Tito F. Hermoso / Tito F. Hermoso | November 15, 2010 17:23
Mainstream goes hi-techStatus quo ante
Time was when the family compact car buyer had his/her choices easy and simple. If you didn't want to fuss about longevity, resale value, durability and practicality, you got a Toyota Corolla. Which has now morphed into the Altis. On the other hand, if you were uncompromising about latest fully independent suspension platform and leading edge VTEC valve train sophistication, you got a Honda Civic. Honda was known for having the latest hi-tech in everything.
Toyota typical ?
Thus a Toyota typical perfect interior, perfectly smooth engine, perfectly crisp-shifting transmission may not be the first choice for those who think themselves more discerning from the crowd. Not that Toyota is a slouch in the tech stakes. It continues to successfully produce over two million Priuses, the most popular hybrid car in the market today. Its Lexus LF-A super car is a technological match of the Audi R-8 and a visceral match of any Lamborghini. True, but Toyota mainstream cars were mainly conservative.
Faced with stiff competition from all the volume car makers, the recent Vios showed that Toyota was not standing still. The latest baguette shaped cab-forward style Vios looks more avant garde than the Honda City's arrowhead silhouette, even if the latest Hyundai Elantra/Avante follows the City's stylistic lead. Still, the City continued to lead the Vios in the tech stakes with 5-speed automatics and the magical VTEC, even as Honda dropped the far more sophisticate 7-speed CVT of the previous avant garde City.
Who has CVT now?
With the latest Altis 2.0, Toyota now has a couple of hi-tech stuff to threaten the Civic's technological lead. The Altis may not have the Civic's fully independent rear suspension, but the dual VVTi with acoustically tuned induction system and the 7-speed CVT paddle shift auto gearbox presents a challenge to loyal Civic buyers who prize technological advances. While the dual VVTi does not have the variable valve lift of the VTEC, with the variable valve timing of the inlet and exhaust valves independent of each other, a certain degree of valve overlap, the raison d' etre of valve lift, can be achieved. This system is similar to valve timing systems of Ford, Mazda and BMW's Valvetronic. Its the Altis's 7-speed CVT that makes the Civic's 5-speed auto look dated. For the manual version, the Altis now has a 6-speed.
Abandon the 1.8-liter
This left the 1.8 liter field exclusively to the sporty Honda Civic 1.8 liter with its paddle shift 5-speed auto variant, until the arrival of the 138PS 1.8-liter Chevrolet Cruze with its 6-speed automatic. Incidentally, the 140PS of the Civic 1.8 closely matches the power output of 145PS of the new Altis 2.0 and the 140PS of the Nissan Sentra 200, proving that there is still no substitute for the VTEC valve train in producing above average power outputs per liter of engine displacement.
Apart from the rehashed grille front fascia, bumpers and clear tail lights, the inside gets darker upper surfaces, new instrument lighting, digital climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, remote steering wheel controls and 8-way power seat for the V-spec model. Glossy figured walnut gives way to matte straight grain mahogany. The accurate Economy monitor of the on-board computer appeals to nerds and non-nerds alike. Unyielding plastic surfaces are concave to give visual texture. The 2.0V has a Lexus-like smart key and STOP/START push button.
Power to weight ratios, again
Toyota has kept the Corolla as light as the Civic, at 1250kgs for the 2.0 V models, 30kgs more than the deleted V-spec 1.8-liter. Toyota wisely exploits local engine displacement tax laws to prove that power-to-weight ratios are more relevant to efficiency and fuel economy than stressed small displacement engines. Thus the 2-liter delivers relaxed highway consumption of 16.47 kms/liter, better than the 1.8-liter 4-speed auto's 14.97km/liter.
Keep the "ECO" on
With the extra 200cc and 10hp, one can slash 0-100km/h times by 2.72 seconds from the 1.8's 11.32seconds. Keeping the "ECO" indicator lit, 100km/h cruising in 7th gear is a quiet 1,800rpm, with instantaneous consumption of 26 kms/liter. Its rival, the Honda Civic 2.0-liter 5-speed auto, does 15.15kms/liter, while 0-100km/h times were barely 11.10seconds. Note though that the Honda has a surplus 14hp but also weighs 45 kgs. more than the Altis.
The Altis still essentially appeals to the classic compact car segment buyer. The suspension is gentle in absorption of shocks; rushing bumps make the wheels patter and the body forcefully rebounds. The soft bounce family car ride means its best driven Japanese style: cautious and polite. Raucous acceleration beyond 5,000 rpm is best avoided, if only to appreciate the calm. It inoffensiveness is the perfect match to the light power steering and the improvements in insulation and cross member stiffness that make its interior noise levels match the bigger Camry. While small car toss-able, early understeer handling doesn't prompt you to get it loose sliding around on and off-ramps. Besides, unlike the Civic or Lancer, the seats do not lock your torso in a tight embrace. Keep to legal-speeds so the trips are tension free and devoid of drama. This is no frenetic Mitsubishi EVO or Subaru Impreza Sti.
No longer exclusively mainstream
With the Honda Civic gradually distancing itself from its sporty heritage while stressing its new direction for pro-ecology high tech, Toyota's Altis continues to pamper pleasant no pretense family car expectations. But with the adoption of more leading edge technology, Toyota is giving the family car driver a good reason to harness advanced technology to achieve both performance and economy.