First Impressions of the Toyota Corolla Altis 2014

 allcarschannel At one time the quintessential favorite bar none among the middle class when it came to a comfortable, mid-sized family sedan that was dependable, frugal and accommodating, the all-new Toyota Corolla (Altis) is about to be unveiled in the country again for the 11th time by UMW Toyota Motor.

From its humble beginnings in the mid-60s, the Corolla (Altis) has undergone a whole lot of re-imagining over the decades, but it held fast to its sturdy and conservative image without fail, earning it the reputation of being a car that was passed down the generations, a car that our fathers drove or aspired to drive, a car that we hoped our fathers would pass down to us so we could transplant more potent engines into them to impress our buddies.

Toyota Corolla bears the Altis moniker at the turn of the millennium

When the Altis moniker accompanied the Corolla nameplate on the 9th generation car at the turn of the new Millennium, a new C-segment icon was born. The Corolla as we know it, had gone upmarket and earned itself a fancy name and a new audience of up and coming go-getters who didn’t mind paying premium prices for a C-segment sedan. And so it came to be, that the Corolla Altis was *the* car to get if you were a young, successful and somewhat accomplished person who didn’t want or need a large D-segment ‘uncle’ car.

Alas, all fairytales have to come to an end, and in 2006 the 10th generation Altis was panned by critics for its boring styling and uninspired performance, having to play second fiddle to the other C-segment contender, the boy-racer all-time favorite Honda Civic which was enjoying record sales with the just released Civic FD series. Sales figures don’t lie, and all of a sudden ‘conservative’ and ‘understated’ seemed so out of touch with reality, a reality that embraced modern living and bleeding edge technology with a vengeance. So it seemed that the 10th generation was about to be relegated to history books as a passing annotation and nothing more. However, Toyota managed to claw back a sizeable portion of new buyers when it gave the Altis a much needed facelift in 2010 along with a complete engine change from the ageing ZZ engines to the newer and more efficient ZR engines, doing away with a 1.6-liter variant and introducing a new 2.0-liter variant. The ZR engines came with Dual VVT-i which pushed performance numbers up yet were more frugal than before.

Toyota Corolla (Altis): The only way is up

Having suffered a minor blimp on the radar with the 10th gen Corolla Altis, Toyota went back to the drawing board and came out with a new strategy to redefine their new corporate identity. Completely taking off their old conservative skins, the new face of Toyota was one of outright boldness and forward progression, underpinned by the ‘Keen Look’ design language of their cars moving forward, as evidenced by the launch of the new Vios. With the new Corolla Altis, Toyota took the design boldness a step further and the result is a sleek, ultra-modern and oh-so-sporty machine that is bound to turn heads wherever you took it to. Extending like the wings of an eagle is a chrome lining that starts from the nose of the car right up to the ends of its swept back, angular headlamps. On the 2.0V you also get a set of ultra-bright daytime running lights and LED projector main beams. Toyota took the ‘Keen Look’ design one step further with this one to give the car what I’d like to call, a ‘Keen and Aggressive’ look with the way the bonnet slopes forwards towards the grill. All in all, the front is now sleek, sporty and well-proportioned, but more importantly, it looks contemporary, which is a clear departure from the Corolla (and Toyota) of old, a rather welcome departure indeed.

From the side, ‘aerodynamically proportionate’ is probably the best way to describe the new Altis. Even with a slightly longer wheelbase (2600mm vs 2700mm), the Corolla didn’t get the short overhang treatment, with the designers preferring instead to stretch the bumpers out to a new overall length of 4,620mm which is a good 80mm longer than the old car. This helps the car retain an overall 3-box sedan side profile which serves to keep its existing customers happy while reclaiming some of its lost customers and attracting new ones with the new overall sporty look. The top dog 2.0V provided for the media drive came shod with 215/45 R17 Michelin Pilot Sport 3 t7res while the rims are of the twin 7-spoked two-tone design with 5 lugs (the 2.0G and 1.8E variants make do with 205/55 R16 tires and alloys, unspecified as yet). The rims do a good job in showing off the car’s all-round disc brakes which are the usual front-ventilated, rear-solid type.

If you happen to catch a glimpse of one on the road from the back, you’d be forgiven if you mistook the new Corolla Altis for a Camry, for they do look rather similar from that angle. However, apart from a slight family resemblance, the shape and proportions of each element of the rear designs of both cars are markedly different. First off, the rear lights on the Altis are arguably more proportionate to the rest of the rear, unlike the Camry with its oversized lights that you’ll either love or hate. Also, the rearlights on the Altis extend a lot more into the C-pillar for a sportier profile. The sharp, angular lines of the rear lights and body panels carry Toyota’s current design identity, but in a more subtle manner. Overall, the rear design of the Altis is better balanced and is in my opinion, the most handsome car in Toyota’s current portfolio.

The inside of the all-new Toyota Corolla Altis

Taking a cue from its exterior design, the cabin of the all-new Corolla Altis is also completely revamped. Aside from the Toyota logo on the steering wheel, everything else looks different. Gone is the flat bottomed steering; in its place is an almost completely round affair, but remains 3-spoked as before. Round control knobs take the place of rectangular buttons to provide fingertip controls for audio, Bluetooth telephony and voice command. A stalk type cruise control resides behind the wheel on the right, and is largely unchanged from its predecessor. The dashboard is also all new, and features a flat top with a sharp drop towards the front occupants, unlike the slightly cascading top of the old car. The old two-tone beige/grey interior makes way for an all-black affair, with some parts (that are more prone to be touched) finished in soft touch plastics. A 7” touch screen Sat/Nav audio unit with 6 speakers takes center stage and features CD, Bluetooth, MP3 and the usual connectivity options and also doubles up as a reverse camera monitor. Both the 2.0V and 2.0G variants get the Sat/Nav unit. However, the top of the line 2.0V gets ‘Cyber Carbon’ trim for its Sat/Nav unit while both 2.0G and 1.8E get standard plastic trim.

An electronic console underneath the Sat/Nav unit provides precise climate control within the cabin and comes with a nice EL (electro-luminescent) backlight. Unfortunately, on all variants, you only get a single zone air-conditioning system, with no additional vents for the rear occupants. Other than that, the rest of the dash is uncluttered. Toyota has always finished the Altis with wood-like trim in the past, but on the new car they will have none of it. At the gated gear console area, a smooth piano black trim is used in place of wood trim, while the gear knob is finished in silver, chrome and black rubber. All in all, I like the new interior much better than I did the old one. The last thing an uncle of today wants is to be reminded that he is one, so it looks like Toyota is finally changing with the times.

The leather-clad front seats have good support and are of the semi-bucket variety (surprise, surprise!). On the 2.0V (again!), the driver gets access to an 8-way power seat including lumbar support. Yes, the 2.0V does indeed get a whole lot of goodies, which include paddle shifters, keyless entry/push start and electro-chromic rearview mirror (darkens automatically when it detects annoying glare from the cars behind with retrofitted reflector-based 8000K HIDs without proper glare shields). The rear seats come with 3 individual height adjustable headrests and anchor points for ISOFIX, and were comfortable enough on the most part, but I wasn’t too keen on the headrests which I felt were set too far back, so if I wanted to rest my head I’d end up staring at the roof of the car. Having said that, the rear seats in this car were pleasantly reclined further back so you didn’t have to sit upright like in the previous generation Altis, while the rear center armrest provides twin cupholders; which are good for those long roadtrips.

Twin SRS airbags are available on all variants, while those opting for the 2.0V can order up an additional 5 more airbags (sides, curtain and driver’s knee) as part of an ‘Additional Safety Package’. All variants also get ABS with EBD (electronic brake-force distribution) and brake assist (BA), while 2.0V owners enjoy additional safety features in the form of VSC (vehicle stability control) and TRC (traction control). The new Corolla Altis is also designed using Toyota’s GOA body structure for added safety in the forms of higher structural rigidity and controlled collision deformation. As for theft prevention, the Altis comes with an Immobilizer, siren with backup battery, cabin sensor and tilt sensor on all variants.

Toyota Altis 2014: Mechanically unchanged

Having only recently introduced the new ZR range of engines in the 10th generation facelift Corolla in 2010 meant that Toyota would most likely retain its current engine lineup and that is exactly what they did. The 3ZR-FE (2-liter) and 2ZR-FE (1.8-liter) continue to soldier on in the new Corolla Altis, though the 1.6-liter entry level variant appears to have been dropped, leaving only the 1.8 and 2.0 models. The ZR engine features Dual VVT-i, dual overhead camshafts and 16-valves. The 2.0-liter 3ZR-FE puts out 145PS @ 6,200rpm and 187Nm @ 3,600rpm, while the 1.8-liter 2ZR-FE is capable of 139PS @ 6,400rpm and 173Nm @ 4,000rpm. In case you were wondering, the previous gen was quoted using SAE-Net while the newer gen is quoted using EEC-Net, which resulted in the new car ‘losing’ 2PS (2.0) and 1PS (1.8) respectively. On paper, the performance of the new cars may seem unchanged, but the new car does have a slight edge in terms of a lighter kerb weight (1,300kg vs 1,315kg for the 2.0V while the 1.8E remains unchanged) and a lower Cd factor of 0.28 (vs 0.29).

All variants continue to use Toyota’s excellent Super CVT-i 7-speed (virtual) transmission, which emulates the characteristics of a regular slushmatic in actual use. Traditionally, CVTs were associated with an uncommon, rubber-band like behavior, whereby when the driver floors the pedal, the engine revs up way past 5,000rpm, the CVT then seamlessly switches ratios to match the engine speed. Many drivers have reported a dislike towards this type of mechanism. So what Toyota did, was to program their CVT to act like a torque-converter based tranny, locking ratios at various points depending on engine speed, car speed and throttle position etc, which the driver feels as if there were actual physical gears within the tranny. The Super CVT-i does one other thing which I find interesting; at speed, if you have a need to slow the car down in a hurry, the car actually ‘drops gears’ in succession like a manual tranny to provide engine braking and a whole lot of dramatic fun!

In the chassis department, the new car sits on the same MacPherson strut with stabilizers up front and Torsion Beam with stabilizers at the back, with Rack and Pinion steering system with electric power assistance (EPS), so in terms of handling the new car won’t be that much different, save for the longer (100mm) wheelbase, longer overall dimensions (80mm) and a slightly wider profile (16mm).

On the very recent first impression drive of the Corolla Altis, invited journos were given an opportunity to test the car on various terrains from highways, trunk and twisty paths to ascending and descending roads. For a car with a torsion beam at the back, our senior writer was initially skeptical as to how well this car would perform. Thankfully, the Michelin Pilot Sport 3 tyres did a commendable job in all situations (we didn’t get to test it in wet weather however) that we threw at it, without fuss and only making slight protests when we deliberately made sharp turns to test the limits of adhesion. The car was very well behaved and felt surprisingly well balanced for a family oriented sedan. Although there was a bit of body roll when attacking corners, but at no time did the car felt as if its rear was about to lose it. All you need to do was to point, and shoot. Having said that, all of us in the car agreed that the EPS could have been programmed with a tighter turn in as the steering did feel a little lifeless at speed.

NVH was more than acceptable for a car in its class, however I detected a slight wind noise intrusion from the A-pillars from the window area, possibly due to the car having window visors fitted. It is not known if they were fitted only for the test drive, as it is uncommon for a car to come pre-fitted with visors ex-factory. Aside from the minor wind intrusion (which only became a bother above 140km/h), the rest of the car remained calm and composed, even up to its published top speed of 180km/h. The boat-like feeling of past Corollas were less apparent on this one, which the writer had attributed it partly to having 3 full-sized adults on board to keep the car planted.

The 2.0-liter powerplant coupled to a Super CVT-i meant that the engine would rarely, if ever, run out of steam in most driving situations. What I found was a car that revved smoothly and without much fanfare all the way to redline without breaking a sweat. At idle, you can hardly feel the engine turning over, relying on visual confirmation instead to determine if the engine was running or not. Toyota’s engines are known for their smoothness, and the one in this Corolla Altis did not fail to live up to its billing. Aside from power on tap, the 3ZR-FE in the test car was also quite frugal, returning an average of 9.6km/l (10.4l/100km) with mostly spirited driving and a few accounts of pedal to the metal moments, trying to catch up with the rest of the convoy on a hot afternoon with 3 blokes on board.

So, does the new Corolla Altis deserve the badge, a badge worn by previous Corollas in the past that have taken the Corolla brand name to great heights? Does the new Altis have what it takes to see off the competition for now and the foreseeable future, while erasing the lackluster showing of its most recent predecessor? From the looks of it, I do believe Toyota have finally redeemed themselves with the new Corolla Altis.

The all-new  Toyota Corolla Altis runs at RM 114,000 for the 1.8E, RM 123,000 2.0G, RM 136,000 2.0V and RM 139,900 2.0V with additional safety package; all prices are on-the-road with insurance, including a 3-year or 100,000 km warranty. Colors include White Pearl CS, Silver Metallic, Attitude Black, and two new colors Grey Metallix and Dark Brown Mica Metallic.

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