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Toyota Corolla 2018 review

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The all-new Toyota Corolla 2018 hatchback is here, and it has you in its sights.

Not literally. And not the car. Toyota, the brand that has been the number one seller in the country for the past 15 years straight, wants you to buy even more Corollas, because being the best-selling passenger car for the past few years in a row isn’t enough.

The story here, though, is that there’s less of a focus on fleet buyers, and more focus on everyday consumers. And to say that another way, the brand has pushed away from the base-model drive-away deal approach for the new Corolla, instead focusing on a higher-price-but-much-higher-spec way of thinking.

So, prices are up. There’s no base model equivalent anymore. And it comes loaded with equipment. Does that combination make the new-generation Corolla hatchback the best example of its type to date? Read on to find out.

Is there anything interesting about its design?

It’s the best looking Corolla, ever. Hands down. 

There’s no point trying to argue otherwise, because the exterior design - particularly for the ZR model - somehow manages to look like a hot-hatch with its body kit comprised of side skirts, a low front spoiler, a rear diffuser and tailgate-mounted rear spoiler. The 18-inch alloys look terrific, and even the lower-grade versions on 16s with a more sedate design look pretty smart. Remember, this is a Toyota Corolla

Rather than looking bloated in size, the sculpted lines and angular edges help tame the dimensions of the new Corolla hatch. It is bigger than its predecessor, with the body measuring 4375mm long (+45mm) and the wheelbase’s extra 40mm (now 2640mm) helping look more planted and substantial than before. The extra width - now 1790mm, up 30mm - and the lower roof (height: 1435mm, down 40mm).

  • It’s the best looking Corolla, ever. Hands down. (2018 Ascent Sport model shown) It’s the best looking Corolla, ever. Hands down. (2018 Ascent Sport model shown)
  • The new Corolla looks low and wide, sleek and muscled. (2018 Ascent Sport model shown) The new Corolla looks low and wide, sleek and muscled. (2018 Ascent Sport model shown)
  • Toyota has made LED headlights standard across the range. (2018 SX model shown) Toyota has made LED headlights standard across the range. (2018 SX model shown)
  • The lower-grade versions on 16-inch alloys look pretty smart. (2018 SX model shown) The lower-grade versions on 16-inch alloys look pretty smart. (2018 SX model shown)
  • The ZR model somehow manages to look like a hot-hatch. (2018 ZR model shown) The ZR model somehow manages to look like a hot-hatch. (2018 ZR model shown)
  • Toyota hasn’t decided to bring the bigger rear spoiler that was fitted to US cars. (2018 ZR model shown) Toyota hasn’t decided to bring the bigger rear spoiler that was fitted to US cars. (2018 ZR model shown)

It looks low and wide, sleek and muscled. It’s a chunky little number, and I really think it looks good no matter the grade. What a shame Toyota hasn’t decided to bring the bigger rear spoiler that was fitted to US cars, because it completed the look - particularly for a high-spec car on 18s.

I love that Toyota has made LED headlights standard across the range, too, and the ZR gets even higher-spec bi-LEDs. Some brands still offer halogens in their entry cars, and HID headlights, projector headlights or xenon lights. LEDs are not only longer-lasting, their lower energy consumption and lower replacement cost makes them a logical inclusion. Good on you, Toyota.

I’ll get to the interior dimensions in the next section, but have a look at the interior images and let us know if you prefer the leather trim, or the cloth… I think the latter could be the pick.

How practical is the space inside?

You can’t mistake the new model for the old one, which is more than we can say for some small hatchbacks.

There’s an all-new dashboard design, with less of a slabby look to it and more of a premium appearance. The dimensions state the new Corolla hatch is wider, and it feels like a more open space than the predecessor car. 

The cabin is really nice, well designed and with quality materials throughout. The ZR gets sportier looking seats, but in all models the seats are a big step forward for Toyota - even if you can’t get electric adjustment or memory settings in any grade.  

The fact there’s an electric park brake adds to the simple smartness of the cockpit, and the storage is cleverly dealt with, too - there is not one cupholder but two between the front seats, and there are bottle holders in all the doors, and a deep covered centre bin plus a cubby for your phone in front of the shifter. 

Every model in the range comes with an 8.0-inch touchscreen media system, but you only get sat nav built-in on the mid- and high-grade models, and none come with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. That’s annoying.

Every model in the range comes with an 8.0-inch touchscreen media system. Every model in the range comes with an 8.0-inch touchscreen media system.

But there’s Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, plus USB connectivity. And in the SX and ZR, you get a rear USB port. 

Speaking of the back seat, there’s only just enough space for me to sit behind my own position, because those front seats - as comfy as they are - have big backs to them and they eat in to the space.

It’s not the benchmark in terms of rear legroom and shoulder space, but it certainly is capable of dealing with a young family of four, if not a family with growing teens. Headroom is questionable in the back for taller occupants, with the ceiling side sections impinging on the space to an uncomfortable degree if you’re my size (182cm).

The rear seats have limited legroom and shoulder space. (2018 SX model shown) The rear seats have limited legroom and shoulder space. (2018 SX model shown)

Plus the fact there is only a black headliner available makes if feel quite cosy in the cabin. Some might say claustrophobic, in fact… Another concern is that the high-spec model gets rear-seat air-vents, but the two lower grades don’t. And the ZR gets nicer door plastics, where the Ascent Sport and SX have cheaper feeling hard plastics.

If you want the most practical hatch out there in terms of boot space and luggage capacity, you’re going to have to look elsewhere. The ZR hybrid model gets the biggest boot size of the range because it has a tyre repair kit instead of a spare tyre. The storage space is 333 litres (VDA), as opposed to 217L in all other variants, whether they have a full-size spare (Ascent Sport petrol) or not (all others).

Ascent Sport and SX models have just 217 litres (VDA) of cargo capacity. Ascent Sport and SX models have just 217 litres (VDA) of cargo capacity.

At least there’s a retractable cargo cover, and you can get a cargo barrier fitted if you prefer to lower the 60/40 split-fold rear seats and turn it into a compact van. Hey, some people do! And those people might also want to get a cargo liner to stop the carpet from getting wrecked.

There are no models with roof rails, but an 'Eclectic Blue' ZR model with a roof rack set-up would look very cool.

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

How much can you expect today for the new-generation Toyota Corolla? This price list should help guide you through the range of models on offer, and what each will cost.

The entry-level Ascent Sport is available with a 2.0-litre petrol six-speed manual at $22,870 (RRP - that’s the list price, not a drive-away price), a 2.0-litre petrol with new 10-speed CVT auto at $24,370, or a 1.8-litre petrol-electric hybrid with CVT auto at $25,870. Toyota expects the Ascent Sport to make up the bulk of sales, as it did for the previous model (more than 60 per cent).

The next step up is the SX, which is available with the 2.0-litre four-cylinder CVT at $26,870, or a hybrid CVT for just $1500 more ($28,370).

The range-topping model is the ZR, again available with the 2.0-litre CVT drivetrain ($30,370), or as a hybrid at $31,870. That’s pretty affordable for a flagship hatchback - many competitors sit in the mid-to-high $30k range.

To make it easier to do your own models comparison, here’s the spec breakdown for each of the trim levels: Ascent Sport vs SX vs ZR.

The new Corolla range consists of the Ascent Sport, SX and ZR. The new Corolla range consists of the Ascent Sport, SX and ZR.

The Ascent Sport has LED headlights (with auto high-beam), LED daytime running lights, LED tail-lights, 16-inch alloy wheels, an 8.0-inch touch screen multimedia system with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, voice recognition, USB/auxiliary connectivity and a six-speaker stereo. You’ll need to choose the hybrid model if you want push-button start, keyless entry and dual-zone climate control (you get manual air conditioning in non-hybrid Ascent Sport versions).

All Ascent Sport models come with a plastic steering wheel with audio controls, but at least there’s an electric park brake and a 4.2-inch colour info display for the driver. You can option sat nav and privacy glass on this grade for an extra $1000.

The next step up is the SX, which adds fog lights, tinted windows, a ‘premium steering wheel’, a wireless phone charger, DAB+/DAB digital radio and a navigation system with GPS live traffic updates. The SX has two USB ports (one front, one rear). It has a smart key no matter the drivetrain.

Flagship ZR grade versions look the sportiest of the lot, with a set of 18-inch rims adding some presence. Inside there are heated front sports seats, 'ultrasuede' and leather seats, driver’s lumbar adjustment, a 7.0-inch driver info display, ambient lighting, a head-up display and a JBL sound system with eight speakers (no subwoofer, though). ZR models also gain an electro-chromatic (auto-dimming) rear-view mirror and high-grade bi-LED headlamps.

Flagship ZR gets a 7.0-inch driver info display. (2018 ZR model shown) Flagship ZR gets a 7.0-inch driver info display. (2018 ZR model shown)

Other standard features include expected items like power windows for all four doors and a power mirror for each of the front doors, a digital clock, central locking with automatic door lock, and a detailed trip computer. In the boot you’ll find a tool kit to help you change a tyre if you need.

Sadly, unlike some competitor top-spec models, there’s no panoramic sunroof (even as an option), and you can’t get electric seat adjustment on any grade, or a heated steering wheel, either. Models from Kia and Hyundai have those bits, plus ventilated (cooled) front seats on their high-spec wares… but the price is pretty appealing on this flagship Corolla. 

And on the topic of things the Corolla misses out on, there is no Apple CarPlay and no Android Auto - so you’ll have to just connect your iPhone (or other smartphone/mp3 player) via Bluetooth. And while some people think all cars should have a built-in DVD player, CD player or CD changer, that’s not the case here - no new Corolla has any of those things.

Who knows? Maybe Toyota will offer a premium package with some of those bits at a later date… If not that, then a black pack special edition or a sports edition is almost certain!

This model change has seen Toyota focus in on safety equipment - read the safety section to see what’s included on which models. Here’s an early hint, though: the electric power steering allows an active lane assist system, and all models have ESP (electronic stability program) with VSC (vehicle stability control), and manual models have a hill holder function. 

There are eight colours to choose from: there’s 'Glacier White', which is the only no-cost colour, or you will need to add $450 if you choose 'Crystal Pearl' (a nicer white), 'Volcanic Red' (which almost looks orange at times), 'Eclipse Black', 'Peacock Black', 'Eclectic Blue', 'Silver Pearl', and the very fetching 'Oxide Bronze' (which is like a mix of green and grey). 

The Corolla can be had in eight different colours. (2018 SX model shown) The Corolla can be had in eight different colours. (2018 SX model shown)

One nice option for ZR customers is the choice between black or red interior leather highlights - the red looks good in combination with a white exterior paint colour, but in most other instances, the black has a bit more of an understated appearance. 

Accessories for the Corolla are set to include floor mats (ask the dealer to throw them in for free), and while some aftermarket suppliers may be able to fit a nudge bar, we don’t think a bull bar will do the styling any favours. 

How many seats in the Corolla hatch? Five is the answer.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

Let’s talk engine specs. 

The entry-level engine size has jumped up from a 1.8-litre to a 2.0-litre - still a four-cylinder, but Toyota calls this engine the 'Dynamic Force' petrol engine, and while the name might suggest it’s a turbocharged motor, it’s not.

The direct-injection 2.0-litre’s output ratings have jumped, with power at 125kW (at 6600rpm) and torque pegged at 200Nm (from 4400-4800rpm). The horsepower output is up 21 per cent, while torque is up 15 per cent.

The direct-injection 2.0-litre engine produces 125kW/200Nm. The direct-injection 2.0-litre engine produces 125kW/200Nm.

Only in the Ascent Sport grade can you play the ‘manual vs automatic’ game - that spec allows you to choose between a six-speed manual transmission or a newly-developed CVT automatic transmission. The rest have CVT only,  but the manual gearbox has a rev-matching feature. Sporty!

It’s some CVT, though - a 10-speed sequential unit with a ‘launch gear’, which essentially is a conventional first gear like you’d find in a torque converter automatic, and enables “brisk take off”, unlike a regular CVT which can whirr and buzz.

The other option is a 1.8-litre petrol-electric hybrid four-cylinder. As always, things are confusing in terms of power ratings: the engine can produce 72kW (at 5200rpm), and 142Nm (at 3600rpm), the electric motor is capable of 53kW and 190Nm, and the maximum output from the drivetrain is 90kW. It uses an 'e-CVT' automatic.

The hybrid is the conventional type, with the battery pack recharging by way of regenerative braking. You can run on EV mode, but it’s not a plug-in hybrid, so you can’t recharge it at home - rather, you might recharge it on your way home. 

There are no diesel specifications to speak of, as there’s no oil-burner available. The statistics don’t lie - at the time of writing, less than two per cent of passenger car sales are diesel vehicles. Forget an LPG/gas dual fuel version for Australia, too.
In Australia, every Corolla is front-wheel drive (4x2). There is an all-wheel drive model (AWD) in markets where snow is more common, but it’s not a proper 4WD or 4x4. You can forget rear-wheel drive - that’s best left for the Toyota 86

The kerb weight of the Corolla hatch ranges between 1320kg and 1420kg, depending on the drivetrain and spec of the car. There is no gross vehicle weight figure given by Toyota.

How much fuel does it consume?

The new Corolla hatch with the hybrid drivetrain is the most efficient non-diesel hatchback in its class, with fuel consumption claimed at 4.2 litres per 100 kilometres (if you prefer, that’s almost 23.8km/L). No three- or four-cylinder petrol engine can match that… But if you want the most frugal vehicle in the class, you can’t beat the diesel fuel consumption of the Peugeot 308 (4.0L/100km, or 25.0km/L). 

The 2.0-litre petrol automatic model has good fuel economy, too, using a claimed 6.0L/100km (16.7km/L) which is better than many non-turbo rivals, but not quite as good as the likes of an entry-grade VW Golf. An eco mode, sport mode and normal mode will likely effect the fuel use of the 2.0-litre CVT model.

The six-speed 2.0-litre manual is claimed to use a bit more than the auto: 6.3L/100km (15.9km/L)

Your mileage for the hybrid will be determined by fuel tank size - 43 litres - while the 2.0-litre has a 50-litre tank capacity. 

Now if you plan to fit a tow bar to your Corolla, you best not buy a hybrid version. The petrol-electric model has no towing capacity at all, because of the design of the car. Instead, you can opt for a petrol model with a capacity of up to 450kg for an un-braked trailer, or 1300kg braked.

What's it like to drive?

As with every model the company has built on the new Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA), the Corolla is better to drive than the model it replaces. And in this car’s case, it’s a quantum leap forward.

Admittedly it’s not the fastest hatchback out there - 0-100 acceleration speed takes a back seat to fuel efficiency, for example - but the performance is better than we’ve known from the Corolla for some time.

A lot of that comes down to the new Dynamic Force engine and its very clever CVT auto transmission. There isn’t a huge amount of power, but there’s definitely more than ample grunt to get things going, and the CVT’s clever launch gear really does make stop-start traffic and green light acceleration less annoying than it used to be. It offers much more zesty engine response than the engine outputs suggest, although it can be a little noisy under hard acceleration.

The Corolla is better to drive than the model it replaces. (2018 SX model shown) The Corolla is better to drive than the model it replaces. (2018 SX model shown)

Of course, the hybrid drivetrain is a tried and tested (you can read that as ‘old’, if you like) unit, and while it doesn’t move the game on for tech, it is usable, fuss free, and largely well refined. You can expect to run about 2.0km on electric power alone. 

The new platform means the entire body of the car - including the centre of gravity, overall height and the ground clearance (135mm) - is lower than before. And it handles like it’s more hunkered down, too.

The chassis is all-new, with MacPherson strut front suspension and a multi-link independent rear suspension set-up - with a clear emphasis on cornering body control and ride comfort.

There is a slight difference in terms of ride quality depending on the size of the alloy wheels you’re driving atop. The lower-grade variants with 16-inch wheels are slightly more pliant, while the 18 inch alloys have a slightly terser edge to them, particularly over sharp bumps. 

It’s nice to see a big jump in wheel sizes between low/middle and top-spec versions - there are no 15-inch or 17-inch rims, and thankfully no chrome wheels, either…

The ZR feels more sporty to drive. It has a warm-hatch feel to it. (2018 ZR model shown) The ZR feels more sporty to drive. It has a warm-hatch feel to it. (2018 ZR model shown)

You will notice, though, there’s more road noise on the bigger wheels (not that the 16s offer the most muted drive, with noticeable tyre roar on coarse-chip surfaces), and there’s an impact on the car’s park-friendliness, too. 

The ZR has an 11.4m turning circle (5.7m radius) compared with the 11.0m turning circle (5.5m radius) but the ZR has a slightly different steering ratio, (13.6 compared to 13.5), and what that translates to is a slightly more direct rack in the ZR, and fewer turns lock to lock (2.65 compared with 2.76). 

In short, the ZR feels more sporty to drive. It has a warm-hatch feel to it, gripping better than the lower-spec cars thanks to better, wider Dunlop tyres. It’s genuinely enjoyable to push through corners.

Stopping power is pretty impressive in the petrol, and fine in the hybrid. Both have ABS brakes (anti-lock brakes) and brake assist, so you will stop in a timely and straight fashion, but the pedal feel of the hybrid model’s brakes proved a bit squishy.

We didn’t do any off-road driving, so there’s no comment to be made there. But hey, if you want a compact model with AWD, you’d be best served to check out the C-HR.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

There’s no ANCAP crash test safety rating as yet for the Corolla hatch. But Toyota says it anticipates the maximum five-star ANCAP score.

The level of safety features offered on all Corolla models is very good. 

Every automatic Corolla is fitted with auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection (day and night) and bicyclist detection (day), adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning with lane-keeping assist, speed sign recognition, active cornering control (torque vectoring by braking),

If you choose the Ascent Sport manual you miss out on fully adaptive cruise that works at all speeds, down to 0km/h - instead, it gets a ‘high-speed active cruise’ system. Plus the manual misses out on lane-keeping assist.

Corolla SX and ZR models add blind-spot monitoring, but there’s no rear cross-traffic alert. And while every Corolla has a reverse camera, but none come with a surround view camera, nor are there parking sensors fitted to any model as standard (front and rear sensors are available as an accessory option, fitted by the dealer). Unlike some competitors, there’s no semi-automated park assist, either - even in the high-grade.

All Corolla hatchback models have seven airbags, including dual front, front side airbags, driver’s knee and full-length curtain. Further, every Corolla hatchback has ISOFIX and top tether attachments, meaning fitting your baby car seat should be a breeze. 

It shouldn’t really matter where a car is made these days, but there are still people who will ask ‘where is the Toyota Corolla built?’ And the answer varies: for the hatchback models, it’s Japan; for sedans, it’s Thailand. 

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

Toyota persists with a three-year/100,000km warranty, which is below par these days. Rival brands Hyundai, Mazda, Ford and Holden all have five-year/unlimited kilometre plans, while Kia extends that out to seven years. 

If you fear the reliability rating for the Corolla won’t be terrific, there’s the option of an extended warranty plan - up to three additional years/150,000km total - which should put your durability doubts at ease. 

But the Corolla can now match the best of them for service intervals, with maintenance due every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever occurs first. There’s a five-year/75,000km capped price servicing program for the new-generation Corolla, and the maintenance cost is capped at $175 per visit. That makes the service cost for Corolla hatch pretty much unbeatable.

It’s a big improvement over the existing Corolla, which had a three-year/60,000km service plan, and visits for the old model were due every six months/10,000km. You still don’t get included roadside assistance, but at $78 a year it’s not a budget-breaker.

Resale value on Corolla hatches has typically been stronger than some competitors - just be sure to keep your owners manual / logbook stamps up to date to make sure you get the best second hand price possible.

It’s hard to say if there will be any long-term reliability concerns with the new architecture and drivetrains applied in the Corolla range. Be sure to check out our Corolla problems page to see if any complaints, issues, automatic gearbox problems, clutch, suspension, engine or cruise control problems, or any other common problems.

A truly compelling Toyota Corolla? You bet - that’s exactly what the new-generation model delivers, and not just due to the fact it’s a good looking car - it’s also good value, has a strong focus on safety, and is now theoretically better to own than ever, too. If you need a really roomy hatchback you need to look elsewhere, but for a style statement - I can’t believe I’m writing this - the Corolla could be for you.

My personal pick of the range is the ZR hybrid, which has efficiency in terms of driving and space. But the pragmatist in me reckons you get a lot of Corolla in SX 2.0-litre guise - it's a value option that's hard to ignore.

Are you drawn to the new Toyota Corolla hatch? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.

Also check out Matt's video review from the Corolla's international launch:

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