Marcus De Guzman / Kelvin Christian Go | October 02, 2017 09:21
The Smooth Operator
It has four doors, five seats, an engine and a comfy interior. Is there more to the Toyota Corolla Altis than the sum of its parts? How about the fact that it's been in the market for more than 50 years and that Toyota has sold over 40 million examples of the venerable nameplate.
It's easy to dismiss the Corolla Altis today as a larger Vios. While it's more stylish than ever, it's not exactly the most exciting car to be in. But that's not the entire point of the car now is it? Sure, there was the 'Hachiroku' made famous by Initial D which showed that the car can perform but that's not where its true success lies. Instead, the Corolla Altis became known for its ease of ownership, 'bullet-proof' reliability, relatively comfortable ride quality and fuel efficiency.
Recently refreshed for the 2017 model year, the sixth-generation Corolla Altis now adopts the brand's 'Keen' look along with an array of cosmetic and technical updates. But with other carmakers coming up with sleek, fast and equally reasonable C-segment cars as well, Toyota has their worked cut out for them. After getting to test the top-of-the-range 2.0 V last March, it was now the turn of the more sensible 1.6 V.
On looks alone, the Corolla Altis is a winner. Despite the myriad of sleek four-doors populating the segment, the Altis still stands out from the rest thanks to its clear-cut profile and eye-catching design. The front fascia bears the most of the changes with its sharp headlights, upswept chrome grill and distinct LED daytime running lights (DRLs). In fact, it's safe to say the Corolla Altis now closely resembles it's crossover sibling, the RAV4.
The rear, on the other hand, gets redesigned taillights that now come with LED lighting. I appreciate the fact that they made the taillights somewhat similar in shape and design with previous generation models. Completing its design cues are its curvaceous rear bumper and striking chrome strip on the trunklid.
Thanks to the smart key, all I needed to do to unlock the doors was touch the driver's side door handle. Unlike the top-of-the-range 2.0V which gets a predominantly blacked-out cabin, the 1.6V has a more vibrant beige interior. In the sea of automobiles with dark-trimmed interiors coupled and shiny brightwork, it’s refreshing to see a sedan with a different kind of finish.
Sitting inside, the Altis mixes ergonomic design with a semi sophisticated look brought on by heaps of gloss black plastic, soft-touch materials on the dashboard, illuminated panels and faux metal trim. Both front seats come with manual adjust for height, reach and slide. Comfortable they may be, you do sometimes feel that you are sinking on the seat due to the soft cushions. Despite not having adjustable lumbar support, the Altis is still comfortable to drive even on long journeys. What I also liked with the Altis is that it comes with a telescopic steering rack as some car brands omit this feature on mass market models.
Compared to the pre-facelift model, the 2017 model year change adopts several improvements in both design and amenities. Gone is the 2-DIN audio head unit as it now comes with a more intuitive touchscreen infotainment system. It supports the usual CD, USB, Aux, AM/FM radio and Bluetooth connecitivity. As an added bonus, the 1.6 V also comes with a reverse camera display which makes parking that much easier.
The single-zone automatic climate control panel has been revised and is now more ergonomic to use compared to the pre-facelift model. But much like the pre-updated Corolla Altis, the airconditioning system performed rather too well as the cabin got colder and colder despite raising the temperature at its highest setting. But given that we are in a tropical country, this is actually more of a benefit rather than a problem.
Under the hood is not a 2.0-liter engine. From its namesake, this particular Altis is powered by the carried-over 1.6-liter DOHC four-cylinder engine with Dual VVT-i. Internally known as the 1ZR-FE, the motor produces a rather modest 122 PS at 6000 rpm and 154 Nm of torque at 5200 rpm. Power is then routed through a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that comes with seven 'simulated' gear ratios that are available to play with on manual select.
On paper, the Corolla Altis has a decent amount of power but a quick stroll around town showed me that it’s not all about brute force. While it’s clearly not the most powerful in its segment, the 1.6-liter Altis is perhaps one of the smoothest C-segment four-doors I’ve ever driven. Drive it around leisurely and the Altis just wafts along boulevards and avenues. It even has an ‘Eco coaching’ function which lets the driver know when they’re running efficiently.
With most of its power available at the upper rev range, the Altis is geared towards fuel economy rather than outright performance. On the city, the Altis is capable of averaging between 9.0 - 10.0 km/l which is impressive. On heavier traffic conditions, it will be able to return about 7.5 - 8.0 km/l which is not bad either.
What it lacks in grunt, it makes up for with revs. Throw the transmission into manual select and the powertrain shows that it has some get up and go. Push it above 3500 rpm and the engine has some relative torque despite peak pulling power being available at 5200 rpm. Again, it's not the most exciting four-door to drive, but it can pick up the pace when needed and is a nice long-distance cruiser.
Speaking of cruising, the Corolla is also a joy to cruise with thanks to the finely-tuned CVT that keeps the revs relatively low even at highway speeds. At a steady 80 km/h, the engine was turning over at just above 1500 rpm. This enabled the Altis to have an average fuel consumption of about 16.0 - 17.0 km/l. Drive it with an even lighter foot and it will be able to return about 19.0 km/l.
Perhaps one of the best attributes of the 2017 Alits is its ride quality. While it's no Camry, the Corolla Altis delivered a very pliant ride. The chassis and dampers did a nice job of absorbing road imperfections, rutted streets as well as the occasional potholes. The slightly thick tires also worked in the car's favor as the 1.6 V rolls on high-profile, 16-inch alloys. Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH) deadening was also great as it kept the cabin isolated from outside noise and disturbance.
Handling on the Corolla Altis is good, if not involving. The electronic power steering (EPS) is finely weighted and does not feel too light whether driving in the city or along the highway. There is a hint of numbness but it is marginally better than other EPS systems.
So what's the verdict for the Corolla Altis with the 1.6-liter engine? While it's not as loaded as its 2.0-liter brethren, it is more practical to own and is more affordable. It is also more efficient and performed admirably despite having less power. The more aggressive looks may be off-putting for some but frankly, props to Toyota for injecting some zest into the design. All in all, despite the arrival of new players, the Corolla Altis still presented itself as a practical, comfortable and fuel efficient four-door.
Retailing for Php 1,076,000, the Corolla Altis in 1.6-liter guise is a good choice for those that want a decent C-segment sedan that is both stylish and practical for everyday use.