What is it?

Corolla needs no introduction.

It’s the best selling car in the world and the fallback position for generations of Australians since its launch in the 1960s.

With the latest model Toyota has managed to inject some excitement into the equation, with a car that looks hot and is fun to drive — what more could you ask for?

Well, I’m glad you asked that question, because these days you get to chose between a traditional petrol engine or fuel (and environment friendly) hybrid version?

You’d think the choice would be an easy one . . . you’d be dead wrong.

What’s it cost?

We opted to test like for like, top of the range ZR petrol and ZR hybrid hatches.

Corolla 2.0 ZR is priced from $30,370 and the Hybrid ZR, from $31,870 — a difference of $1500.

Apart from being powered by different drivetrains, there are other subtle differences.

For a start they have different transmissions. They’re both CVT autos — but with a difference.

One also gets gear change paddles, and the brakes are also different because of the hybrid’s regenerative braking requirements.

The instrumentation is also different, with a head-up display that shows different information — and the petrol model also offers different drive modes.

The more you look, the more you find.

A pre-collision safety system is common with pedestrian detection that works at night, as well as cyclist detection during the day, plus autonomous emergency braking and emergency brake assist.

Active cruise control and lane departure alert with steering assist and sway warning are also standard.

Other safety features include seven airbags, blind-spot monitor, reversing camera, automatic high beam, hill-start assist, and two rear ISOFIX anchor points.

Kit includes leather accented and suede interior with sports front seats, along with two-zone climate air, 8.0-inch colour touchscreen, digital radio, satellite navigation, traffic sign recognition and wireless phone charging.

There’s LED lights all round, head-up display, 18-inch alloys, 8-speaker premium JBL audio, 7.0-inch colour multi-info display, ambient illumination, and auto dimming rear-view mirror.

Let me just say it would be really nice if Toyota’s website let you compare models, like those of other manufacturers.

What’s it go like?

The petrol model produces 125kW and 200Nm of torque, the hybrid a combined output of 90kW.

Corolla’s cousin the Lexus UX on the other hand uses a larger 2.0-litre engine as the basis for its hybrid that produces a combined 131kW.

Weight of the petrol and hybrid models is surprisingly almost the same, at 1420 versus 1400kg (where’d they hide those heavy batteries).

Both transmissions are CVTs, but the petrol model gets a “direct shift” version with 10-speed sequential shift mode, and a launch gear mechanism (a world-first we’re told for a CVT-equipped passenger car).

Only the entry level Ascent Sport is available with a manual.

ZR petrol also comes with three drive modes — ECO, Normal and Sport — plus paddle gear shifts for changing gears manually (hybrid misses out on these).

The new CVT also incorporates a series of electronic controls to optimise economy, driving performance, acceleration feel, shift timing and downshifts for engine braking.

The Hybrid System is sourced from Prius and features a substantially upgraded petrol engine, two new motor generators, new e-CVT transaxle, a new power control unit and new battery pack.

The petrol engine generates a maximum power of 72kW at 5200rpm and peak torque of 142Nm at 3600rpm while the main electric drive motor produces maximum outputs of 53kW and 163Nm.

Combined maximum output for the system is 90kW with combined fuel consumption of 4.2L/100km and CO2 emissions of 97g/km.

On the road the petrol model promises and delivers a genuinely sporty drive experience.

It’s got plenty of power, is responsive to the throttle, makes all the right noises and delivers a little lift with each upchange of the gears using the paddles.

The steering is direct, with good turn in, the brakes bite hard and it corners flat with neutral handling and plenty of grip from the tyres.

The way it whipped around the first, fast corner that we threw it into was confidence-inspiring.

Ironically, the hybrid lacks the “spark” of the petrol model.

It’s much slower out of the gates, and never manages to generate quite the same sort of excitement.

But once you’re up and running, it’s responsive enough, with good roll-on acceleration in the mid-range where it’s needed most.

Pushed hard however it doesn’t show the same grip as the petrol model, with plenty of breakaway and tyre squeal, and ultimately oversteer — we assume a symptom of the rear weight bias with the battery pack.

But, like the man said, it uses hardly any gas.

Across the range, active cornering assist applies braking force to the left or right driven wheels during high-speed cornering to reduce understeer.

If you get to sit in the back, you’ll find it is cramped in both, with a low roof line that makes entry more difficult than it probably should be.

The boot is also smaller in the petrol model because of the presence of a space saver spare (spare makes way for a reinflation kit in the hybrid to allow for the batteries).

We clocked up more than 1000km in the two cars.

Both take 91 standard unleaded, and the hybrid has a smaller 43-litre fuel tank.

Rated at 6.0L/100km, we were getting 8.7 from the petrol model. And, with a claimed figure of 4.2L/100km, we returned 5.2L/100km from the hybrid.

What we like?

Petrol
  • Sporty looks
  • Well equipped
  • Rear air outlets
  • Fun to drive
Hybrid
  • Same sporty looks
  • Similarly equipped
  • Rear air outlets
  • Low fuel consumption

 

What we don’t like?

Petrol
  • Not much
  • Constant speed warnings (I know, I know)
  • Not much rear legroom
  • Not much headroom either
  • Boot small and shallow
  • Difficult navigation entry
  • No Apple CarPlay or Android Auto . . . yet
Hybrid
  • Poor off the line performance
  • Tyre squeal
  • Oversteer when pushed hard
  • Not much rear legroom
  • Not much headroom either
  • Difficult navigation entry
  • No Apple CarPlay or Android Auto . . . yet

 

The bottom line?

It’s almost line ball, but it’s the hybrid by a whisker. In the end choice is what the consumer wants and this is what they get with the Corolla. If you want performance, the petrol version is the way to go. If you’re more interested in fuel consumption and the fate of the environment, then clearly the hybrid is the only option.

CHECKOUT: Hybrid option for all Corollas

CHECKOUT: Corolla changes enough to keep it number one?

 

Riley

Chris Riley has been a journalist for almost 40 years. He has spent half of his career as a writer, editor and production editor in newspapers, the rest of the time driving and writing about cars both in print and online. His love affair with cars began as a teenager with the purchase of an old VW Beetle, followed by another Beetle and a string of other cars on which he has wasted too much time and money. A self-confessed geek, he’s not afraid to ask the hard questions - at the risk of sounding silly.