Toyota Corolla ZR Hybrid

The Toyota Corolla has always been a popular small car and around 44 million have been sold since the model’s introduction in 1966.  The Corolla is currently in its 12th generation and utilises the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) modular chassis family, resulting in lower noise, improved rigidity and a lower centre of gravity. 

Having access to a 9th generation 2005 Toyota Corolla Ascent Seca hatchback and a 2018 Toyota Corolla ZR hybrid hatchback gives an interesting look at how the Corolla has evolved over time.

Standard equipment

Corolla hybrid variants have a standard features list including keyless entry and ignition, LED headlights with auto high beam, adaptive cruise control, dual-zone climate control, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane-departure warning with steering assist and an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system.  The car has seven airbags and achieved a five star ANCAP safety rating. 

This particular ZR Hybrid also includes a wireless phone charger, 18-inch alloy wheels, leather and suede-look sports seats, front seat heating, satellite navigation and digital radio, head-up driver display, 7.0-inch digital instrument display, blind-spot monitoring and eight-speaker JBL premium audio.  There is however no smartphone connectivity for Apple CarPlay or Android Auto despite these being available overseas.

A great feature is the function of the electric handbrake, with it coming on automatically when parking and going off automatically when driving away.  It’s a handy feature and I haven’t come across this with other cars tested that feature electric handbrakes.

In contrast the Ascent Seca has a driver’s airbag, air-conditioning, CD player and a tilt adjustable steering column.  This shows how far technology has come over the last 13 years of the Corolla.   

Interior

The sports seats of the ZR hybrid are comfortable, but the red and black interior colour combination of this car isn’t to my personal taste.  There’s generous head and leg room for front and rear occupants.  The touchscreen has an interesting feature that tells you where the power is being distributed between the petrol motor, electric motor and battery.  There’s a small 333 litre boot, however no spare tyre or space-saver is offered and owners have to make do with a puncture repair kit.

The Ascent Seca’s cabin is roomy and fits four adults in comfort.  The seats are comfortable, but don’t offer the same support as the current model.  There are however plenty of storage options.  The boot is around 300 litres in size and unlike the ZR hybrid there’s a full sized spare tyre. 

Exterior

Sharp, aggressive exterior styling is a highlight of the ZR hybrid and in my opinion it’s the best looking Corolla to date, particularly in this examples Crystal Pearl paint.  The front and rear light assembly’s blend well into the bumpers.  The 18 inch alloys on the ZR hybrid suit the car and are wrapped with sticky Dunlop SP Sport Maxx 225/40 profile tyres. 

The Ascent Seca in comparison has a much more modest exterior appearance.  It’s a well-proportioned car, but would look better with a larger set of alloy wheels.  The older car sits on only 15 inch steel wheels with 195/60 profile tyres.   

Driving impressions and performance

The ZR hybrid has a 72kW/142Nm 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine paired with two electric motor-generators with a 53kW/163Nm output; however the car can only achieve a total power output of 90kW.  The car can be driven in full electric mode when there’s enough battery power, however only up to 60km/h on a very light throttle.  It would be good to have some more throttle percentage to play with, particularly when ascending hills.

The transition from electric to petrol-electric can be hard to notice due to the quietness of the whole system.  Having never driven a hybrid car before, driving with just the electric motor running is something foreign to me.  In Eco mode the car is a lot faster in getting back to just using the electric motor.  The CVT gearbox is a highlight making for an incredibly smooth driving experience.  The car can be put into ‘B’ on the shifter and this applies more power to the battery through regenerative braking.  The ZR hybrid could do with some more power and it would be interesting to compare the performance to the non-hybrid model.  Fuel efficiency, however is great with Toyota claiming fuel consumption of 4.2L/100km and it has a 1000km range.

Handling of the front wheel drive is benign with only a slight bit of understeer when pushed.  It isn’t great at coping with potholes and seems a bit firm overall for a non-performance orientated car.  The ventilated front and solid rear disc brakes are good as well as steering feedback through the electrically assisted mechanical steering.

The Ascent Seca also has a 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, but without a hybrid system.  The DOHC 16 valve unit pumps out 93kW and 161Nm and drives the front wheels.  It’s more willing to rev compared to the ZR hybrid and feels only slightly slower than the new car.  This car has the four speed automatic gearbox fitted.  The older car only weighs 1148kg compared to the newer cars 1400kg; therefore there’s been a significant weight increase over the last 13 years.  Fuel efficiency for the Ascent Seca is 8.1L/100km and it has a 679km range.  Handling is similar to the new car with only slight understeer, with very minimal torque steer.  The ventilated front and solid rear disc brakes are good as well as steering feedback, just like the ZR hybrid.

Owner’s thoughts

The Ascent Seca is owned by my wife Cassie.  She bought the car in 2006 and paid $18,000 for it.  She has enjoyed the car because it’s been very reliable, cheap to run, and has good room and fuel efficiency.  Cassie drives the car daily and it has approximately 250,000 kilometres on the clock.  She previously owned a 1984 Corolla CSX that was enjoyed and had done 300,000 kilometres before it was unfortunately stolen and written off.  The things that she dislikes are the car not having fog lights, cruise control or power windows. 

Final thoughts

The ZR Hybrid is a lot of car for $31,870 plus on-road costs.  It would be interesting to see how the ZR hybrid compares to its competition, including the Hyundai i30 Elite diesel, costing $27,790 plus on-road costs and the Mazda 3 Touring, costing $26,690 plus on-road costs.

The styling of the ZR hybrid is a real highlight, however overall the car is a little bit uninspiring to drive.  Technology and safety have really come a long way in the Corolla over the last 13 years and you feel very safe driving the ZR hybrid.  Fuel efficiency has also improved dramatically with hybrid technology and it’s impressive that this car has a range of 1000km.  It seems however that all of the safety aids have sanitised the driving experience, whereas the Ascent Seca involves you more as a driver.  It’s not a car for the motoring enthusiast, but has to be commended for being an entry level car that’s jam packed with technology not seen on many other cars.

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