In my 10 years of driving, I have never driven a Toyota Corolla Altis. The last Corolla I drove was the “Big Body”, owned by my colleague Marcus. It is perhaps unthinkable that anyone in the motoring beat has not driven Toyota's venerable C-segment offering but I didn't waste my opportunity to try out the marque's stalwart.
Late last year, Toyota quietly launched the refreshed Corolla Altis to fend off the newer competition. The Altis faces much stiffer competition now, given that we just selected the Honda Civic as one of our top cars of 2016.
The refresh brought in keener looks to the Corolla Altis, particularly at the front. As far as facelifts go, this is a good one with sharper looking headlights and a redesigned bumper. The words “aggressive” and Altis may sound like an oxymoron for some but Toyota did a good job injecting some zest for its exterior. As it is, the current-generation Corolla is one of the more stylish offerings from the big T and it's nice that Toyota also played it safe by leaving the sides and rear relatively untouched. It does have new LED elements at the tail lights.
One thing that struck me was the size of the current Corolla Altis. Parking it beside a Corona Exsior and I was surprised that it was longer than the said mid-sized sedan. One look at the spec sheet and it confirmed my observation. Measuring at 4,620 mm long, it's exactly 100 mm more than the good old Exsior. Needless to say, the C-Segment isn't so compact anymore.
This being the 2.0V model, it also comes with a body kit which, in my eyes, is rather polarizing. Yes, Toyota is trying to add more flair to the Altis but I much prefer the clean lines of the standard 1.6V variant. Also, that front chin can get perilously close to the ground when taking on ramps. I'm also no fan of the faux carbon fiber trim at the bottom of the rear bumper.
Inside, it's mostly carried over from the pre-facelifted Corolla Altis. One will have to have an eagle eye to spot the changes made for this 2017 model. A quick look at the air-con vents and we see that they have been replaced with round units. Is it trying to mimic the 86? Maybe but it reminds me more of the 1971 Corolla my mother had as her first car. That's not to say its out of place but it's a design touch that one would either like or loathe. Personally, I like it.
Also new for 2017 is the center stack with a new infotainment system and a redesigned automatic climate control system. The new infotainment touchscreen is a source of amusement with its color display and fuel economy monitoring system. To keep up with the times, the Altis now gets smartphone MirrorLink, now a big plus point in cars in its segment.
Move your hands along the other parts of the dash and that's where the Corolla Altis is starting to feel its age. Some of the materials aren't as soft as the newer competition and there isn't much in the way of surprise and delight features. The Corolla Altis makes use of a single-zone climate control system and there are no rear air-con vents. Another curiosity is the lack of automatic dimmers for its rear-view mirrors. It does come with rear sunblinds, suggesting its upmarket ambitions.
Still, the Corolla Altis feels like a solid car to sit in. The doors feel heftier and have an air of quality about them. It lets off a solid thump unlike older Corollas which had rather light doors. Touching and fiddling around with the switches boosts the sensation of quality inside and not a single panel is out of place. Given the size of the car, one would expect a lot of room inside and, sure enough, it doesn't disappoint. There's stretch out room at the back and is wide enough to take in three at the back with all occupants in relative comfort. The flat floor also helps maximize legroom as well.
Carried over from the pre-facelift model is the engine. It's the familiar 2.0-liter mill which has been powering the Corolla Altis for the past three years. It packs Dual VVT-i tech and produces 145 PS and 187 Nm of torque. Shifts are done via a continuously variable transmission with a seven-speed mode. As far as numbers are concerned, the updated Corolla Altis is in a bit of a handicap, given that its newer contemporaries are packing over 150 PS at the very least.
Close the door of the Corolla Altis, start the it, and one will be amazed how well the cabin isolates noise. Coupled with supportive seats with adjustable lumbar support and the Corolla Altis feels like a D-Segment sedan from a decade prior. A baby Camry? Not quite, but it is very comfortable.
As much as the body kit wants to make you believe it's sporty, the car's suspension is tuned towards comfort rather than corner carving. Despite those 17-inch alloys, it doesn't thud and jolt its way through road imperfections. The most you will hear is a subtle thump and even with softer damping, it doesn't wallow, pitch and roll on the road. It's not the most dynamic car in its class but it's one of the most comfortable you can live with on a daily basis.
With 145 PS under the hood, there is a fair bit of power but doesn't quite have the punch of its newer rivals. That's not to say its slow though. You'll be humming your way to cruising speeds at a quick rate and the engine is unstressed when merging on the highway. Power then is best described as adequate. On that note, the continuously variable transmission is well suited to the engine as it is more of a cruiser than performance sedan. The fuel economy monitor invites you to drive more cautiously too.
Speaking of fuel economy, it is also one of the highlights of the Corolla Altis. There is a stigma that 2.0-liter engines are thirsty but that wasn't the case when I drove the car. With an average speed of 18 km/h, I managed 8.6 kilometers per liter in the city. With cruise control set at 95 km/h, it posted 15.3 kilometers per liter on the highway. Impressive results for a 2.0-liter engine.
To wrap up, the top of the line Corolla Altis is a car that tries to please as many people as possible. If that's what Toyota had in mind, then they did a good job in doing so. However, there is one hurdle if you want one. At Php 1,318,000, it's priced similar to more powerful and better equipped cars in its segment. Opt for the 1.6V and you get the about the same amount of equipment (sans the 2.0-liter engine) for over Php 200,000 less. Plus, imagine the fuel economy benefits of the 1.6-liter model.
If the price isn't a hurdle, by all means, go for the Corolla Altis 2.0V. It's a safe choice in the segment that one won't regret, especially when it comes to long-term ownership. After all, with over 45 million served in its 50 year history, you really can't go wrong with Toyota's breadwinner.