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Toyota Corolla Hybrid hatch 2018 review: ZR


The Toyota Corolla has just ticked over into its 12th generation. It has sold millions and millions all over the world and is an absolute testament to Toyota's unique blend of marketing, solidity, quality and crushing dullness.

The Corolla has by and large been a dull-but-worthy car with a few, model-specific exceptions. For nearly half a century, that worked a treat, here and overseas. But then other car companies caught up, styling became a thing and SUVs started clawing away sales with a bit of ride height and plastic bodywork.

The last Corolla wore a sharper suit than before, but it was still boring to drive, trading on its familiar values of not trying too hard. With an all-new platform and the command from on-high to be less boring, perhaps this new one can push the car to new heights.

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

Straight off the bat, the top-of-the-range ZR with hybrid drivetrain is a surprisingly sharp $31,870, just $1500 more than the standard ZR. We start the list with 18-inch alloy wheels, moving on with an eight-speaker stereo, reversing camera, dual-zone climate control (with vents in the back - luxury!), keyless entry and start, active cruise control, sat nav, bi-LED headlights (and they are superb), heated front seats, head-up display, heated and folding electric mirrors and a tyre-repair kit.

With two rows of cheap and tiny buttons, the screen isn't particularly premium-feeling.

A huge 8.0-inch screen runs the eight-speaker stereo with USB, Bluetooth and DAB and (deep breath) still no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. The screen's resolution is a bit muddy - it looks like Toyota has stretched an interface to fit the space. It's a better head unit than the rubbish one in Honda's C-HR and, for example, the Toyota 86, but with two rows of cheap and tiny buttons, not particularly premium-feeling.

Is there anything interesting about its design?

Well, here's something - a Corolla with genuine character. I'm not completely convinced (styling is subjective after all) but this is certainly a Corolla you can say is good looking.

The front is aggressive - particularly here in the ZR - with the right number of lines rather than the overdone designs of some other Toyotas. The big 18-inch wheels add a bit of dynamic tension to the look, its backside is almost shapely and the profile quite wedgy.

  • The front is aggressive, with the right number of lines rather than a overdone design. The front is aggressive, with the right number of lines rather than a overdone design.
  • The backside is almost shapely. It's a Corolla with genuine character. The backside is almost shapely. It's a Corolla with genuine character.
  • The big 18-inch wheels add a bit of dynamic tension to the look. The big 18-inch wheels add a bit of dynamic tension to the look.

The bit that gets me is where the rear doors meet the C-pillar. It looks like the design team couldn't work out how to make it elegant, so they just closed their eyes and hoped for the best. Bit of a shame, really, given the clarity of the rest of the car.

The cabin is a huge step forward. Contemporary and shapely rather than a cheap plastic cliff face, it makes all the right moves and is made of good materials. The seats are absurdly sporty and equally comfortable, although even up here in the ZR they feature manual adjudstment.

The interior is so good that small, unfortunate details jar, like the clumsily placed seat-heater switches, which look and feel like they're straight out of a 1988 Toyota Crown. The big 8.0-inch screen dominates the dash with almost cinematic scale.

How practical is the space inside?

The new machine has a few more centimetres in each direction, but not many of them have been lavished on the occupants. Front-seat passengers have plenty of space but I did feel like the chunky dashboard towards the right-hand side makes getting in a bit more of a job than it perhaps should be.

Rear-seat passengers really aren't as well looked after as they are in some of the Corolla's rivals because those front seats - as brilliant as they are - have super-chunky backs. All of that bulk means it's pretty tight for me, all of 180cm, to sit behind my own driving position. My beanpole son wasn't a particularly happy camper back there, with his head brushing the ceiling and legs akimbo.

  •  Front-seat passengers have plenty of space. Front-seat passengers have plenty of space.
  • It's pretty tight for all 180cm of me to sit behind my own driving position. It's pretty tight for all 180cm of me to sit behind my own driving position.
  • The boot is pretty ho-hum in the rest of the range at 217 litres. The boot is pretty ho-hum in the rest of the range at 217 litres.
  • The ZR, however, goes without a spare tyre - so there's a more generous 333 litres. The ZR, however, goes without a spare tyre - so there's a more generous 333 litres.

Front and rear-seat passengers score a pair of cupholders each and every door has a bottle holder. In the ZR you get a Qi wireless-charging pad, which is super handy if you have the right phone except you don't get a "Your phone is still in the vehicle" message, which would be good because you can't really see the phone once its in there.

The boot is pretty ho-hum in the rest of the range at 217 litres, but as the ZR goes without a spare tyre, there's a rather more generous 333 litres.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

Hybrid Corollas, as the name suggests, feature Toyota's hybrid powertrain. While the non-hybrid cars run a 125kW four-cylinder, this one has a 1.8-litre with a small battery and a modest electric motor.

As is usual, power output isn't especially straightfoward, so here goes. The 1.8 spins up 72kW/142Nm, which isn't a lot, but the electric motor brings 53kW/190Nm for a combined total system output of 90kW/190Nm.

The e-CVT auto provides drive to the front wheels. The e-CVT auto provides drive to the front wheels.

That's not a huge chunk of power to push 1420kg along, let's be honest.

The e-CVT auto looks after getting the power to the front wheels. The system recharges the small battery when you lift off and when you're on the brakes, with an indicator to tell you what's happening in both in head-up display and the multimedia screen.

How much fuel does it consume?

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

(if ANCAP rated, stipulate when it was most recently tested)

The ZR has seven airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, forward AEB with pedestrian detection and cyclist detection (during the day, curiously), 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.

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 maximum five-star safety rating in August 2018, just after its launch.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

What's it like to drive?

First, let me say this car is quite slow. Despite its warm-hatch clothes, it's all mouth. A flattened throttle produces a reasonably smart step off the line with the electric motor's assistance, but after that it's mostly hydrocarbons and the CVT lawnmower effect.

Does it matter? Not really. As I've already covered, it's extremely light on the fuel and it's not often that you get that big a trade-off. It's also very quiet and if you jam a tennis ball under the accelerator you can switch to EV mode and maybe get two kilometres under electric power.

A flattened throttle produces a good step off the line, but after that it's mostly the CVT lawnmower effect. A flattened throttle produces a good step off the line, but after that it's mostly the CVT lawnmower effect.

The new Corolla is by far the best I've driven. Even the previous model was pretty dull to drive, with little feel and a fairly ho-hum approach to ride and handling. It was so middle of the road Toyota may as well have painted double white lines along the car's centreline. The new car moves closer to the correct side of the road, the one where you don't forget what you're driving while you're driving it.

That doesn't mean the new Corolla has the dynamic poise of a Hyundai i30, because it doesn't. The front suspension is by the usual McPherson struts and the multi-link rear goes a long way to explaining the improvements but it's also down to the new platform, known as Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA), already found under the C-HR.

The TNGA platform delivers a lower centre of gravity, helping make the car feel more tied to the road. The TNGA platform delivers a lower centre of gravity, helping make the car feel more tied to the road.

The TNGA platform has delivered a lower centre of gravity, which is critial in helping make the car feel a bit more tied down to the road. It's also stiffer, meaning it's quieter and despite having a ride-focused suspension tune, is reasonably handy in the corners. The 18-inch alloys on the ZR probably have a bit to do with that, along with wider tyres than the lower models.

Toyota seems to be mostly waking up to what it takes to cut through in the contemporary car market. While the local arm sits on a pretty big pile of brand loyalty forged over years of delivering a solid-if-unspectacular product, its lunch is danger of being eaten by the various mouths of its rivals.

Have a good look at a Hyundai from 10 or more years ago - an attempt to clone Toyota's middle-of-the-road approach. Now they're a distinct brand with a strong focus on styling, dynamics and equipment. Toyota has grabbed two of those values and is lurching towards getting the third right.

Toyota will sell a squillion of these and probably for the first time I won't be wracking my brains trying to remember what it's like to drive. And while it's missing a few obvious bits and pieces, and the hybrid is very slow, the new car confirms how good TNGA is. Maybe, just maybe, Toyota is finally breaking free of building boring cars.

Does the new Corolla stir something in you? Or is it too little too late?

$17,888 - $39,888

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VIEW PRICING & SPECS

Score

3.7/5
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