Long-term test: a fond farewell to our Toyota Corolla ZR
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We like to keep tabs on the plate numbers of the test cars we sample, with the hope that one someday we might bump into them again down the line — being driven by some innocent soul unaware of their car’s former life getting haphazardly thrashed on twisty roads by the hungry press.
But you gain an even greater connection with a long-termer, as was the case here with Driven’s now departed Toyota Corolla ZR Petrol long-termer; licence plate LLW76.
Over two months, it became part of the family, ferrying parents out to dinner and friends out to drunken parties. And, in a way that’s almost unnatural for a Corolla, it made a big impression.
There are issues with the Corolla, sure. We touched on the slightly dire boot space and rear leg-room, as well as some of the faux-sporty styling in our previous updates. But, after two months it was still fun to drive, and its looks commanded a glance over the shoulder at every opportunity.
And, in true Corolla style, the two-month test was problem free. No rattles in the cabin, and the engine failed to skip a beat.
The one big task we left until the final weeks was an extended fuel economy run. A proper attempt, with minimal junk in the boot to weigh the Corolla down, a period of deliberately mixed driving routes, and a conservative feather-weight right foot.
We filled the 50-litre fuel tank to the brim with some of New Zealand’s finest 91-octane fuel, leaving no change from $100. With a claimed combined fuel consumption rate of 6L/100km, the Corolla's dashboard indicated that we had a 626km range before needing to visit a petrol station again — a number based on our previous driving habits.
This took place on our last week out of the office, so there were a few sunburnt trips to the beach with passengers joining us for the sort of urban commuting a Corolla should expect to do in its day-to-day life. And the numbers we achieved were predictably rather interesting.
With our honed, treat-the-accelerator-like-a-mine-in-the-Amazon driving style the Corolla was able to squeeze out an average fuel figure of 6.4L/100km. Not quite matching the claimed figures, sure, but much closer than some other cars can get in real-world practice.
Not only that, but we managed to cover 761km before caving for a refill, and the Corolla indicated that it could do a further 26km if we wanted to; which would have added up to 787km to a tank.
Of course, most people don’t drive like this — especially in Auckland where it’s every man, woman and child for themselves. In our standard commuting across the loan period, we regularly hit 5L/100km on the motorway and between 7.5-8.5L/100km in urban driving.
Among our other late discoveries was the mixed bag the Corolla’s arsenal of standard-across-the-range safety tech is.
Being able to use adaptive cruise control in even the $29,990 base model is great, and the system functions nicely. Its transition when slowing to a stop is somewhat clunky in that it only needs to be paused for a few moments before asking the driver to dab the throttle to keep it awake. But, otherwise, it’s competent and predictable — and works well when combined with the intelligent Lane Tracing Assist lane-keep system.
The speed limit sign recognition system, too, is helpful. But, like some other systems, it’s not perfect. Our test car kept telling us that the speed limit on the Southwestern Motorway was 20km/h — having obviously misread the SH20 road signs.
In all honesty, if we were in the market for one of these Corollas, we’d skip past a petrol example to hop into a more economical hybrid. But that’s not to say that petrol-power is entirely off our minds ...
There’s significant rumour that Toyota is weighing up making some kind of hot hatch variant. It’s a move that would neatly dovetail with Toyota’s desire to reposition itself as a more fun and performance-orientated brand.
Just think; a brand with a (hopefully) well-priced hot hatch to rival the i30 N, placed alongside an entry-level rear-wheel drive sports car (86) and a meatier, more powerful sports car (GR Supra). Factor in, too, the Gazoo Racing Yaris that appears in other markets and you have one comprehensive performance lineup.
What makes us most excited about such an announcement is that the compact’s shared “TNGA” would be a great canvas to build a hot hatch on top of. Attacking the twisty tarmac of Scenic Drive, it showed handy levels of grip and communication, despite a suspension tuned for comfort, relatively numb steering, and the presence of an (admittedly good) CVT.
Pictured: a school or flock of Corolla. Photo / Matthew Hansen
When I first picked up the Corolla, I named it Norman — a clumsy pointed finger at the nameplate’s less-than-exciting past. But by the end of our two-month test, Norman had evolved to Normie.
A Corolla that’s ... personable? What a time to be alive.