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First Drive of the new Toyota Corolla Altis 2014

Snapshot: We try out the new Toyota Corolla Altis 2014 to see if Toyota can retain its leadership in the entry-level Executive segment

Overview:

Just like you cannot mess with the Zohan (or Sunny Deol for that matter), you just cannot mess with the Corolla Altis. Toyota’s bread and butter mainstay has been in production since 1966 globally and 2003 in India, so currently the 11th generation vehicle being launched on May 29th is no pushover. After many years, the Corolla Altis (which is essentially the Asian version) actually looks good, even though it is not sharply styled as its US counterpart. Yes, small niggles and irritants exist, but then even a Roller is not a perfect ride and the new Altis ticks most boxes, even though at times you may have to hunt for those boxes.

Exterior:

No denying the styling – it looks like a million dollars and after the grandpa image of the previous generation and the great grandpa version before it, the styling looks good, and some may even call it chic. The twin front lamps deep set within a large organically shaped headlamp cluster have a new technology, and it is called Light Emitting Diode, or LED for short. Yes, the Audis of the world may be going to town over this high-technology gee-gaw, but then Toyota has put it in the low beam of the humble Corolla. The parking lamps are also LEDs, and you can leave them on permanently if you want them to act as Daytime Running Lights (DRL) – they look neat.

The big bold grille in the front with its prominent ‘T’ leaves you no doubt about who the car is from. The sides are quite plain, which gives a clean look and the rear lamp cluster also makes significant use of LEDs, with only the turn signal and the reverse lights being conventional bulbs. Large 16” alloys now sport 15 spokes and this has improved the ride quality markedly. An electro-magnetic switch releases the large boot, and thankfully the spare wheel faces the right side up so it is no longer a chore to fill in air at fuel stations. The boot lid incidentally also houses the rear view camera, which is standard on the higher versions.

Interior:

The interiors also are all new. They look smarter than before and the combination of real and synthetic leather on the higher models give it a very premium look. Everybody seems to be going blue these days and the interior colour theme of the new Corolla Altis is blue – right from the beautifully lit optitron instrument cluster to the climate control and the clock. Although the rear does not get separate air-con vents at the upper level, yet the front vents although small to look at, blow copious amounts of thanda-thanda cool-cool air to keep you from feeling the heat.

The combination of beige and black for the interiors looks classy. The seating and other surfaces feel pretty good to touch, with a smooth feel. The dashboard also very intelligently has a touch of black on the top, so as to prevent glare from reaching the windscreen. The little bit of carbon surround around the infotainment system looks very classy as well. Top models get a 7.0-inch touchscreen surround system, which has navigation built in as also advanced Bluetooth capabilities. USB and Aux-in is also part of the standard features list of this system. Sound quality for the most part is acceptable, though the system does not really give you an audiophile experience. Connectivity though is simply awesome.

The climate control, like all Toyota vehicles cannot be faulted and even in a sweltering 39 degrees centigrade of heat, managed to bring the interior temperature down in minutes in spite of the car being parked in the open sun. The optitron meter is very beautiful – the way it lights up and all the essential information from the built in trip computer displayed is very accurate and helpful. Want more? The car comes with cruise control as well – a feature, which is being used more and more in our new network of highways. What is missing? My only complaint here is that there is no sunroof or moonroof in the car – again a feature, which a lot of us love having in a car and especially at this price range. Other goodies include an 8-way powered driver’s seat, headlamp and rain sensors – just put everything in automatic and you do not have to lift a finger!

One trick feature that surely needs to be talked about is the rear seat recline. Yes, you read it right – the angle of the backseat can be reclined by about 15 degrees using a simple lever, which is very good if you want to take in a more relaxed journey, especially after a long day. A 100mm increase in wheelbase means that you now have more space to lounge in, in the rear and this increases the comfort factor remarkably. The doors open nice and wide, so ingress and egress is not a problem for most people, including women wearing sarees. A rear manually operated sunshade keeps the heat at bay.

Engine, Transmission and Performance

Not much change here. The engine and transmission options remain the same as the previous generation. This means a 1.8-litre petrol engine which gives around 140ps and a 1.4 diesel delivering around 88ps. A 7-speed constantly variable transmission (CVT) is optional with the petrol engine, with a 6-speed manual being standard on both versions. The ratios of the CVT have been revised from the last generation, so performance is a little sprightlier. Overall noise levels are low and the car feels peppy enough for normal everyday use.

On the diesel, there is no change. It is still very smooth and does not feel underpowered given its generous 207Nm of torque. Like all diesel engines, keep it in the meaty part of its rev band and it rewards you with seemingly brisk progress. This is not difficult either, as the 6-speed manual ‘box is super smooth and slots in precisely with minimal effort. Being a small engine, it is quite fuel-efficient and will regularly reward you with high fuel efficiency figures. We have not yet tested the fuel efficiency of the car properly, but the company assured us that it is amongst the best in the segment.

Ride and Handling

The Corolla is tuned to a softer setup, because its main emphasis is comfort. It never was meant to be a performance machine – Toyota is clear where its priorities lie. That said, the car is a sheer pleasure to be driven on city roads and handles all kinds of surfaces with aplomb. Even some of the bigger potholes are dismissed with a muted thud, and the only noise that filters into the passenger cabin is tyre noise, something the Corolla has not been able to eliminate. A high ground clearance of 180mm means that the car does not bottom out even when fully loaded and thanks to a flat rear floor, passengers at the back are cosseted in luxury rivals find hard to match.

Safety

This has always been a bone of contention for me as I have always felt that cars made in India / for India just do not have the safety kit which manufacturers put in cars sold in developed countries. The Corolla Altis being sold in India comes with only two airbags, besides Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) and Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD) with Brake Assist (BA). However sample this: The basic new generation Corolla sold in the United States besides the above listed features gets 6 more airbags, Traction Control (TRAC) and Vehicle Stability Control (VSC). Sadly, all these features are absent on the Indian car, and all this is available in the United States on even the basic Corolla LE, which retails at $16,800.00 or Rs. 9.86 lakh in our price. We are sure the new Corolla range in India will start much above that!

Summary

So how good is the new Corolla Altis? Is it worth its price? The answer in one word is yes. While there may be quite a few competitors, none can match the car for its combination of interior space, exterior looks or its solid and proven performance. At the time of putting this up, exact prices are not known but what is known is that Toyota will charge a premium of around Rs. 1,00,000.00 over the existing car. That’s not too bad, but it is not cheap either. We would still go ahead and crown the Corolla Altis as the king of this segment. There is simply no alternative to the Altis.

Competition

Competition comes from a number of cars – you have Hyundai’s Elantra, Skoda’s Octavia and the all-diesel Chevrolet Cruise. Each of these cars have their strong points – whether it is the level of equipment and the looks of the Elantra, the smartness and performance of the Octavia or the blistering pace of the Cruze – yet none of these cars give the kind of rounded and refined package the new Corolla Altis offers. Not that these cars are bad; there is simply no alternative to the Corolla Altis in its 11th generation.

First Drive of the new Toyota Corolla Altis 2014

 

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