It is probably the humblest, most conservative vehicle model on the planet. But in some ways, it is a driving enthusiasts’ car purely because it is just so darn dependable and, in hybrid form, economical. So you can drive and drive until your heart’s content.
We thought we’d test out the 2023 Toyota Corolla ZR Hybrid for this reason, and because Toyota Australia announced an update late last year which unlocked more power from the 1.8L hybrid option.
Like many products on the market that have experienced big price jumps in recent times, the Corolla’s price hasn’t been that stable either. This top-spec ZR Hybrid hatch starts from $38,120, up from $31,870 when this model generation launched here back in 2018. You are getting more vehicle now, but probably not to the extent of that price rise.
2023 Toyota Corolla ZR Hybrid: What is it?
Do we really need to explain what this is? At various points in history it has been the most popular new vehicle in Australia and indeed the entire world. Everybody knows what a Corolla is, and we’d be betting everybody has had one or knows somebody who has had one at some point in their lives.
Unfortunately for the nameplate, this vehicle segment is dwindling in terms of sales. This is largely due to the rising popularity of dual-cab ‘all-purpose’ utes and the relentless pull of SUVs. Across the first three months of this year, segment sales reached 7073 units for the small car class. That’s down 35.2 per cent compared with the same three-month period last year (according to March 2023 VFACTS figures).
This means this vehicle style could soon be done and dusted as companies see better business cases in developing SUVs and utes. For Toyota, this doesn’t matter so much, particularly in Australia, as it already wins top sales in other classes, including utes (HiLux), mid-size SUVs (RAV4), large SUVs (Prado), and upper-large SUVs (LandCruiser). And just to cover things, it recently introduced the Corolla Cross SUV, which seems to be very well received so far, in the small SUV class.
Aside from the cracking new GR Corolla, the ZR is the top-rung trim level. It boasts all of the bells and whistles that Toyota offers for this class, blending a hint of luxury with renowned practicality and user-friendliness, and a dash of sportiness in the design.
2023 Toyota Corolla ZR Hybrid: What does it come with?
For the 2023 model Toyota Australia introduced its Connected Services suite. This allows users to connect with their vehicles via a smart phone and keep tabs on things remotely. It also brings in the possibility of automatic assistance and even vehicle location information during emergencies.
You can check on things remotely via your phone to see how much fuel is in the car and how much range you have, double-check the door lock status, and even see if the windows are closed. All from your phone, independent of being anywhere near the car.
Owners can also lock the vehicle or start the engine, sound the horn, or check the exact location of the car. That latter function would definitely come in handy when parking in those huge shopping centre car parks. We’re not saying these are all super-advanced or unique functions in this day and age, as many competitors are starting to offer similar systems (premium car brands have offered them for years), but it is good to see Toyota stepping up to ensure its most friendly vehicle model is future-proofed.
As briefly mentioned, the ZR is a bit luxurious but it’s not over and above anything else in this space in our opinion. Much of the interior feels like it has been made with durability and longevity as the highest priority rather than oozing opulence.
However, you do get partial leather seats, steering wheel and gear knob, as well as dual-zone climate control, a power driver’s seat (manual passenger, though), a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, and Toyota’s latest 8.0-inch touch-screen (new for 2023) system with in-built sat-nav, digital radio, and an eight-speaker JBL sound system. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay come standard, with wireless Apple CarPlay only.
Seating space is pretty good in the front but it’s not as open-plan as some rivals such as the Kia Cerato. This actually feels more like a sports car, feeling a bit more closed in and focused. The driving position is great and so is the steering wheel size and feel.
Rear seat room is restrictive for taller people, and the bench width seems narrower than some rivals. We think it’s fine for shorter trips but we’d be fighting over the front seat on longer adventures. At least Toyota has provided climate outlets and cup holders for the back, though.
Likewise, boot space measures in at a comparatively small 333L. And the ZR gets the biggest boot in the range because it features a tyre repair kit rather than a spare wheel. This might not be ideal for those regularly running interstate errands, such as company fleets and sales reps etc.
2023 Toyota Corolla ZR Hybrid: Fun factor
What a powerhouse this is now, thanks to the 2023 update… No, unfortunately we are being sarcastic. However, it is with exception. The 1.8-litre hybrid four-cylinder petrol unit now generates 103kW, up from the original 90kW rating.
That’s far from the biggest power rating in this class. As anyone who has driven an electric vehicle will be quick to tell you, ‘man, the instant response is gnarly’. There’s a similar sentiment here. Because even though this is not a fully electric vehicle it does use an electric motor to help shift the car.
You can feel the electro surge from low speeds and when you’re not really expecting much or pushing it that much. It kind of behaves like a turbo, with low-end grunt heaving you off. Overtaking performance is significantly improved over the 90kW tune, as now you don’t need to wring its neck just to get the job done. It whooshes past without much effort now.
We ran some 0-100km/h tests and witnessed a best run of 9.82 seconds (video below). That’s not exactly quick but it ain’t too bad for this style of vehicle. Especially when you consider the fuel economy it returns. It’s insane. We flogged this test car around with no regard at all for fuel consumption and the thing still returned a week-long average of 5.0L/100km. The official rating is 5.9L/100km.
Yeah, we all knew economy would be good. What about fun? Well, the Corolla is based on Toyota’s TNGA platform which has been made with extensive rigidity in mind. We hear all the car brands say this when they launch a new layout, but here we honestly think Toyota has put in a heap of effort with this one to ensure proper driving dynamics.
This will take a beating around a twisty bit of poorly-maintained country road. Toyota engineers have clearly tried to strike the optimum balance between comfort and chassis sturdiness, as the suspension can withstand big compression changes without much interruption, but at the same time it feels tight and focused enough to support a fun Sunday drive.
The ZR does come with unique 18-inch alloy wheels running Dunlop SP Sport Maxx tyres measuring 225/40. They provide plenty of grip, but we’d like to see some improvements to reduce road roar, as it is fairly evident here.
Using the low-end torque of the electric side of the hybrid system can also be advantageous during corner exits, as you look forward to leaning on the pedal nice and early and letting the system steam forward. It’s not particularly fast from point to point, but there is no denying the underlying capability and, more importantly, its fun-supporting breadth.
2023 Toyota Corolla ZR Hybrid: Should you buy one?
There are many reasons why anyone would buy one. It has been the dependable go-to hatchback for literally decades. How can so many buyers be wrong? Word gets around pretty quick in this online age, so if there were major issues or concerns, you’d soon hear about them.
The only issue we discovered for the current Corolla is with the CVT auto, which could pack up. But as far as we could find out this is largely only associated with very high-km vehicles (200,000km-plus), and it could be down to a specific way in which owners are using and parking their vehicle. We had to dig deep into forums to find this though, and it doesn’t seem like a common issue.
Aside from the undisputed reliability of the Corolla, resale value ratings are always very high in comparison with its competitors. So buying one should be seen as a smart investment. Well, it might not make you money so that’s probably a silly statement, but you get what we mean.
How does it rate against its rivals?
It’s a Toyota Corolla. If you’re at this point and you’re still worried if you should buy one or not, then maybe you don’t need a new car after all. This is perhaps one of the smartest and safest buys out there, especially in this class. The resale is superb, the economy is outstanding, the equipment levels are good enough for the market segment standards, and design and build quality should be attractive to most. A tight boot and rear seat area are the only considerations in our view.