The 10 best & worst things about the new Toyota Corolla's interior
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It won the Safest Car of 2018 gong at this year's AA Driven New Zealand Car of the Year awards, and now we're out long-term testing the new Toyota Corolla. Specifically, the ZR Petrol. You can read our opening thoughts on the highly anticipated hatchback by clicking here.
Now that we've been able to spend a bit more time with the Corolla, we can offer a bit more detail on what it's like to live with. And, in terms of livability, few things are as important than the design, ergonomics, and comfort of a car's interior. So, without further ado, here are the 10 best and worst elements inside 'New Zealand's favourite car'.
Best: Material quality
We're talking a level that can rival the Mazda3 and Volkswagen Golf here.
Soft-touch materials line the tops of the door cards and coat most of the dashboard, juxtaposed with rather classy looking white stitching. Suede seats are nice to the touch, and Toyota's 'faux' rendition of leather is perfectly serviceable.
The “I can't quite believe this is actually a Corolla” claims from mates have been numerous, and the way the interior looks and feels is a big part of this.
It's important to note that we're namely referring to the top-trim ZR model here, as pictured. Base models trade away some of that soft-touch and metallic surface for hard plastics (mostly on the tops of the door inserts and on the base of the dash).
But, that's not necessarily surprising, given that the base petrol GX is the cheapest compact in the segment.
Worst: Rear leg-room
I'm not particularly tall, particularly in regards to my stubby little legs. Combining that with my relatively upright preferred seating position and generally it means that there's ample leg-room in the seat behind me in most cars.
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But, not necessarily here.
While I find headroom adequate, leg and foot-room are below average when sitting behind a driver's seat in my personal position. Thankfully there's a lot of room in the front for driver and front passenger to slide forwards, but that's more compromise than one would have in most of the Corolla's rivals — Civic, i30, Focus included. Not ideal.
Best: Comfort, styling
The lack of space in the rear is a bit of a shame, because the front is a really nice place to sit.
The front seats, along with looking the part, are also very comfortable. They're sadly not electric, but they do come with adjustable lumbar support. The driver's seat is a smidge high for my taste, but that extra height helps with visibility and ease of ingress and egress. The middle arm rest is vast, slides forwards, and sits at the same height as the arm rests in the doors.
Other features like the ZR's mild mood lighting, wireless phone charging, and the heads-up display (we'll get into that later) help make it feel like you're in something worth more than the sub-40k price-tag.
And the way it looks compliments this vibe. Yes, looks are an 'eye in the beholder' thing, but you'd be hard pressed to find someone offended or bored by the Corolla cabin.
Worst: Luggage capacity
We'll touch on this more in our next long-termer update. But yes, the lack of room for junk in the trunk might be the new Corolla's biggest vice.
The 208L capacity with the seats folded up is below average for the class. Things improve a bit when the 60/40-split back seats are folded down (sadly there's still a big lip to lug items over), but it's still a rough reality for anyone chasing practicality.
Best: Infotainment system
Toyota's 8.0-inch infotainment system is a breeze to use. It includes a relatively decent resolution reversing camera and a satnav system that integrates instructions simultaneously across the heads-up display and digital gauge cluster in the ZR.
Connecting your phone via Bluetooth is a particularly rapid and smooth process.
Some will be annoyed by how it looks like it's just glued to the top of the dashboard, but this is par for the course these days for all 'cheap' new cars. It also makes the infotainment unit easier to use for the driver, since it's closer to their eye-line.
A myriad of physical shortcut buttons is also a welcome touch.
Worst: Uhhh ... also the infotainment system
We've talked about how well equipped the new Corolla is out of the box compared to its rivals. Part of this can be seen as Toyota simply doing what's necessary to stay up with the game, but it's probably also valid to say that the focus on new technology (and styling) is an attempt to capture more youth buyers.
So why doesn't the infotainment system have phone connectivity programs like Apple CarPlay or Android Auto?
Toyota NZ have said in the past that this is because few people in our market have raised it as an issue. But, more and more first-time new-car buyers are expecting it these days. Plenty of sub-compacts (like the Suzuki Swift) come with it as standard, but Toyota continue to march on without it in most markets.
Other little infotainment annoyances? When you're in motion the system locks you out from various features like keying in a satnav destination, and when you turn the car off the system turns itself off dead. The latter is typical in all Toyotas and Lexuseseses, and is mildly annoying if you're planning on sitting in the car to listen to the radio.
Best: JBL Audio
Toyotas usually feature decent audio, and the new Corolla is no exception.
The ZR in particular comes with an eight-speaker JBL system — perfect for jamming Straight Out of Compton on Queen St with the windows down.
My casual interest in audio outside of cars placed JBL as a middling manufacturer for consumers compared to the likes of Bose, Sennheiser, and Sony ... but in the car world they have quite a tall standing. They supply systems for brands like Ferrari, and represent a sister brand to the likes of Harmon Kardon (supplier to Mercedes-Benz) and Infinity (often spotted in Hyundais).
What does this all mean? I'm not sure. What I do know is the JBL system in the Corolla is punchier than plenty of others. Bass is deep, treble feels sharp and precise. It's a good thing.
Worst: piano black and plastic door handles
Dust and fingerprints everywhere!
Piano black (also known as gloss black) is fast becoming a pet-peeve fave among car reviewers. It looks lovely on first glance, but can very quickly look filthy and gross through its keen ability to attract dust and finger prints.
The Corolla has some good piano black bits and some bad. The bar of piano that goes across the dashboard to break up the soft-touch materials is nice and subtle, and I can even almost forgive the large pieces on the door grabs. But, the curled panel that sits behind the air-conditioning controls is bad, and the whopping panel around the transmission shift lever (pictured) is an awfully strong dust magnet.
Meanwhile, the door handles are also a slight disappointment — especially given my earlier words about material quality. In terms of surface quality, touch points are the bits that matter most since they get the most attention. So it's a bit annoying that the door handles (which are guaranteed to be used at least once every time the car is driven) are made out of cheap grey plastic.
Best: Heads-up display
Ignore the 'ghosting' in the photo, the heads-up display in upper-tier Corolla models is crystal clear.
It's a handy unit that displays an above-average amount of information. As you'd expect it shows your speed and the current speed limit. But, it also has a few other interesting tricks up its sleeve.
Skip a song or adjust your volume, and it'll scroll the name of the song or the volume level at the bottom of the screen. Turn on the adaptive cruise, and options will be highlighted on the right-hand side (when adaptive cruise isn't in use, it displays a compass instead).
My favourite thing however is what it does for satnav. As mentioned above, satnav directions are integrated across the main screen, digital cluster, and the heads-up display in a sequential fashion. There are other cars that do this of course, but not many of them are in this price bracket, and not many of them produce a slightly sci-fi animated graphic in their heads-up display like the Corolla does.
Worst: Short roof-line
Headroom in the Corolla is perfectly fine, both in the front and in the rear.
But, the small glasshouse means that getting into the hatch can be challenging for some people. No issues for me, but my gold-card owning father struggles to get in each time (he's even bumped his head a few times).
If anyone knows that style can sometimes have its cost, it's Toyota. When I drove their CH-R compact crossover last year, I called it 'the most interesting Toyota ever made' because of its daring design. In the CH-R the sculpted and bizarre styling was eye-catching (and sometimes divisive), but also resulted in a deeply claustrophobic back seat. It might be a similar story here.