Finished in black over silver, Toyota’s ZR Corolla looks more eye-catching than ever.

In the past few years the company has been able to transform the image of the car from
staid and conservative into something much more sporty that has younger buyer appeal —
at least that’s the plan.

Flanking the hatch is the more traditional sedan for mums and dads and rally bred, three-
door, all-wheel drive GR hot hatch at the other end of the scale for the boy racers (and boy
racers at heart).

Each grade of sedan and hatch is available with a petrol engine, or fuel saving hybrid for
another $2500 (obviously not the GR though).

The problem at the moment is probably going to be getting your hands on one, as the
wait-time for most Toyota models has blown out to at least 18 months – more so for

In fact, Toyota recently pulled the plug on Camry Hybrid where the wait list is now two


Corolla hatch starts from $29,610 for the Ascent Sport with a 2.0-litre petrol engine and
automatic transmission.

The same car with a fuel-saving petrol-electric powertrain, a-la-Prius is an extra $2500, but
will save you money in the long run.

Top of the range is the ZR Hybrid at $39,100 plus on roads, with a two-tone paint option
for $775, offered in combination with white, grey, red, silver and blue.

There’s also the sporty, all-wheel drive GR Corolla from $64,190.

Our test vehicle the ZR Hybrid hatch is $44,394 by the time you put it on the road and as
good as it might be, that is a lot of Corolla.

Standard kit includes 18-inch alloys, dual zone climate air and a combination of real and
artificial suede trim, with heated sports seats up front with red accents and an eight-way
power-adjust driver seat with lumbar support.

There’s also a premium gear lever and steering wheel, smart entry and start, electric
parking brake, adaptive cruise control, road sign recognition, auto lights and wipers, auto-
dimming rear view mirror, front and rear parking sensors and rear privacy glass,

In the lights department, it has auto high beam, bi-LED headlights, along with LED
daytime, tail and front/rear fog lights.

ZR steps up to a full 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster along with a windscreen head-up

Corolla comes with a 5-year unlimited kilometre warranty.

Infotainment consists of an 8.0-inch touchscreen with premium JBL 8-speaker audio, plus
Bluetooth, satellite navigation, AM/FM and DAB+ digital radio, and wired Apple CarPlay
and Android Auto.

You also get 12 months of complimentary access with remote connect to Toyota Connect
Services which automatically notifies emergency services in the event of an accident as
well as provides remote access to the car.

There’s also a wireless charge pad, two USB-C ports and a 12 volt outlet in the front (but
nothing for rear seat passengers).

With the introduction of the upgraded fifth-generation hybrid powertrain, performance has
been boosted with a 13kW increase in power to deliver a combined output of 103kW.

The upgraded hybrid teams a 1.8-litre petrol engine with a newly developed high-output
motor generator, power control unit and downsized hybrid transaxle.

The front, axle-mounted drive motor has been enhanced by doubling the number of
magnets per pole inside the rotor, while the newly developed lithium-ion battery reduces
weight by 14 per cent while increasing both input and output power.

Hybrid grades drive the front wheels exclusively via a continuously variable transmission

In comparison the 2.0-litre Toyota Dynamic Force inline four-cylinder engine produces
126kW/202Nm in the hatch and 126kW/203Nm for the sedan, driving the front wheels via
a CVT with 10-speed sequential shift mode.

Of note Corolla’s cousin the Lexus UX scores a larger 2.0-litre engine as the basis for its
hybrid that produces a combined 135kW.

Corolla has been awarded a full five stars for safety by ANCAP.
It comes with a rear view camera, seven airbags including a driver knee airbag and
autonomous emergency braking (City, Interurban & Vulnerable Road User) as well as lane
keep assist (LKA) with lane departure warning (LDW).

An upgraded Toyota Safety Sense suite starts with the pre-collision safety system which
adds motorcycle detection, intersection collision avoidance support for crossing vehicles
and left/right turn, emergency steering assist and acceleration suppression at low speeds.

Cameras and radar sensors have also been improved offering a wider range for detection
of obstacles or vehicles.

Blind spot monitor has been added across the hatch range, while lane trace assist has
been expanded to include the emergency driving stop system feature that has been
designed to bring the vehicle to a gradual stop if it detects the driver is no longer making
vehicle inputs.

The active cruise control system has also been enhanced and now offers four distance
settings, the ability to detect other vehicles earlier, and the addition of deceleration assist
when changing lanes. But it misses out on auto reverse braking.
Isofix child restraint anchorage points are provided for the rear outboard seats.

Corolla’s styling has evolved into something quite exceptional over the years, culminating
in the latest ZR variant.

Launched 57 years ago, the latest 12th generation hatch sports a low, wind-cheating
profile that places the car quite close to the ground which can pose problems.

It can make getting in and out difficult at times and it means driveways and speed humps
need to be approached with caution, as the low front apron has a way of scraping.

The sloping rear roof line also makes entry to the back more difficult than it probably
should be and you might find it a little cramped once you’re there.

In the case of the hybrid, the boot is larger because it doesn’t get a spare wheel,
temporary or otherwise, just a puncture repair kit — to make room for the battery

ZR is available with a sporty 2.0-litre naturally aspirated engine or as a petrol-electric
hybrid at a $2500 premium.

A couple of years ago we once compared the petrol and hybrid hatch in a back-to-back
test. Both impressed, but for different reasons.

Apart from being powered by different drivetrains, there are other subtle differences.
For a start they have different transmissions. They’re both CVT autos — but with a
One also gets gear change paddles, and the brakes are also different because of the
hybrid’s regenerative braking requirements.

The instrumentation is also different, with a head-up display that shows different

The more you dig, the more you discover.

The petrol model is unquestionably the sportier of the two, but getting back into the hybrid
after a long break, it feels sportier than we remember.

There’s a lot more tech this time around too.

Maybe I’m just getting old and soft. Or maybe my priorities have changed?

Putting the transmission of the hybrid in Power mode delivers more satisfying throttle
response, with a turn of speed thanks to the boost from the electric motor.

But make sure you don’t pull the transmission lever back all the way or you’ll find yourself
in B instead of D which is the regenerative braking mode. D is one step back.

The traffic sign monitor recognises speed signs only. It doesn’t recognise electronic speed
signs, nor does it differentiate between standard signs, timed school zones or bus and
truck advisory speed — so until it encounters a real speed sign it could be telling the driver
the wrong thing.

Steering is sharp and the hatch corners flat and hard, but the ride is overly harsh and the
cabin can become quite noisy depending on the surface.

Toyota infamously doesn’t permit operation of the satellite navigation system while the car
is on the move.

If you’re on the way somewhere and you forget to put in the address, it means pulling over
and spending precious minutes on the task. Or you can play beat the green light and try to
enter the address before the lights change and it’s time to move off.

Sluggish response from the touchscreen makes this almost impossible. You need to wait
while it digests each letter, or you’ll find it skips every second one and you need to start

You could try appealing to the car’s voice activation system, but that’s an even more
frustrating experience.

At the end of the day the hybrid is all about economy and this is where the Corolla aces it.

Rated at 4.0L/100km, we were getting 5.1L after more than 600km of mixed driving.

The Corolla ZR Hybrid is a lot of car, but the price reflects this at well over $40K on the
It also has a lot of arguably better competition, but no one quite plays the hybrid card like
Toyota, providing immediate, accessible, no frills fuel savings to the average motorist.

In this respect, it’s hard to beat.

Looks: 8.5
Performance: 7
Safety: 7.5
Thirst: 8
Practicality: 7.5
Comfort: 7
Tech: 8
Value: 7.5
Overall: 7.6


Ascent Sport petrol hatch or sedan: $28,130
Ascent Sport hybrid hatch: $30,630
Ascent Sport hybrid sedan: $31,180
SX petrol hatch or sedan: $31,280
SX hybrid hatch or sedan: $33,780
ZR petrol hatch: $35,120
ZR petrol sedan: $36,620
ZR hybrid hatch: $37,620
ZR hybrid sedan: $39,120
Note: These prices do not include government or dealer delivery charges. Contact your
local Toyota dealer for drive-away prices.

SPECIFICATIONS (Toyota Corolla Ascent Sport 1.8-litre petrol/electric hybrid five-door

Capacity: 1.8 litres
Configuration: Four cylinders in line
Maximum Power: 103 kW @ 5200 rpm
Maximum Torque: 142 Nm @ 3600 rpm
Fuel Type: Standard unleaded petrol
Combined Fuel Cycle (ADR 81/02): 4.0 L/100km
CO2 Emissions: 91 g/km

DRIVELINE: Continuously variable automatic, FWD

Length: 4375 mm
Wheelbase: 2640 mm
Width: 1780 mm
Height: 1460 mm
Turning Circle: 10.2 metres
Kerb Mass: 1370 kg
Fuel Tank Capacity: 43 litres

Front: Ventilate disc
Rear: Solid disc

Five years / unlimited kilometres

About Chris Riley

Chris Riley has been a journalist for 40 years. He has spent half of his career as a writer, editor and production editor in newspapers, the rest of the time driving and writing about cars both in print and online. His love affair with cars began as a teenager with the purchase of an old VW Beetle, followed by another Beetle and a string of other cars on which he has wasted too much time and money. A self-confessed geek, he’s not afraid to ask the hard questions - at the risk of sounding silly.
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