A lot has changed in the last two decades. From pagers, cassette tapes, and telegrams, we’ve advanced to smartphones, Spotify, and Skype. The same can be said for the car; the modern automobile gets more high-tech equipment and advanced technologies to keep them running efficiently. To better illustrate just how far cars have progressed in the last twenty years, we take a look at the evolution of the world’s bestselling nameplate – the Toyota Corolla.
Just as we’ve had five presidents since the ‘90’s, there have also been five generations of the Corolla during the same period. Colloquially known as the “Big Body”, the 7th -generation Corolla was launched in 1992, took the country by storm and became a blockbuster hit. Fast forward to this decade and we arrive at the the 11th -generation Corolla, now known as the Altis since 2001. Released in 2014, it has been a consistent bestseller for Toyota, topping the C-Segment sales charts year after year.
So what difference does 20 years make? We took the midrange variants of both generations, the Corolla 1.3 XE and the Altis 1.6 G, just to see how far cars have moved forward.
The most obvious change? That would be size as the current Altis is 10 inches longer, 3.5 inches wider, and almost 300 kilos heavier than the old EE100. The Big Body has become tiny in comparison to today’s compacts. Each car's design firmly places them in their respective decades. The 7th -gen Corolla had a very distinct 3-box design (hood, body, trunk), the 11th -gen is more aerodynamic and its design flows seamlessly from nose to tail. Also interesting to note is that the Altis has a shorter hood and trunk to give way for a much larger cabin.
As for design, the Altis looks undoubtedly more aggressive compared to the older Corolla. This shows the different styling philosophies that Toyota applied to these cars; the timeless but sedate design of the Big Body was reflective of Toyota’s conservative approach in the past, while the 11th -gen Altis embodies “wakudoki”, or “the feeling of heart-pumping excitement” as Toyota calls it. The same applies for their interiors with the Altis featuring an assortment of beige fabrics, black leather bits, silver accents, blue LCDs, and faux carbon-fiber trim. The old Corolla meanwhile is like all other sedans in the 90’s with its monotonous grey motif.
Because of the increase in dimensions, the newer Altis offers a roomier cabin that offers more space for front and rear passengers. As you settle into the driver’s seat, you’d quickly notice that the newer car has a higher driving position than the Big Body. However, the older Corolla offers better visibility thanks to its larger windows and windshield. Navigating through tight spaces is also easier with the Corolla as you can’t see the edge of the Altis’ short hood from the driver’s perspective.
Just as we’ve seen lots of changes in the exterior and interior of these cars, the twenty years in between the 7th and 11th generation Corolla has also brought forth a multitude of new toys. These days, we take ABS, airbags, power steering, windows, door locks and mirrors for granted as practically all cars have them. As a midrange model, the current Altis G doesn’t have class-leading features, but still comes with automatic climate control, USB connectivity, steering wheel audio controls, and an on-board trip computer, all of which were not present on the 7th -generation Corolla (even the range-topping 1.6 GLi).
The high-end 2.0V Altis pushes the goalposts even further with rain-sensing wipers, automatic LED headlamps, push-button ignition, Bluetooth connectivity, and power-adjustable leather seats. As with most 90’s midrange compacts, the Corolla XE had power steering and…nothing else. Wind-up windows, no central locking, and manual side mirror adjustments were the norm at the time.
Under the hood, we find that the Altis has improved leaps and bounds over the older Corolla with its drivetrain. The 7th -gen XE came with a 1.3-liter carbureted engine that only made 73 PS. On the other hand, the 11th -gen Altis has a 1.6-liter Dual VVTi engine that generates 122 PS.
Translating these specs to real-world performance, the Big Body surprisingly holds up very well compared to the Altis when it comes to city driving. Despite having 49 less horsepower, the Corolla doesn’t feel underpowered at low speeds thanks to its light body. However, past 80 kph, the older car loses steam despite the engine roaring loudly. On the other hand, the Altis remains composed and supple at highway speeds with ample power all throughout its rev range.
Interestingly, both cars have similar fuel consumption (8-9 km/L in moderate city traffic) despite the Altis having a bigger engine and a heavier chassis. This is mostly due to the ancient carburetor of the Corolla, which is inherently less efficient compared to the electronic fuel injection used by the Altis.
After several hundred kilometers with the two cars, it’s clear that the Altis has much better NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) levels. The newer car absorbs road imperfections better, shielding passengers from the bone-jarring potholes of our local roads. The Altis’ steering is also lighter, but the downside is that it doesn’t make the driver feel quite as connected to the road as its predecessor. In the end, it was a great experience driving these cars side by side. We see that the Corolla has evolved into a larger, more comfortable sedan with a more distinct personality.
While the Big Body cemented the Corolla’s status as a best-seller in the 90’s, Toyota has made sure that the 11th -generation Altis lives up to its predecessor’s prestige. With their philosophy of kaizen, it’s quite certain that the next generations of Corollas will showcase continuous improvement to stay on top of the sales charts. Other cars have also undergone similar metamorphoses in the past two decades, giving us a wide array of choices today to fit our ever-changing wants and needs.