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Toyota Corolla 2019 review: ZR hatch

EXPERT RATING
7.3
The new Mazda3 has landed and its arch-rival, the Toyota Corolla, should be sweating. We check in on the car that's just been knocked off the top step of the sales podium in Australia to see how it will cope with the challenge.

The new Corolla has been around a for while now. It landed in the frying pan of the small-hatch segment, with plenty of hissing and spitting from strong rivals. It's hard to pick a bad car from any established carmaker in this class, so the competition is very keen indeed.

With the recent release of the Mazda3, we thought it was worth checking in with the Corolla to see how it stacks up against its renewed rival.

Toyota Corolla 2019: ZR
Safety rating
Engine Type2.0L
Fuel TypeRegular Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency6L/100km
Seating5 seats
Price from$30,370

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   7/10

For $30,370 you can have the top-spec ZR Corolla in 2.0-litre CVT. This is very competitive, if you're not worried about engine power. You're also just $1500 away from the ZR Hybrid Corolla, if you're interested.

The new headlights are very funky, particularly with the LED running lights. (image: Peter Anderson) The new headlights are very funky, particularly with the LED running lights. (image: Peter Anderson)

You get 18-inch alloy wheels, eight-speaker stereo, reversing camera, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, active cruise control, sat nav, LED headlights, heated front seats, head-up display, heated and folding electric mirrors, wireless mobile phone charging mat and a space-saver spare.

Hitting you like a freight train (this is a visual metaphor, obviously) is the huge 8.0-inch screen. The still-dodgy software runs the eight-speaker stereo and USB, Bluetooth and DAB but (deep breath) still no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Toyota says this functionality is coming to the range, so here's hoping it lands in the Corolla sooner rather than later.

You get 18-inch alloy wheels. (image: Peter Anderson) You get 18-inch alloy wheels. (image: Peter Anderson)

Is there anything interesting about its design?   7/10

The new Corolla isn't all that new any more. When I first saw it I wasn't that impressed - I didn't really see the point of building an essentially all-new car with a silhouette virtually identical to the previous one, which was dull beyond belief. New platform, why not a change-up in looks? And yet, when I cast aside my cranky pants and had a good look, I discovered the Corolla is quite a bit cooler than before. It's not pretty like the 3, nor is it as anonymous as an unadorned Hyundai i30. The new headlights are very funky, particularly with the LED running lights. There's more personality in the design than there has been for years. And far fewer random lines.

The cabin is lifted immeasurably by the excellent, racy front seats with the red inserts, Alcantara trim and metallic slots. There are still some unsubtle examples of parts-bin switchgear that no other manufacturer would touch, but everything is where it should be. The screen, unfortunately, grated my gums a bit (sorry, another metaphor - I did not try to eat the screen) - it's really big, sits too high on the dash and is framed by some really cheap-looking and feeling switches.

  • When I cast aside my cranky pants and had a good look, I discovered the Corolla is quite a bit cooler than before. (image: Peter Anderson) When I cast aside my cranky pants and had a good look, I discovered the Corolla is quite a bit cooler than before. (image: Peter Anderson)
  • There's more personality in the design than there has been for years. And far fewer random lines. (image: Peter Anderson) There's more personality in the design than there has been for years. And far fewer random lines. (image: Peter Anderson)
  • There are still some unsubtle examples of parts-bin switchgear that no other manufacturer would touch, but everything is where it should be. (image: Peter Anderson) There are still some unsubtle examples of parts-bin switchgear that no other manufacturer would touch, but everything is where it should be. (image: Peter Anderson)
  • The cabin is lifted immeasurably by the excellent, racy front seats with the red inserts, Alcantara trim and metallic slots. (image: Peter Anderson) The cabin is lifted immeasurably by the excellent, racy front seats with the red inserts, Alcantara trim and metallic slots. (image: Peter Anderson)

How practical is the space inside?   7/10

The Next Generation Architecture -based Corolla is a bit bigger in each direction, but it hasn't suddenly rendered the Corolla roomy for all. Front-seat passengers are in pretty good shape once they're in, but long-legged folks will have to remember not to bash their knee on the dash as they get in.

The chunky front seats eat into what little rear legroom is there and for me to sit behind my driving position (I am, unsurprisingly, 180cm no matter where I sit) is a bit of a tough assignment for longer journeys.

  • The boot boasts a 333-litre capacity, owing to its space-saver spare. (image: Peter Anderson) The boot boasts a 333-litre capacity, owing to its space-saver spare. (image: Peter Anderson)
  • The rest of the range labours with 217 litres, but gets a full-sizer. (image: Peter Anderson) The rest of the range labours with 217 litres, but gets a full-sizer. (image: Peter Anderson)

There are cupholders for front and rear seat passengers, for a total of four, and bottle holders in each door. The rear bottle holders look like cupholders because the shape of the door means there's no room for a pocket-style holder.

The boot boasts a 333-litre capacity, owing to its space-saver spare - the rest of the range labours with 217 litres, but gets a full-sizer.

The chunky front seats eat into what little rear legroom is there and for me to sit behind my driving position. (image: Peter Anderson) The chunky front seats eat into what little rear legroom is there and for me to sit behind my driving position. (image: Peter Anderson)

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   7/10

As with the rest of the non-hybrid range, the ZR arrives with a 2.0-litre, naturally aspirated four-cylinder developing 125kW and 200Nm. As is now Toyota tradition, the Corolla also has a continuously variable transmission, which the company claims is a 10-speed.

It's also front-wheel drive, as has been the case for around three decades, and it will come as no surprise, I'm sure, if I tell you the Corolla is not very quick.

As with the rest of the non-hybrid range, the ZR arrives with a 2.0-litre, naturally aspirated four-cylinder developing 125kW and 200Nm. (image: Peter Anderson) As with the rest of the non-hybrid range, the ZR arrives with a 2.0-litre, naturally aspirated four-cylinder developing 125kW and 200Nm. (image: Peter Anderson)

How much fuel does it consume?   7/10

The Corolla's claimed combined cycle-consumption figure is what I thought was a fairly optimistic 6L/100km, given I got 5.2L/100km in the hybrid version. While I didn't get anywhere near that, 8.3L/100km wasn't a bad result, especially in what was mostly suburban running.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   8/10

On board are seven airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, forward AEB with pedestrian detection and bicyclist detection (during the day), reversing camera, adaptive cruise, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, traffic-sign recognition and active cornering control.

There are two ISOFIX points and three top-tether anchor points.

It comes with a space-saver spare. (image: Peter Anderson) It comes with a space-saver spare. (image: Peter Anderson)

Most of that gear is available across the range, which is impressive. Bizarrely, there are no rear parking sensors (or front ones, for that matter) which seems to be a Toyota and Subaru thing.

ANCAP awarded a five-star safety rating to the Corolla in August 2018.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

5 years / unlimited km warranty

ANCAP Safety Rating

ANCAP logo

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   8/10

Toyota has broken its resistance and moved to a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty. As everyone knows, Toyotas are generally rock-solid, but that extra two years has brought it in line with most of its competitors.

Servicing comes at 12 months/15,000km (previously it was every six months/10,000km) and for the first five years/75,000km, each service is $175 each. Bargain.

What's it like to drive?   7/10

While the centre of gravity is lower in this Next Generation Architecture Corolla, you wouldn't know it sitting in the driver's seat. It's a bit higher than I'd like and I was never quite as comfortable as I can get in its rivals. The seats themselves are fantastic and part of a pleasing trend of carmakers equipping vehicles with seats that are as good to look at as they are to sit in.

I can only guess the high driving position will appeal to the SUV crowd?

As I may have mentioned in these pages before, I was not enamoured with the old Corolla. While it was built to outlast humanity, it wasn't appealing to look at or drive and didn't set the spec sheet on fire with useful modern conveniences. During that car's lifetime, the segment played host to machines that were appealing in all those areas - the Hyundai i30, the Mazda3 and the VW Golf. Toyota's chassis engineers have risen to the challenge.

For $30,370 you can have the top-spec ZR Corolla in 2.0-litre CVT. (image: Peter Anderson) For $30,370 you can have the top-spec ZR Corolla in 2.0-litre CVT. (image: Peter Anderson)

The Corolla rides well, has very good steering and is very smooth across the lumps and bumps of our urban environment. The multi-link rear end ensures rear passengers do pretty well, too. I quite liked driving the Corolla, except for my usual complaint - the drivetrain.

The 2.0-litre engine isn't particularly quiet or especially refined and that is compounded by the rev-hungry CVT. In normal driving it's fine, but as soon as you ask anything of the engine it jams itself at around 6000rpm and makes an unpleasant racket. With just 200Nm to move 1400kg, you will work the engine hard if you're loaded up or need to get a move on.

When you do get a move on, an infuriating voice will wag its finger at you to obey the road rules. While that's helpful if you missed the change in speed limits, if it goes the other way, you may find yourself yelling at the touchscreen that you can make your own decisions about the speed at which you travel, thanks very much.

Toyota seems to be making an effort to not only build cars well but to respond to what customers want. (image: Peter Anderson) Toyota seems to be making an effort to not only build cars well but to respond to what customers want. (image: Peter Anderson)

Verdict

I liked the hybrid-engined Corolla but I think I prefer the petrol-only ZR. It's nicer to drive and has a bit (if not substantially) more pep, without a huge impost at the pump. The new Corolla is a much more appealing proposition than the old one, but it has to be - the rest of the segment is so good, especially with the astonishingly good new Mazda3 knocking it out of the park.

Toyota seems to be making an effort to not only build cars well but to respond to what customers want. It's still missing techno must-haves like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and there's that curious omission of rear parking sensors, which vexes me, and yet it's still a car I can suggest without a long list of buts.

Is the Corolla a match for its competition? Or is it too little too late?

Pricing Guides

$26,580
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)
Lowest Price
$21,240
Highest Price
$31,920

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Ascent Sport 2.0L, ULP, 6 SP MAN $22,870 2019 Toyota Corolla 2019 Ascent Sport Pricing and Specs
ASCENT SPORT (HYBRID) 1.8L, ULP, CVT AUTO $25,870 2019 Toyota Corolla 2019 ASCENT SPORT (HYBRID) Pricing and Specs
SX 2.0L, ULP, CVT AUTO $26,870 2019 Toyota Corolla 2019 SX Pricing and Specs
SX (HYBRID) 1.8L, ULP, CVT AUTO $28,370 2019 Toyota Corolla 2019 SX (HYBRID) Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7.3
Price and features7
Design7
Practicality7
Engine & trans7
Fuel consumption7
Safety8
Ownership8
Driving7
Peter Anderson
Contributing journalist

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