Come to think of it, there is no point in writing a driving impression of the Toyota Corolla Altis – it is not going to make a difference to prospective buyers in any case. They won’t even read it. They will ask their secretary to organise a test drive, and even if they are given a Hyundai Verna with Toyota badges to drive, they will end up booking one. Brand loyalty of the extreme kind? Well, to be honest with you, you cannot go wrong with a Corolla. This is the brand that made Toyota what it is – every generation of it (nine or ten, depending on whom you are asking and which website you are searching) meant extreme reliability, refinement and economy. These are the cars you see when you go to a new country. Any new country. They reach new shores before McDonald’s and they fry the competition. They are used as first cars in America, luxury cars in India and as taxis in Thailand. Toyota wants to sell 2,000 units of the Altis a month in India. Can they deliver? Let us get to know the car to begin with.
Looks and design
The Altis looks like a small Camry the same way the Volkswagen Jetta looks like a small Passat. The grille, the bonnet shutline, the lighting structures that define the form, the air-dam and auxiliary lamps and all the way to the tail lamps, everything looks inspired by the Camry. While it looks smart from the front-three quarters, it is the profile that is lacking in design terms. Nothing a flared wheel arch here or a few creases to catch light on the bonnet couldn’t have improved. Overall the design will appeal to people of nearly all age groups – which in all probability was the philosophy of Toyota.
How does it compare with the Honda Civic? The Civic is way too futuristic to look at – no comparison here. Interior and comfort
The new Corolla is more spacious and features cleaner lines. Two colour tones and three textures distinguish the Altis, and the wood veneer looks and feels more artificial (like in the older Corolla) than the real thing. The top-end models offer leather seats that are well stitched together. An eight-way adjustable power seat is the highlight of the top-end models. All models get electrically adjustable rear view mirrors, automatic airconditioning and ‘Optitron 3D’ multi-function display. Clear gauges and a well designed centre console complete the interior equation. There is more room at the rear compared to the older model – in case you are wondering. Lest we forget, a premium audio system with a 6-CD changer and aux-in port is standard for all models. Brilliant! While only the top-of-the-line automatic gets cruise-control, all models get steering mounted controls.
How does it compare with the Honda Civic? Honda’s digital speedo and multi-layered display look comprehensive and futuristic, but the Corolla has caught up on the features front in a big way.
Engine and performance
The 16-valve VVT-i engine is familiar and displaces 1800cc to develop 130 bhp at 6000 rpm and 17.3 kgm at 4200 rpm. What is new is a software update and an all-new transmission. The engine which powers an array of Toyotas and some established sports car marques is peppy and gives the car a certain degree of athleticism you don’t normally expect from a sedan. It is so refined that you need to look at the tacho needle to realise that it is ticking over at idle speeds. The short drive that we managed was not enough to get to know the powertrain better but we are glad to report that the energy level, like that of the older model, is pretty high. Toyota claims anything between 10-14 kpl from the Altis depending on driving conditions and we have no reason to doubt that.
How does it compare with the Honda Civic? There is little that can differentiate between the i-VTEC engine and the VVT-i motor of the Corolla, but the Honda offers paddle shifts while you have to be happy with a sequential-manual option for the top-end version of the Corolla automatic. Ride and handling
The suspension setup comprising struts up front and torsion beam at the rear remains. The dynamics of the car is biased towards luxury and ride quality than razor sharp handling. Now we are yet to test the car, but the mini-test course Toyota provided to get a feel of the car resulted in extensive body roll. We reserve comments till we go through a proper road test. The Altis can handle rumble strips and potholes with ease though. ABS with EBD is standard on all models. Also new for the Corolla is a cost-saving electric power steering which does not lack in feel – thankfully.
How does it compare with the Honda Civic? Well, the Civic bites the dust in this department, though it may still have an edge on the handling front. The Altis rides better and it can handle speedbreakers also better.
To sum up
There are three models to choose from – the 1.8G model is available with a five-speed manual transmission and in the L trim, it gets the luxury bits. The 1.8V though is available only with the four-speed automatic (new Super ECT gearbox) and is available only in the L trim. The price ranges from 10.83 lakh for the 1.8G to Rs 12.86 lakh for the top-end 1.8V with the automatic gearbox (ex-showroom Delhi).The new Corolla Altis is an improvement over the last model (mind you it is a tough task, if we are talking Corollas!) and now has the equipment and features list to compete with the Honda Civic. It is priced brilliantly too, which makes cars like the 1.6 petrol version of the Volkswagen Jetta look way too expensive and under-equipped. Watch this space for a proper road test – even better, a comparison test with the Civic.