• Sharp looks; loads of features; entertaining in the right conditions; low servicing costs
  • High price of ZR; unsettled ride; noisy engine and gearbox; vague steering; small boot

6 / 10

Toyota Corolla Levin ZR Review
Toyota Corolla Levin ZR Review
Toyota Corolla Levin ZR Review

The 11th-generation Toyota Corolla has continued the model’s long history of being loved locally, and is a strong contender to become the best-selling car of the year.

To find out if the new hatchback’s range-topper continues the positive traits of its cheaper siblings, we tested the Levin ZR.

At $28,490 list price – $32,415 as tested with continuously variable transmission ($2000), ZR-exclusive panoramic glass roof ($1500) and metallic paint ($425) – the top-spec Toyota Corolla Levin ZR is $8500 more than the entry-level Ascent.

The Corolla Levin ZR is, however, brimming with additional features above the penultimate $25,990 Levin SX model.

The extensive list includes adaptive xenon headlights with automatic high beam function, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front sports seats, leather upholstery, driver’s power lumbar support, keyless entry and start, heated and auto-folding side mirrors, and auto-dimming rear view mirror.

These join standard items of note such as 17-inch alloy wheels, front fog lights, privacy glass, reversing camera and satellite navigation. A six-speaker audio system with 6.1-inch touchscreen and Bluetooth and USB/AUX/iPod connectivity is also included.

While trim specifications may vary across the hatch’s range, the Levin ZR’s 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine and standard six-speed manual, or optional seven-speed CVT, are consistent throughout.

Toyota Corolla Levin ZR Review
Toyota Corolla Levin ZR Review
Toyota Corolla Levin ZR Review
Toyota Corolla Levin ZR Review

Producing 103kW at 6400rpm and 173Nm at 4000rpm, the Levin ZR is down on power and torque compared with most of its key competitors employing identically sized engines. The Hyundai i30 delivers 110kW and 178Nm, the Honda Civic 104kW and 174Nm. It beats lower-grade versions of the Nissan Pulsar powered by a 96kW 1.8 but the cheaper ST-S and comparably priced SSS hatches derive 140kW and 240Nm from a 1.6-litre turbo.

And while the Corolla wins the power battle against the 1.4-litre turbocharged Volkswagen Golf 90TSI by 13kW, the Japanese hatch loses the torque war, with the German producing an extra 27Nm, from a more usable 1400rpm.

Official fuel consumption brings mixed results with the ZR’s claimed 6.6 litres per 100km figure sliding between those of the Honda Civic (6.5L/100km) and Hyundai i30 (6.9L/100km).

In CarAdvice’s recent small hatch mega test, though – which saw 500km covered over two days – the Corolla Levin ZR returned 9.8L/100km to the i30’s 9.1L/100km and Civic’s 8.9L/100km. All three, however, were blitzed by the Golf’s 7.9L/100km result.

The Corolla’s engine tackles relaxed transit around busy streets and tight laneways well when sitting below 2500-3000rpm, yet is flexible enough to be quite spirited and keen higher up in the rev band beyond 4500rpm. When pushed hard, though, engine noise and harshness do increase with revs.

Toyota Corolla Levin ZR Review
Toyota Corolla Levin ZR Review
Toyota Corolla Levin ZR Review
Toyota Corolla Levin ZR Review

The CVT gearbox is also loud. And while it does a reasonable job of trying to keep the engine in its happiest range in most situations, this comes with the cost of being indecisive, particularly at low speeds.

Flick the transmission into the paddle shift-operated sport mode, however, and the CVT is transformed into a far more dynamic piece of hardware with seven clearly defined pre-set ‘gears’ on offer. Driven this way, the Toyota Corolla becomes far more characterful and fun, without matching the handling excellence of rivals such as the Mazda 3, Ford Focus and Holden Cruze.

The entry-level Ascent hatch presents drivers with sound body control, helped by 16-inch wheels and tall profile tyres. The ZR’s one-inch-larger diameter and half-inch-wider wheels with thinner profile 215/45 R17 Michelin Primacy HP tyres, however, deliver good grip on smooth roads but seem to affect ride quality.

The Levin ZR hits bumps firmly with little damping provided but then dips and rolls as its softer springs take over. Oddly, the top-spec Corolla needs to be either more softly damped to bring more refinement to the ride or more firmly sprung to reduce the amount of roll and deliver a more performance-oriented drive.

The electro-mechanical power steering is consistently light but vague on-centre, hindering precise positioning of the Corolla in general driving. It maintains accuracy once loaded up, though, and ably chases down corners picked out by those guiding the well-sized and comfortable leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel.

Toyota Corolla Levin ZR Review
Toyota Corolla Levin ZR Review
Toyota Corolla Levin ZR Review
Toyota Corolla Levin ZR Review

Inside, the ZR is a confronting combination of shapes and themes and not as visually pleasing as the exterior. Circular items such as the instrument binnacle gauges, dash-end air vents, high-mounted tweeter speakers and climate control dials are jarringly dispersed among sharper angles of the centre console, twin square central air vents and the odd-fitting digital clock.

Soft-touch material, pleasant feeling plastics and chrome details aim to improve the interior ambience, though the small and retro-fit-looking sat-nav screen and toy-like steering wheel buttons don’t live up to the Levin ZR’s $28k-plus price tag.

Flat and unsupportive rear seats, and the smallest boot in its class at 280 litres, also don’t help comparisons with the likes of the Golf, Civic and i30 that bring greater all-round comfort and practicality.

The Corolla is competitively priced in terms of servicing, though, covered under Toyota’s three-year/60,000km capped-price program. At $130 for the first six services, scheduled every six-months or 10,000kms, the hatch will cost a total of $780 for the first 36 months of ownership – less than the Mazda 3 and Ford Focus over the same period.

The Toyota Corolla Levin ZR will satisfy those who simply want to own the most featured-filled version of the reputable hatchback, though it’s neither better to drive nor quicker than cheaper variants.

Toyota Corolla Levin ZR Review
Toyota Corolla Levin ZR Review

Its value against a number of rival small cars at that price point is not so strong, either, and for those who can stretch another $1500 it’s possible to get into the Volkswagen Golf 103TSI that sets benchmarks in a number of areas to be the best hatch in class.

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Toyota Corolla Levin ZR Review
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  • Jurgen

    The looks have really grown on me.

    • Zaccy16

      at the front i agree but at the back looks weird

      • Mike

        I think the back looks quite aggressive and nice. It would serve as a good base for a warm/hot hatch.

    • Monk

      like a nasty rash?

    • Leo

      Agreed. The exterior is actually not too bad. Quite zesty looking. The interior on the other hand is downright ugly. The centre console is a joke, especially with that LCD clock and old school vents. The whole centrepiece just looks out of place! (Even the previous gen corolla had a nicer interior).

      One more thing is the Corolla needs a properly sized boot for a hatchback. You can’t bet on fitting more than 1 suitcase in there.

  • Zaccy16

    IMO the corrola makes even less sense at this price point than as a base model, the steering and handling are still sub par and below the kia cerato now, the interior is cheap looking and not visually pleasing, the engine is unrefined and CVT is below rivals Dual clutches and conventional autos, people only by the corrola because they don’t look at anything else!

    • azeng

      Corolla* Corolla* Corolla* …and at least it won’t break down and kill you, unlike your VolkswagOn (or is that how you spell it anyway)

      • Zaccy16

        this isn’t a english exam azeng its a car forum!

    • $29896495

      Speaking of Cerato, this makes that car’s interior look positively amazing. Exterior and interior Corolla just doesn’t cut it. I can’t get over how bad that dash is. It’s mind boggling.

      • Edvard

        The youths love this kind of thing these days with the interior styling.

      • Zaccy16

        i agree, both this and the rav 4 have interiors that look cheap and nasty but also 10 years old!

    • Monk

      Fully agree

  • Daniel

    This car just screams three stars. I don’t mean this as an anti-Toyota comment at all, but this is just so far off the best of the competition and what’s the point in even making a car for any class if it’s not bettering the current best? Even if they don’t know how to make it good to drive, comfortable riding or quiet can they at least not even make a nice looking modern high quality interior? Is that really too much to ask when the rest of the companies are all managing pretty well? I do think the exterior looks good, but so does much of the competition so eh.

    • Bob

      I think the base and Ascent Sport models are okay, since they offer decent value, but this Levin ZR just seems a little pointless.

  • Galaxy

    i30 is a much better car than this (in all model grades). Who would have thought Hyundai and Kia would be outdoing the best Japanese car company…. Comfortably at that.

    • fghj

      ‘Best Japanese car company’? Says who and by what criteria? Also, I don’t know if the i30 is ‘much better’ – that’s probably an overstatement. Regardless, I’m pretty sure Toyota sells a lot more Corollas than Hyundai does the i30.

      • galaxy

        See my reply to F1orce above re Hyundai. Kia and Hyundai now make a much better alternative to Corolla. Find me one Australian comparo where Corolla is better than i30? Toyota also sells more cars than Merc… so what? Nokia still sells more phones than Apple… so what? So which is the best Japanese Car company if it’s not Toyota? According to your logic it must be the highest selling brand.. is that right?

        • fghj

          I was never the one who made subjective claims like x is ‘much better than’ y, or x is the ‘best car company within a country’. All I did was point out how absurd it was for you to do so and in such a selective manner, i.e. taking into account some factors while ignoring those (such as sales) that inconvenienced your argument. Also, by your logic sales don’t mean a thing; I sure hope no for-profit business would ever have the misfortune of ever hiring you.

          • galaxy

            You should be in politics – there’s 2 vacancies Oakeshot and Windsor have resigned. I have no idea what you’re on about. I thought we were talking about the Corolla. I guess that means you have no answer (just like a politician). Good luck in September.

          • Smitty08

            @fghj I’m sure Sony also sold more TVs than Samsung once upon a time. Now Samsung has over 70% world share.

          • racrepus

            Sales don’t mean a thing when comparing the car. Number of sales isn’t a sign of how good a product is, it’s all about how big the companies advertising budget is.

    • F1orce

      Why do you always insist on controversy?

      • galaxy

        Controversy? Really? EVERY Aust. website and magazine has rated the i30 better than Corolla. Hyundai has won more COTY awards in Australia through NRMA, carsguide (previous model), best small car from carpoint. What has Toyota won without Subarus help… EVER?

        • Brett

          On the basis of handling and features that is…
          Those reviews cannot take into account reliability.
          For most people and daily commuters, reliability is the most important factor. An interesting comparison would be twenty year old Hyundai i30 vs twenty year old Toyota Corolla

  • Hung Low

    They could have specced up the engine, suspension and fitted some wider rubber instead of the pizza cutters and had something resemble the old SX Corolla but what we have is a expensive base Corolla with a few more shiny bits on the inside.

  • F1orce

    In the previous review you guys called the 1.8L Corolla engine ‘surprising force’ and ‘tractable’

    Seems to be the case.. From experience

  • Sh0w

    we have base Cruze, Corolla, i30 at work and the Corolla is the most relaxed and zippy, frugal and so far has held up the best (least amount of creeks n squeaks) compared with i30 and Cruze

  • WayneO

    I quite like the exterior of the Corolla, even the base model Ascent, but THAT interior is just awful. Given that’s what you look at 99% of the time (i.e. when you’re driving) I just couldn’t live with it. I know Toyota is selling a truck load of Corolla’s but imagine how many could be sold if the interior had the style of say an i30/Golf/Focus etc. I can’t believe how the decision makers at Toyota allow such ordinary designs to get the green light.

  • crouchy35

    3 stars? Luckily for Toyota, their target buyer doesn’t even know what the internet is.

  • Darryl

    The dash looks like a MK 1 Cortina airflow.

  • racrepus

    Sides are a knock off of the Cerato, and front is a knock off of the Koup. Rear looks so ugly and fat because the bumper doesn’t look like it was designed with the car, but just stuck on after.

    I kinda like the interior, except for the total lack of consistency between screens. The SatNav, instrument cluster and climate control screens are all completely different from each other. Poor aesthetics.

  • Jack

    I really, really like the interior, especially the dashboard. I know I’m not supposed to. Strange, eh?

  • meds

    All you’re saying is hyundai has paid more for marketing in Australia than Toyota has.

  • Fjan
  • Fjan

    How satellite navigation is updated on Corolla 2013

Toyota Corolla Specs

Car Details
Body Type
New Price
Private Sale
$22,770 - $25,880
Dealer Retail
$23,590 - $28,050
Dealer Trade
$17,900 - $20,700
Engine Specifications
Engine Type
Engine Size
Max. Torque
173Nm @  4000rpm
Max. Power
103kW @  6400rpm
Pwr:Wgt Ratio
Bore & Stroke
Compression Ratio
Valve Gear
Drivetrain Specifications
Drive Type
Final Drive Ratio
Fuel Specifications
Fuel Type
Fuel Tank Capacity
Fuel Consumption (Combined)
6.6L / 100km
Weight & Measurement
Kerb Weight
Gross Vehicle Weight
Not Provided
Ground Clearance
Towing Capacity
Brake:1300  Unbrake:450
Steering & Suspension
Steering Type
Turning Circle
Front Rim Size
Rear Rim Size
Front Tyres
215/45 R17
Rear Tyres
215/45 R17
Wheel Base
Front Track
Rear Track
Front Brakes
Rear Brakes
Front Suspension
MacPherson strut, Coil Spring, Gas damper, Anti roll bar
Rear Suspension
Torsion bar, Coil Spring, Gas damper
Standard Features
Sport Seats
Control & Handling
Traction Control System
Trip Computer
Xenon Headlights
Seatbelts - Pre-tensioners Front Seats
Optional Features
Power Sunroof
Service Interval
6 months /  10,000 kms
36 months /  100,000 kms
VIN Plate Location
Driver Side Front Floor
Country of Origin