, but the Corolla’s CVT is possibly the poorest example of the transmission type on the market and a long way behind Subaru and its CVT technology.

Usually you get a stretching sensation with CVTs, but the Corolla’s ‘seven-speed’ CVT, with artificial steps to imitate a traditional transmission is clumsy and can be caught napping on hills or when extra oomph is needed for overtaking. It’ll go from humming along on middling revs to ‘dropping’ back and revving almost to redline and then almost as suddenly falling back again so that you get this clumsiness that makes it feel underpowered, which it isn’t.

Travelling at an even speed, the Corolla’s CVT keeps the thing moving nicely and while the ‘manual’ shifts are responsive they’re not totally ‘manual’ and there’s still an inherent clumsiness to the way it behaves. Indeed, I spent only one drive using the paddles and then decided it wasn’t worth it.

This all sounds rather negative, but the Corolla is more than just a CVT and this week we’ll explore, among other things, its new seven-inch infotainment unit which is a gigantic leap ahead of the fiddly aftermarket-style unit of its predecessor. The Corolla offers plenty of room for four, the handling and the steering are good and while the boot isn’t huge it’s big enough… or is it?

While it’s with us, the Corolla will be subjected to my family, meaning it’ll swap between longer runs into the city and shorter runs to school and the shops. It’ll have child seats fitted into the back and probably carry the dog on occasion, too. I’m sure I’ll adapt to the CVT and learn to drive around it, indeed, despite what you might think you do need to drive a CVT with the same care and attention you do a manual, and that’s the same for a DSG, too.

Stay tuned. More this coming Friday. Promise.

Our car 2015 Toyota Corolla ZR Price From $28,990+ORC; as tested $30,490+ORC Distance travelled this week 527km Issues None Thirst 6.6L/100km (as tested)

LAST MONTH the Toyota Corolla again topped the sales charts for the sixth time this year, and between it and second place there was daylight (or more than 2000 sales). Wow. So what makes the Corolla so popular? Well, that’s what I aim to find out over the next three months… after that we’ll be swapping the Corolla for that other stalwart of the Toyota stable and sales superstar, the Camry.

Having spent as much time in the Corolla as is humanly possible (527km), without sleeping in it, across the weekend (we collected it last Friday) I’m starting to get a handle on the thing. But I won’t launch into any off-the-cuff appraisals just yet. We’ll leave that until later this week (Friday).

In the meantime, some background, because not all of the Corollas are created equal. We’re testing the ZR which, along with the SX cop the ‘sportier’ and more aggressive looking US design – the Ascent and Ascent Sport cop a European-designed body. And, upon first impressions, the Corolla ZR is a visually impressive bit of kit with its sharp-as-a-knife snout with front and rear spoilers and side skirts.

Inside, the Corolla ZR gets sports bucket seats, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, and a new seven-inch touchscreen infotainment unit which offers sat-nav and Bluetooth with audio streaming, and more. Under the bonnet is a 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine which is mated exclusively, in the Corolla ZR, to a seven-speed auto (and I’ve already formed an opinion of this transmission… which I’ll share later).

The Corolla ZR is priced from $28,990 (+ORC) and our ZR came with the cost-optional panoramic roof which is priced at $1500.

More about the Corolla this Friday. Stay tuned.

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8 years ago

Last words were in this article was ,More about the Corolla this Friday. Stay tuned.

I have not seen this report and when will it be available please ?

8 years ago
Reply to  Ted

Sorry Ted, tomorrow morning. Had a shocking end to the week. Isaac

8 years ago

Hi Issac. Thank you for the feedback. The reason l wanted the report was about the CVT. I have a current model SP25 Hatch and do not like the car. Previously having been owners of Mazda, this one is a disappointment and am considering selling it already. The Mazda has a lot of noise coming into the cabin and just does not feel right. I knlw this is the first series of this new model and l have been told that you should buy the secknd, like this facelifted Corolla. The SP25 also has a lille lag, and you would think it was a turbo, not to mention the steering being a little slow and clunky. I am not happy with the Mazda and l wonder if you could provide some feedback on what car l should replace it with.

8 years ago
Reply to  Ted

Hi Ted, what about a Subaru XV? I think it’s probably got the pick of the small car SUVs… and it’s more practical than either the Toyota Corolla or the Mazda3. Isaac

8 years ago

Hi Isaac, l think the Subaru is gutless as the reports are not good. What about the CX3, but again the Mazda’s are very nosiey. I do like KIA’s. I am in my late 50’s and not sure what to buy. Maybe wait for the new Honda Civic, although the Jazz would be good if it had the Earths Dream engin. Thoughts please.

8 years ago
Reply to  Ted

Hi Ted, I’d take all reports that the XV is gutless with a pinch of salt. It’s not. I had a long-termer for six months that hauled the family and luggage up and down the Blue Mountains and it never missed a beat. Despite the hype I’m not a huge fan of the CX-3; they’re a Clayton’s SUV. The Jazz really is gutless, but it’s a great car.
You could consider a Skoda Rapid… Isaac

Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober