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2019 Toyota Corolla ZR petrol hatch quick review

By Tony O’Kane | Photos: Alastair Brook, 04 Feb 2019 Car Reviews

2019 Toyota Corolla ZR petrol hatch quick review

The Corolla might be Australia’s most popular small car, but does its range-topping variant justify its $30K-plus pricetag?

What is it?

It feels like the Toyota Corolla needs no introduction. After all, as Australia’s most popular small car, the Corolla nameplate is one that enjoys virtually universal recognition. However, this particular model may seem a little different to some, given it’s a new-generation Corolla that – dare we say – actually boasts some visual appeal.

The ZR grade sits at the top of the Corolla tree as the most generously-equipped member of the range, available both in regular petrol-engined form, or as a petrol-electric hybrid. We’re testing the petrol model here.

Rising Fun: 2019 Toyota Corolla ZR Hybrid review

How much is the Toyota Corolla ZR?

At $30,370 for the Corolla ZR petrol, this car exists in the upper reaches of its segment in terms of cost. However, with high-end features such as a wireless phone charging pad, active cruise control, a head-up display, keyless entry and body-hugging sports seats on the standard equipment list, the value equation is actually quite strong

Who is it for?

Small cars in Australia enjoy quite broad appeal with everyone from first time drivers and pensioner-age downsizers to those just looking for a city-friendly runabout. The Corolla ZR grade, targets those buyers looking for something with a higher-end presentation and fit-out than the segment norm, and have a slightly fatter budget to accommodate that.

Read next: 2019 Toyota Corolla range review

Is the Toyota Corolla ZR easy to live with?

The Corolla ZR's front seats are very accommodating. Though manually-adjusted, they embrace a wide range of body types and put the driver in a sporty, legs-up seating position. They’re also unique to the ZR grade, with extra side bolstering, grippy microsuede upholstery and a body-hugging design to make you feel like you’re piloting something a lot more athletic than an average hatchback.

The level of convenience features also make life up front a lot easier, with high-end features like a colour head-up display, active cruise control and a wireless phone charging pad giving the Corolla ZR a technological edge over many of its rivals.

Satellite navigation and digital radio are standard on the ZR, but there’s no smartphone mirroring offered at all – perhaps the only aspect where it gives a free kick to its competitors, technologically-speaking.

Read next: Toyota CH-R range review

But there are bigger shortcomings in the cabin, however. There are rear seat air vents to help keep your backseaters cool, but with very limited leg and headroom there’s no getting around how claustrophobic the Corolla’s back seats can feel.

It’s even worse in the boot, where you’ll find just 217 litres of cargo capacity. That puts it well behind the rest of its competitors when it comes time to load in luggage. And while there’s plenty of room underneath the boot floor for a full-size spare wheel, Toyota only equips the ZR petrol with a space-saver. We’d have preferred either a full-size spare or a lower boot floor, but Toyota Australia has inexplicably decided to give us the worst of both worlds. 

How well does the Toyota Corolla ZR drive?

The Corolla has always been easy to drive – a key reason behind its everyman appeal – and it’s no different for this fresh new-generation Corolla. The difference now is that it’s actually fun from behind the wheel, as well as approachable.

With 125kW and 200Nm from its naturally-aspirated petrol engine the Corolla ZR petrol only provides ordinary acceleration, so don’t be fooled by its sporty exterior – this isn’t a performance car. That said, it still feels more than adequate for city and highway, and the CVT automatic delivers good response from a standing start, intelligent ratio selection when left in ‘D’ and surprisingly rapid gear changes when you use the shift paddles behind the wheel.

Read next: Toyota 86 GR Sport announced, Australian debut under study

And that competent straight-line performance meshes well with the suspension, with straddles the line between ‘comfort’ and ‘handling’ adeptly. It feels slightly firmer than other Corolla models thanks to its big 18-inch alloys and low-profile tyres, however ride comfort remains excellent even on lumpy roads.

The steering feels direct and responsive too without being heavy or difficult to use in tight parking situations. If there was one word that summarises the Corolla ZR driving experience, it would be ‘balanced’. 

Read next: 2018 Toyota Prius Range Review

Verdict

There’s a pleasing cohesiveness to the Corolla ZR petrol’s driving experience that makes the driver feel relaxed and unstressed behind the wheel. There’s no aspect of it that’s particularly grating, no unruly behaviour that you have to fight, and for a commuter hatchback that’s ideal.

So to drive, it’s excellent. Efficient and easy-going. However, the report card is marred somewhat by a poor cabin versatility score – that cramped rear seat and poorly packaged boot area really let the Corolla down. That said, we wouldn’t view that as a deal breaker unless you regularly cart around more than one passenger or plenty of cargo.

Does the Corolla ZR justify its $30K-plus price? Absolutely, but that comes down more to the technology that's in it and the quality of its furnishings and drive experience - and not because it delivers plenty of 'metal for your money'. 

MORE: Toyota Corolla Range ReviewMORE: Toyota Corolla Specs, Range & Price