Toyota Corolla ZR Hybrid review: the cost of looking good

Damien O'Carroll
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  • Unflappably frugal, regardless of how you drive it
  • Two-tone ZR-spec looks sharp
  • Well equipped for the price
  • Big alloys come with a fuel consumption penalty
  • Big alloys also compromise ride quality
  • CVT hampers the amount of fun you can have

Apart from the mad GR version, you can now only get a Toyota Corolla with the familiar 103kW 1.8-litre hybrid powertrain in New Zealand. Now, while the combination of the words “hybrid” and “Corolla” may seem about as exciting as a beige-themed cardigan convention, Toyota isn’t listening to that kind of talk with the top-spec ZR.

Sure, if you buy an entry-level GX in white or silver, then it may as well be as beige as that natty chunky knit cardigan your nana gave you for Christmas in 1998. But the ZR, with its two-tone black-on-red colour scheme and chunky 18-inch alloy wheels is having none of that.

The sharp two-tone paint job highlights the more European styling elements of the Corolla, adding emphasis to the upward kick at the C-pillar, while the angular LED headlights and satin chrome inserts around the lower DRLs give it a more aggressive attitude at the front.

The inside is a notch above as well, with some very slick and sporty seats (that are thankfully also comfortable), as well as nice soft-touch materials replacing some of the hard plastics of lower-spec Corollas.

Of course, the combination of Corolla and hybrid also represents a combination of the best-selling car in the world and proven fuel-saving tech that is capable of impressively low fuel consumption numbers – and here’s the key – generally regardless of how you drive it.

The latest generation of Corolla came with a genuine bump in driving dynamics when it launched back in 2019, so that last part is important, as it means the Corolla can be fun. Its accurate steering combined with an agile chassis and thoroughly predictable dynamics making for a surprisingly engaging driving experience, providing you crank the stereo up to drown out the groaning of an engine hooked up to a continuously variable transmission, that is...

And that ‘hybrid’ part of its name also means that, even if you do take advantage of that decent chassis, your fuel consumption will only slightly slip above Toyota’s claim of a combined average fuel consumption of just 4.4L/100km.

And regardless of any visual bling, this is where the Corolla truly shines.

Toyota’s hybrid systems have an almost diesel-like ability to settle on a consumption figure and cement themselves to it regardless of how you drive, and the Corolla is no different, despite the fact that it is now one of the older hybrids in Toyota’s line up.

This is, however, where the downside of those stylish looks come in, in the form of those snazzy looking 18-inch wheels. You pay a price at the pump for looking good, with the larger wheels hampering the ZR’s ability to reach Toyota’s claimed fuel consumption. In fact, during our time with it, the ZR could only average a horrifying average of 5.7L/100km. That “horrifying” was sarcastic, if you didn’t catch it.

While a litre-and-a-bit per 100km penalty may be bearable price to pay for the cool chunky alloys, the effect on the ride quality also has to be accounted for, with the ZR not as compliant or superbly composed over rough surfaces as the GX wagon I drove immediately after it was.

Again, it’s not a terrible thing, but certainly worth bearing in mind if you are just after a comfortable and frugal form of transport and have no interest in the stylish fripperies. After all, if the cardigan fits...

ENGINE: 1.8-litre petrol four with electric motor
POWER: 72kW/142Nm (petrol), 103kW total system output
GEARBOX: Continuously variable transmission, FWD petrol
CONSUMPTION: 4.4l/100km, CO2 101g/km (3P-WLTP)
PRICE: $42,990 ($43,290 with two-tone paint)


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