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Toyota Corolla Altis 1.8 - More than just good-looking

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Words & Photography: Chris Ng

It is always nice to see a Japanese car maker design something that raises eyebrows, be it for better or worst. And there were plenty of it raised when Toyota pulled the covers off the new Corolla Altis. Take a good look at it. Think there’s too much going on? You’re not the only one, but you should have expected it.
 
The new Vios started the departure from the old and very boring-looking three-box Toyotas of old, albeit the new shape looks compressed and runty on the B-segment car. Not so with the Altis, the lines are allowed to stretch out further and breathe. It results in a car that has taken the high-ground in terms of design, perhaps sharing the same limelight as the new Mazdas. All is well then, until you squint your eyes at the Altis’ snout and realize that inspiration could have come from Lexus’ spindle grille. Is that a bad thing?
 
With an exterior that’s decidedly dramatic, it is strange that the interior is anything but. Maybe I’ve driven too many modern cars with deep dashboards and with the control panels seemingly flushed towards the driver, ensuring that all dials and push buttons are within easy reach, but the new interior isn’t. So maybe Toyota might want to step away from old sketch book and start afresh, but I can’t help to feel that they’ve put all of their effort on the outside and forgot that there’s an inside that still needs to be penned. Hence, the sheer cliff that is the dashboard. In truth, it is a little bit old-skool.
 
Still, let it not be said that the interior was put together shabbily. Or that the plastics feel like leftovers from the bin. There’s actually quality to be had in here, and the absence of wood trimmings actually adds a bit of class to the cabin. Comfortable too, once you get all settled in.
 
The test car belongs to the 1.8E variant that comes without the tiltable touchscreen with reverse camera, navigation and smartphone link that you see here, which is a RM2,990 option. The car also does not come with the aerokit, which you see in the pictures. That needs another RM2,350 on top of the RM114,015.30 on-the-road price tag. So if you want all of these extra bits, then be prepared to fork out RM119,364.30. When that happens, be prepared for Mr. Sales Person to tell you that the difference between the 1.8E and the 2.0G with navigation is RM5,451. And then tries to upsell.
 
The option that should have been offered is the choice of upgrading the standard 16-inch rollers to the 17-inch alloys; the sixteens look more like casters of an office chair. But you can’t have everything now, can you?
 
In spite of the size, there’s no harm done to the performance. The 1.8-litre engine, in partnership with a CVT, pops the car into motion. Acceleration is quick and the Altis quickly settles down into a pace that’s brisk and smooth. You don’t even need to whip the engine hard to get to highway speeds, the 137bhp and 173Nm flowing through the CVT accomplishes its task adequately.
 
Delightfully, the usual monotonous whine of the CVT isn’t as obvious even with the foot firmly down on the accelerator. Unless you put your ear to the floor to seek out the noise. Otherwise, the hushed interior only serves to pull up the levels of comfort of the passengers. It is good because the ride is uncharacteristically firm; choppier at the back than in the front. Then again, I would rather pick this setup than the floaty-boaty of the old one.
At the very least, the stiff damping does light up the corners as well as a C-segment sedan could. Steering, although electrically powered, transmits adequate road-rumble with a healthy dose of attentiveness, even if it can get artificial at times.
 
Just like the Corolla Altis that went before it, the new one is a competent car. But if there is a bone to pick, it would be with its safety offerings. The Altis does not come with any sort of traction control and it is only available with the top-shelf 2.0V. While it is arguable that you will not be using it all the time, wouldn’t you rather have it there as a safety net than not at all? You know, as they say, prevention is better than cure.
 

TO THE POINT
 
Love
The striking design shows that Toyota has not lost their imagination
Hate
Can’t decide which is worse: the small wheels or the lack of traction control
Verdict
It is a competent car, much better than the previous in many ways
3/5


SPECIFICATION
 
Price
RM110,847.50
Engine
1,798cc, 4 cylinder, DOHC with Dual VVT-i, 137bhp@6400rpm, 173Nm@4000rpm
Gearbox
CVT with seven-speed Sports Sequential Shifts, front-wheel drive
Performance
n/a
Weight
1270kg
On Sale
Now