When the first of the 1.6L Toyota Corolla Altis models - or even the first of the front wheel drive, big body-type 1.6L Corollas (read: the AE 101 body type) - arrived in the country, it set off a revolution that up to this day still makes itself as the benchmark for compact car daily driving popularity. Comfortable seating for four, a manual transmission with smooth shifts and an easy-to-moderate clutch, Camry-like suspension damping, cold air-conditioning and logical ergonomics are but a few of the reasons why the Corolla became a local standard.

Unfortunately the popularity of both models begat great expectations for the current iteration. Does it deliver, or does it get swallowed up by the success of its precursors?

Outside, the look resembles a compact version of the Camry, very much evident in the front fascia. But from doors to derriere, the design is a tribute to the previous Altis, as seen in the doors, b-pillars, tailights and rear deck.

Inside is more of a layout derived from the current model Camry. The obvious Camry homage can be seen in the gauge cluster, the steering wheel audio controls and the center dashboard ergonomics, evoking a more luxurious feel that its faux wood-trimmed 1.8V A/T sibling. Unfortunately the Camry's roominess doesn't trickle down to the Corolla, as the harkened ambience is claustrophobic. The steeply raked angle of the a-pillars and the large bulges for the door armrests and (driver's side) power-assisted window controls contribute heavily to the feeling of being cramped, along with the smallish fuel, engine temperature and multipurpose menu readouts should be bigger.

The restrictions on space does have some advantages, though, as it allows for creative storage. The door bins can handle even small handbags, the rear seats fold flat (to accommodate odd-shaped loads) and the dual level glovebox is great for various shotgun occupants' storage needs. There are eight cupholders (and all of them can hold one liter water bottles), but the same storage capacity cannot be said of the dual level center console. Its upper level can only fit two or three Nokia 6300s, while the (rather bigger) lower level barely swallows a 250GB Western Digital external hard drive and two Canon EOS 50mm lenses. At least the center console has a movable padded armrest, great for the driver or the other front occupant to lean on for dropping subtle or blatantly obvious "hints." Whether it's for psychological, physical or mental satisfaction is best left up to the imagination.

Interesting tidbit: Toyota Autoparts Philippines (an affiliate of Toyota Motor Philippines, Inc.) is the m/t global production/supply hub for the Toyota network, and recently invested P5 billion for expansion at the Toyota Special Economic Zone in Sta. Rosa (Laguna). The investment seems to have translated greatly to this stick shift Corolla, as it has similar on-road behavior to its 1.8V A/T sibling - narrow bottom powerband end, short second gear, tall third gear and 210 kph top speed - but only 7.45 km/l on six days of mixed driving. In contrast the 1.8V A/T got 7.73 km/l on the same amount of time with this writer. Although theory dictates that manual tranny cars get better fuel consumption, the 1.6G M/T's high clutch release point and narrower powerband (due to its being 200 cc less than the 1.8V) resulted in higher fuel consumption. The former makes it a bit hard to move the 1.6G in stop-and go traffic, and requires a lot more effort on the gas pedal, which can lead to an increase in fuel use. At least the throws from the 1.6G's stick are surprisingly short and positive, far better than the tall (and almost Hilux-like) throws of the previous Altis.

Handling is surprisingly good, with traction from the Bridgestone Turanza ER300 195/65R15s breaking at 90-100 kph. The car is composed on entry and a bit twitchy on apex and corner exit. The steering is lighter and the steering wheel is smaller, compared to previous Corollas. The light steering makes maneuvering in urban settings very easy, but makes going through corners at speed somewhat tough due to the numbing, syrupy feedback. The ride is comfortable overall, but the noise from the aforementioned Bridgestones is loud, especially over rough tarmac. It's a good thing the NVH levels of the car (with windows up) rival its bigger Camry sibling, otherwise the tire noise will permeate the cabin easily.

Safety is another big plus with this model Corolla, but it does have its fair share of negatives. The brakes and handbrake have good bite, and the side mirrors are wide. Exterior lighting is bright; ditto for the interior lighting, as there are overhead lamps for both front and rear occupants, and makes it easy to look for small items in the dark. The reverse gear alarm tends to drown out the backup sensor warning chimes, though.

No doubt the P818,000 1.6L M/T variant of Toyota's immensely popular compact passenger car is sure to wow future buyers. But given its features, its current competition and the (arguably) bigger esteem of its predecessor (and its AE101 ancestor), this Corolla may have a hard time living up to its forebears' success.