Friday, May 2, 2008

Toyota Corolla Altis 2008

Road Test – Toyota Corolla Altis 2008
Toyota has been selling Corollas since the 60's. Despite serving the masses well, it’s painfully uninspired, and its designs have become somewhat of a numbing norm. Now in its 10th incarnation, it shares similar engines with the previous model. Can it hold a candle to the stylishly popular Honda Civic or the aggressively fashioned Mitsubishi Lancer?




You wouldn't be able to guess what it is from a distance. In fact, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a Camry. Great! Toyota has taken hints of its large sedan and slapped them onto the new Altis, mainly in the form of the car’s front grille and headlamps.

And that’s the first impression we get with this new model. At last, a little visual justice has been done to this icon of daily, workhorse transportation. After proving to be the definitive, popular choice of Singaporean families, Toyota has made it even more irresistible to own one with their current offspring.

Exterior

At 20mm closer to the ground and almost 60mm wider than its predecessor, the new Toyota Corolla exudes a much younger and sportier nature. The soft, distinct lines cut and define their way from front to rear as they flow over the headlamps, past the bonnet and running the length of the sides before gently dissolving at the trunk. Toyota calls this modelling process a “Sweep Cut”, which is basically one of their forms of car sculpting.

So it has character. Even more than the past few Corolla's combined. But like everything else, something had to give, and that came in the form of the back-side of the car.
The odd shaped tail lamps seem to be a compromise between that of the Camry's and the older Altis'. This somewhat dampened the excitement that the front conveyed. Even the circular reflectors embedded in either side of the bumpers were a little off, and reeked of last minute placement.

To get our minds off that, Toyota distracts by pointing out that in their bid to contribute to a greener environment, they have reduced the amount of environmentally harmful substances used in the production of their cars. Materials used in parts like silicon weather stripping and the blackout portion of the door frame and roof moulding have been substituted with less harmful materials.

The result? 80% less Volatile Organic Compounds in the atmosphere as compared to the previous model. No wonder it cost almost a billion yen to develop…


Interior

You are greeted by a neat, uncluttered dash together with a beige colour scheme - easy on the eyes with a sense of calm, overriding any form of negative energy. The centre console's various buttons are distributed well, and are all within the reach of the driver.

The rest of it is pretty much standard issue - an updated steering wheel with audio control buttons, CD player, a graphic audio interface and climate control.

Keeping with the trend, the steering wheel has been updated as well. Audio & Multi-Information Display switches have been installed so you can change the radio station when an annoying Britney rendition plays for the umpteenth time. Another pleasant surprise was telescopic adjustment that allowed us to pull, or push the wheel away, effectively adjusting its reach with relative ease.

The seating position and comfortable support of the seats kept us happy throughout our test drive. This was carried over to the rear seats as well. With added width and strategically placed C Pillar, more space has been granted with the ability for to swallow 3 adults easily at the back.

A total absence of the typical “hump” in the rear flooring area is a breath of fresh air consequently, sliding around is much easier, if you fancy that sort of thing.

The 475L boot manages 4 golf bags and a bunch of smaller items with ease. The glove box has 2 separate compartments on top of each other - a novel way to utilise space. Not only can it store more items but we found ourselves opening and closing it in fascination. Although it lasts for all but the first 7 times, it’s a cool distraction piece for passengers who talk way too much while you drive.


Engine & Driving Impressions

Both engines have been retuned to comply with stringent Euro-3 emission control regulations, and while power hikes aren’t a priority, they are a little more fuel efficient. The straight-4, 3ZZ-FE spec in the 1.6l produces 145Nm of torque at 4400 rpm while putting out a respectable 107bhp. The more powerful 1.8l 1ZZ-FE found in the SS1 model Celica and the Wish, squeezes 170Nm of torque at 4200rpm with 130bhp on tap. Both models come in a four-speed automatic transmission, with the 1.8l featuring a sequential gear shift facility.

We test drove the mainstream 1.6-litre variant, and despite relatively mediocre power figures, there is enough pulling power to make overtaking a breeze should you decide to floor the loud pedal. Lane change-acceleration capabilities aren’t a problem at all, even with the whole family piled into the car.

Coming to an abrupt stop is efficiently facilitated by the 15'' ventilated discs up front and solid discs at the back. Wind and road noise hardly exist below 100km/h but when you bury the accelerator into the carpet, the engine whimpers for a second before a loud, disgruntled roar makes itself heard. Then, you’ll see the speedometer needle move rapidly to the right. Even as legal limits are breached, noise, vibration and harshness levels were kept low whilst comfort levels were hardly compromised by Corolla standards.

The McPherson struts (front) and torsion beam (rear) both do their job well in keeping occupants focused on their own thing while driving, although all of us agreed that high speed stability could have been better, especially with the overly-assisted steering. Humps didn't prove to be too jarring when driven over at higher than recommended speeds.

Despite the mysterious decision to not include a multi-linked rear setup commonly found in cars its class, this new one actually handles slightly better, if not the same. It dives willingly into corners and turn in is precise. When pushed, heavy understeer rears its ugly head at this car's relatively low limits of grip, as might be expected of it.


Why buy it?

With a slew of safety features like a reinforced cabin, dual airbags, brake-assist, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake-force distribution and an anti-theft System, all of which comes as standard.

Obviously, the new Corolla Altis will have to put up a fight against the Mitsubishi Lancer EX 1.5 Sports which is almost $5,000 cheaper and slower ($63,988 as of 20 Mar '08). Then there is the Mazda 3 with its continental car-like stability and the Honda Civic with its funky interior, with the latter being the most expensive, and value-scarce car.

The base 1.6L currently retails for $67,388 with the most expensive and highly equipped 1.8L at $76,988 as of 21st March 2008. Not exactly the cheapest car, but that price tag is certainly justified once you are behind the wheel. It has more mass appeal now than ever with its handsome, grown up looks and it has to be said, that everything else about this car has grown with it.

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