On the road with Corolla Altis

By THOMAS HUONG | 20 May 2014
The Toyota Corolla has the enviable distinction of being the world's most popular car, with cumulative global sales of more than 40 million units as of July last year.

Each successive generation of the Toyota Corolla, which has been in production for 48 years, comes with improved technologies and better features.

The popularity of the Corolla in its various incarnations all over the world, can be partly attributed to its reputation of being a sturdy, robust, reliable and thrifty passenger car with nice features.

"The key to the Corolla's success is the faithful passing down of its original development concept from the late Tatsuo Hasegawa: that the Corolla must bring happiness and well-being to people around the world," stated Toyota Motor Corp chief engineer Shinichi Yasui.

Hasegawa was the famed chief engineer for the original Corolla in the mid-1960s.

We agree with the "happiness and well-being" concept, after living for four days with the new 11th-generation Toyota Corolla Altis 1.8E.

Compared with its predecessor, the new Corolla Altis offers better fuel economy as well as more cabin room, occupant comfort and driving agility.

Imported from Thailand, the new Altis has grown slightly longer and wider, with its wheelbase increased markedly by 100mm to 2,700mm for more cabin space.In the cabin, we found ample shoulder and legroom as well as reading lights, front seat-back pockets, numerous cupholders, storage compartments and retractable coat hooks on the front passenger headrest.

The Altis 1.8E is decently equipped with comfort and convenience features, and everything is placed where you expect them to be, in typical Toyota design.

Its dashboard design looks classy, and there is a sporty feel to its black-themed cabin with fabric upholstery.

There are no powered seats here in the Altis 1.8E variant, but 1.7-metre adults like us found a comfortable driving position with the manually adjustable seat and leather-clad tilt and telescopic steering wheel.

Its 470-litre boot space can accomodate four golf bags.

While it uses the same powertrain, Toyota says the car's acceleration response, aerodynamic efficiency and fuel efficiency have been improved.

We won't dispute that, as we found ample power on tap for quick sprints and overtaking manoeuvres, with three adult occupants in the car.

There was plenty of grunt from the 1.8-litre four-cylinder in-line DOHC unit with dual VVT-i (variable valve timing - intelligent), which is carried over from the ZR engine family.

The CVT (continuous variable transmission) with 7-speed sports sequential shift, provides smooth and linear power delivery as the needle on the RPM gauge approaches the red-line.

Rolling on 205/55 R16 Dunlop Enasave EC300 tyres, the Altis 1.8E has a lively and responsive character that should satisfy drivers who want a bit of sportiness.

At highway speeds, it is a refined and quiet cruiser, and we noted that the RPM needle was at 2,000rpm when the car is moving at 110kph.

At 80kph, the RPM needle was at 1,500rpm.

Toyota engineers had aimed for best-in-class cabin quietness for the new Altis, and measures included using acoustic glass for the windscreen which reduces wind noise.

The rack-and-pinion electric power steering is light, which is great in crowded parking lots.

Regarding ride quality, the new Altis' well-tuned suspension provides cushy comfort and reduces discomfort from rough surfaces or uneven roads.

Regarding its exterior looks, our test drive unit came with the optional aerokit consisting of front and rear bumper spoilers, side skirts and a trunk lid spoiler, which are packaged at RM2,350.

We think aerokit lends an extra edge to the car's sleek and dynamic-looking exterior, which uses Toyota's “Keen Look” design.

As for the six-speaker in-car infotainment set-up, our Altis 1.8E test drive unit has the optional DVD-AVN system with reverse camera and navigation system (packaged at RM2,990).

This optional package also includes a 2-DIN head unit DVD player with 7-inch touch screen, tuner, MP3, AUX-jack, USB, SD card slot, Bluetooth, smartphone link and voice recognition.

It should be noted that the Altis 1.8E comes standard with a less complex but practical 2-DIN head unit CD player with tuner, MP3, AUX-jack, USB and Bluetooth.

Another highlight of the new Altis is the automatic switch-off of the headlights, when the engine is shut down.

Previously, older Altis models will emit a shrill warning sound if the driver forgets to shut off the headlights after shutting down the engine.

UMW Toyota Motor says the automatic headlights' switch-off feature ensures that customers do not end up with a flat battery.

"This helps forgetful drivers. Also, with the warning sound, there is still the risk of the driver ignoring the sound," said a UMW Toyota Motor technician.

In our opinion, the new Altis 1.8E is another roomy, comfortable, smartly designed and well-engineered sedan that meets our expectations of the world's top-selling automaker.

Toyota Corolla Altis 1.8E 

Engine: 1,798cc inline 4-cylinder DOHC 16-valve, dual VVT-i

Maximum power: 139ps at 6,400rpm

Maximum torque: 173Nm at 4,000rpm

Transmission: CVT with 7-speed sports sequential shift

Features: Dual airbags, ABS (anti-lock braking system), electronic brakeforce distribution, brake assist, front and rear parking sensors, all-round disc brakes, ISOFIX points for rear seats, halogen headlamps

Price: RM114,000 on-the-road excluding optional aerokit (RM2,350) and DVD-AVN infotainment with reverse camera and navigation system (RM2,990).