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We took the best-selling car in the world to the harsh Australian Outback

Our Toyota Corolla Hybrid in Silverton, Australia.

The Toyota Corolla needs no introduction: a nameplate originally launched in 1966, more than 46 million units across 12 generations have been sold since. The Corolla has been the best-selling vehicle in the world on and off since 1974 and without interruption since 2005, Toyota moving over 1 million annual units all through the past decade and 1.418.627 in 2018 according to our figures. Late 2018 saw the introduction of a new hatchback, now called Corolla worldwide (the Auris nameplate was abandoned in Europe), the sedan and station wagon following shortly after. Because the last generation was a disappointment for me, it is time to check out the new fare.

Our 3.400km Australian itinerary with the new Toyota Corolla Hybrid.

Picking up a new Corolla Hybrid in Sydney, the rental contract stipulated: “You cannot leave New South Wales”. Challenge accepted. At 809,444 km² or 312,528 sq mi, the state of New South Wales is larger than Texas or Spain and Italy put together, so there’s room to move. Our itinerary (shown above) will take us 3.400 km / 2.100 miles to the four corners of the state, from Sydney to Broken Hill, Mungo National Park and Jervis Bay – technically an Australian Capital Territory enclave within New South Wales (but shhh, don’t tell anyone). A long enough drive to spot normal usage flaws (and qualities) in some pretty extreme conditions to boot, crossing some of the most remote, hot and dry regions in the country, as we conducted this test drive last February, the tail end of Australian summer.

We have now entered Outback Australia and its souped-up pickups.

A short time before Nyngan 550 km north-east of Sydney, we officially enter Outback New South Wales, sanctioned by a proper roadsign (pictured above). But since leaving the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, it has been big skies, straight lanes and short grass steppes, so what really has changed? Easy: in the Outback, every driver waves hello when crossing another car. Nyngan, population 2.073, is located on the Bogan River within the Bogan Shire – and this is where you should know that “bogan” is Australian for redneck… A bit harsh, but you just can’t make this up. 130 km west is Cobar, population 3.990, where copper started being mined in 1878 and whose name s derived from the Aboriginal Ngiyampaa word for copper, Kuparr. But enough about trivia, let’s go straight to my first impressions of the new Corolla.

To start the car: a hybrid won’t make any noise in low speed EV mode, so you need to wait for the beep telling you the car is on. Takes a bit of getting used to. The very comfortable seats are sadly adjusted manually (my pet hate), the sound system is worlds apart with the old gen and now pretty robust, the cockpit is surprisingly loud with rolling noice, and the cherry on top: a cruise control system that follows the speed limit! The car recognises speed signs (yes you read that well, the Toyota Corolla can now read) and displays them onto the touch screen. Once a new speed limit appears, press a little longer on the “up” or “down” control on the steering wheel and the cruise control leaps directly to the new speed limit. Simple, genius and sounding like something you would (should) get in a Tesla or a Volvo, but instead you can get it in a Toyota Corolla. It looks like the best-selling car in the world is now starting to behave like one. Finally.

White Cliffs

A further 335 km west we take a detour through very hostile terrain (see first picture above) to the tiny town of White Cliffs, population 103 – despite a sign at the town’s entrance declaring twice that number. Due to the incredibly intense heat, with a record high of 48.6°C (119.5°F), most residents live underground, in the same manner as Coober Pedy in South Australia. The town’s primary school opened in 1895 and has operated continuously since then, and White Cliffs is the site of Australia’s first solar power station, built in 1981. At the time of visit, temperatures climbed to 40°C (104°F), but the heat is no issue for the Toyota Corolla, whose air con does not default. That’s good news for the sustainability of its worldwide domination that will extend to some African nations with similarly hostile climate.

Silverton snaps

Next we drive almost 300 km southwest past Broken Hill towards Silverton, which we previously visited with a Toyota Land Cruiser. Although it looks and feels like a ghost town, with the deafening silence only interrupted by tumbleweeds crossing the road in a very Western-like atmosphere, Silverton isn’t one, given 50 inhabitants were counted during the latest 2016 census. It is named this way because of the discovery of… silver on site in 1875, but the lode depleted by 1900 and the town has since been the stage for more than 140 films and commercials, including Max Max, thanks to its very particular light, the character-filled colonial buildings and its scenic desert surrounds. There is indeed a Mad Max Museum in town and a few VW Beetle immortalised as sculptures (see above).

We also got to meet the local donkey of Silverton, and for any Aussies readers thinking of doing this trip, with wildlife like this in the middle of the road you will want to make sure your car insurance is in order, like Compare The Market’s car insurance comparison for example.

Our Toyota Corolla near Broken Hill.

When a rich silver-lead-zinc ore body was discovered in Broken Hill in 1883, most Silverton residents relocated there, taking their home with them and making the town Australia’s longest-lived mining city. Incidentally, the “broken hill” the town is named after – the location’s description by explorer Charles Sturt in 1844 – no longer exists, having been mined away. Another quirk of the town: although still in New South Wales, since the late 19th century Broken Hill observes South Australian time (30 mins prior) because its only direct rail link was with Adelaide, not Sydney. Since then a mistrust towards Sydney, located 1.150 km or 715 miles southwest, has remained. On the road, we meet our beloved cattle grids again (last picture above) which are used in addition to fencing to prevent cattle from escaping: the bars are spaced so that animals don’t venture across.

Mungo National Park

450 km southwest of Broken Hill we find ourselves in Mungo National Park, the traditional meeting place of the Muthi Muthi, Nyiampaar and Barkinji Aboriginal Nations and home of Lake Mungo, an ancient dry lake. The Park is mostly famous for its spectacular sand formations called the ‘Walls of China’, but also for its archaeological remains: the oldest known human to have been ritually cremated was discovered here. Time for an update on our Corolla: after roughly a week of almost continuous usage some longer-terms quirks are starting to appear. Although much better than in the previous model, the touch screen is still very old fashioned, clunky and not very ergonomic with lots of controls on each side. Every command requires full seconds of attention to the screen which in itself is already too much time spent looking away from the road. On the flip side, the adaptive cruise control is the gift that keeps giving: it follows the car ahead all the way down to 0 km/h and only requires a press on the “resume” command on the steering wheel to return to the set speed. The hybrid engine allows insanely low fuel consumption at 4.8L/km or 49 mpg throughout the trip.

Through Hell Gate, flat plains and endless skies.

It’s now time to get back to Sydney: almost 1.000 km (620 miles) eastwards from Mildura to Jervis Bay on the Pacific Coast, then a further 200 km north to land back in Sydney. We are now able to test the Corolla on high speed but steep highways towards Canberra, then windy roads through the forest to link to the coast. All in all, it’s 11 hour-drive day with 3 stops of 10 minutes each, so maximum pressure on the driver. And the result is: no back ache after such a long day which says a lot about the quality of the Corolla’s seating. Plus, the car sticks to the road much better than expected on wet and twisty terrain, and overtaking a road train (Australian for very long trucks) with peaks to 140 km/h is handled with ease as the electric engine coupled with a well-levelled automatic gearbox aid acceleration. This is probably where the improvement over the previous generation is the most blatant: I have memories of an excruciatingly bad auto gearbox sending the engine into screaming spins at every push of the accelerator. This new Corolla is decidedly a well-put together car that finally deserves its title of worldwide best-seller and benchmark.

Corolla interior shots.

As most Toyota passenger cars, the Corolla used to be white goods, the of bland and the car you would choose when you have absolutely no interest in cars. But Toyota has recently heard the message and, first with a new, more aggressive Camry then now with this new Corolla, clearly stepped up to the plate by offering a vehicle that is now a true benchmark that will be challenging to beat for this price. Through its global sales weight, the Corolla has instantly lifted the bar for worldwide vehicles pretty high, notably in terms of safety features (road sign reading for example) for what is essentially the epitome of the mass market small car. What the Corolla does now will be the benchmark to which most cars will be compared to, and the test has suddenly become a hell of a lot harder to pass.

  • Thanks to road sign reading, the adaptive cruise control can easily be locked onto the speed limit, and remains set all the way to 0 km/h.
  • Hybrid engine allows extremely low fuel consumption (4.8L/km or 49 mpg).
  • Exterior design, sound system much improved on previous generation.
  • Very comfortable seats and very good back position on long trips (11h of driving in a single day).
  • Good acceleration with well-levelled auto gearbox.
  • Quality materials on dash and well thought-of details such as thelight turning on when you slide in the above-head mirror for example.

  • Touch screen is old-fashioned and not ergonomic to use, almost dangerous because too much time is spent looking away from the road.
  • Boot volume limited by batteries, glove box and door storage are limited.
  • Only one USB port in the dash.
  • Rolling noise in the cockpit at high speed.
  • Seats adjusted manually.
  • Some speed limit signs missed at night, school zones speed limits are incorrectly followed.

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