The Toyota Corolla is a car with a distinguished history. After all, it’s a nameplate that dates back 50 years. Regardless of the decade or styling of the Corolla, it has enjoyed success. Much in the same way as Meryl Streep or Robert De Niro – the role doesn’t always matter - the loyal fan base is always there.
The Corolla is a fortunate model, it gets to live under the umbrella that is Toyota’s reputation for build quality and reliability. But, in all fairness, the Corolla has been instrumental in helping this reputation to develop.
Putting Toyota’s reputation for build quality to one side (if that’s possible?), the Corolla has never had a reputation as a driver’s car. The Corolla is about comfortable commuting, practicality, value for money and the promise of trouble free motoring. With the ability to draw on 50 years worth of history, how does the updated Corolla stack up?
Here we have the range-topping ZR sedan. At $31,920 plus on-road costs – it’s not really a cheap car. It’s also a long way north of the regularly advertised Corolla Ascent hatch.
At first sight, the exterior design is perplexing. The front styling is modern and gives a fresh look. The Bi-LED Headlamps with LED Daytime Running Lamps look the part and combine well with the revised front bumper.
The rear is a different story, it’s very conservative and doesn’t match the revised front. The addition of LED tail lamp clusters and a dash of chrome isn’t enough. Toyota have produced some bold rear designs in recent times, such as the new Prius and Mirai which have a little drama and individuality at the back. While these designs are somewhat controversial and it’s probably not necessary to go to those lengths, something in the middle is unlikely to alienate Corolla fans.
On the road, the Corolla is powered by a 1.8L four-cylinder petrol engine. It can pump out a very modest 103kW of power and 173Nm of torque. Don’t be fooled by the low numbers, the performance of the engine is impressive and it’s never found wanting.
The transmission is a CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission). Enthusiasts across the motoring landscape have very straightforward opinions on the CVT and it’s either love or hate. In the Corolla, it all comes down to driving style. If it’s driven calmly, the CVT will do its job in a no-nonsense way and the annoying noise that generally afflicts this type of transmission is not an issue. If you're inclined to be right foot heavy, it will be noisy.
The suspension is on the firm side, yet it remains compliant. Working with sensibly sized 16-inch two-tone alloy wheels, the bumps are easily dealt with. On dreadfully rough roads in country Victoria, the Corolla provided a comfortable ride. Toyota does invest time and resources into chassis and suspension tuning for local roads. This is always a task worth undertaking.
Vague steering unfortunately hampers the driving experience. There is too much play in the steering wheel, which is especially noticeable during fine turning movements.
The steering wheel is equipped with paddle shifters – a somewhat surprising inclusion, as is the sport button. When pressed, it did make the car sound a bit sportier but did little to encourage a sporty drive. These additions seem at odds with the cars audience and exterior look. There's no rear spoiler, large alloys or sunroof to give the illusion of sporty performance and handling.
On the highway, the Lane Departure Alert - part of the Toyota Safety Sense package - proved to be very effective. Also, it is not as annoying as some of the systems on the market. Slight movements do not trigger the warning, if it beeps, the car has already crossed a white line.
Brake feel is excellent. The pedal is responsive without being overly touchy.
The parking sensors are extremely precise and make parking an easy task. In conjunction with the reversing camera, getting in and out of tight spots is a painless process.
Interestingly, for a costly, high spec model in this category, there is no stop-start technology.
The most disappointing aspect of driving the Corolla ZR is the noise that infiltrates the cabin. At highway speeds, wind and tyre noise is excessive. The level of overall refinement isn’t good enough for a car at this price. The noise detracts from what is otherwise a comfortable interior.
Speaking of the interior, it’s a very traditional cabin layout. The front seats are comfortable and supportive. The driver enjoys an electronically adjustable 8-Way seat with lumbar support. The base is nice and wide and all body types will find a sweet spot.
Clever packaging gives the Corolla sedan an advantage over its rivals and hatch stablemate. Rear accommodation is very generous in terms of leg room, designers have made use of the 2700mm wheelbase. This is the Corolla’s trump card, its competitors struggle to match it for space in the back seat. The rear seat is also able to carry three passengers thanks to a virtually flat rear floor. Tall passengers will, however, find themselves wanting another couple of inches of headroom.
In a car where a significant amount of consideration has gone into making the rear seat a pleasant place to be, it would have been helpful to give rear passengers a USB or 12-volt charging point. Those in the front do enjoy these conveniences, along with an auxiliary socket.
Fit and finish throughout the cabin is generally very good, little things like the control stalks either side of the nicely trimmed steering wheel feel sturdy and well made. The use of soft-touch materials on the dash and doors gives a good impression, as does the leather trim on the seats.
The overuse of piano-black trim around the infotainment centre and the centre-cluster do nothing to promote a premium atmosphere. The overly shiny surface shows dust and fingerprints. It’s also incredibly difficult to clean - without leaving scratches - even with high-quality detailing products.
Concerningly, in the right circumstances, the reflection off these shiny surfaces can distract and annoy the driver.
The infotainment system itself is relatively easy to use. The 7-inch touchscreen provides a clear image that is easy to see. The Toyota Link multimedia software is very responsive and performs all functions without fuss. Connecting phones and streaming music is a simple process. Smartphone mirroring in the form of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto would have added to the package, it’s disappointing these features are not available, even as options.
Satellite Navigation is included and incorporates the SUNA Live Traffic Channel. This can provide alternate routes based on traffic conditions. On test, this feature wasn’t overly helpful. The continual re-routing was a distraction in heavy traffic. In some instances, it provided route suggestions to shave only one minute off the journey. It took longer to preview the new route and accept it, overall for such a small gain, it’s not really worth the effort.
The auto dimming mirror is an excellent inclusion, however, it's bulky and blocks a considerable amount of forward vision for tall drivers.
The climate control system is one of the interior’s real highlights. It performed brilliantly, keeping the cabin pleasant in all conditions. The use of buttons instead of dials is a classy touch. When setting the desired temperature it’s easy to feel every half degree, a far more precise process than fiddling with a dial.
Storage space is limited throughout the cabin. The centre console storage unit is small, as are the door pockets. The Corolla sedan redeems itself by providing a massive boot. With a volume of 470 litres, it’s more than enough to carry the belongings of five. It also houses a full-size spare alloy wheel, something that’s becoming a rarity.
The Corolla ZR sedan is packed with safety technology and has achieved a 5-Star ANCAP Safety Rating. A Pre-Collision Safety System, along with Automatic High Beam, joins the Lane Departure Alert in making up the Toyota Safety Sense package, a standard inclusion on the ZR.
The Pre-Collision Safety System uses radar technology to identify impending threats. Audio and visual signals are used to warn the driver of potential danger and the system will engage Break Assist or Automatic Emergency Braking to reduce the car’s speed. This process is designed to limit any potential impact.
Safety doesn’t stop there, the Corolla ZR sedan also gets seven airbags, Anti-skid Braking (ABS), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) and Traction Control (TRC).
To get an accurate real-world fuel consumption figure, a mix of highway and city driving, including an agonising drive up Sydney Road in Melbourne’s north, was undertaken. All up the Corolla covered over 900km while with us. Consumption over the week of testing settled at 6.7L/100km. A very strong result that looks good when compared to the official combined figure of 6.4 litres for every 100 kilometres.
Toyota has set very short service intervals, with the Corolla requiring a visit to the workshop every six months or 10,000 kilometres. Intervals of this length are inconvenient and in many cases unnecessary. The Toyota Service Advantage goes some way to redeeming this issue by offering capped price servicing at $140 per visit. In anyone’s language, this is exceptional value. The capped price is available for the first 3 years or 60,000km.
The Corolla is backed by a 3-year 100,000km warranty. The market seems to be happy with this coverage, however, for a brand with a reputation intrinsically linked to reliability, the warranty should be longer.
In Car Conversations with Corolla owners, all were impressed with the ownership experience. When asked about the appeal of the Corolla against other cars in the segment, most were happy to sing the praises of the car, with one Corolla owner outlining his purchasing criteria, “the only thing I need the car to do is start when I need to go somewhere.” It might sound simplistic, but the perception of long-term reliability weighs heavily on the mind of many new car buyers.
Over the years many motoring writers have not given the Corolla the proper respect. It’s a car that does exactly what it’s supposed too. For many owners it has over delivered, leading to badge loyalty other brands dream of.
The Corolla ZR sedan isn’t perfect. It’s expensive and lacks some of the latest features found in its challengers, but it does offer a genuine point of difference by providing a very spacious back seat and boot.
Of course, none of the Corolla’s shortcomings will bother its followers. The Corolla is an example of a car that is far more than the sum of its parts. Those who want to buy into Toyota’s reputation for reliability will find the Corolla ZR sedan perfectly acceptable.
Earlier in this review, I asked if it was possible to put Toyota’s reputation for reliability to one side. Quite simply, it isn’t possible. The Corolla can't be separated from the overall Toyota narrative of quality and reliability. It is the most fundamental reason the Corolla makes it into so many driveways, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Toyota Corolla ZR Sedan
Price from $31,920, plus on-road costs Engine 1.8L Four cylinder, in-line, DOHC, petrol engine Power 103kW @ 6400 Torque 173Nm @ 4000 Transmission Continuously Variable Transmission Combined Fuel Consumption 6.4L/100km Tank Capacity 55L Length 4620mm Width 1775mm Height 1460 Wheelbase 2700 Weight 1750kg Turning circle 10.8m Service Intervals 6-months or 10,000km Warranty three year/100,000 kilometre
Let’s start a Car Conversation, what do you think of the overall packaging and price? Do you think the Corolla’s success is intertwined with Toyota’s reputation for build quality and reliability?