motioncars
Still the Shining Star: Toyota Corolla Altis (2008)
 
The “shake your bon-bon” Brad Pitt campaign of the Toyota Corolla Altis goes, hands down, as one of the most memorable ever done. In a single swoop, Toyota revitalized the image of its then flagging compact sedan. Simply put, the mental image of Mr. Pitt power sliding the Altis through a wet slalom is enough to rub on sex appeal to the otherwise staid nameplate. Putting the A-list celebrity endorsement aside, Toyota got it bang on right with the Altis: it finally had the looks and the features to compliment its reputation for being well-built and reliable. It was boring no more—it was sexy, and the people bought into it. That was then.

Fast forward 7 years and here is an all-new Altis. The tenth-generation to carry the Corolla nameplate and the third to have the suffix Altis, the latest one proves that even if Toyota is the world’s richest car maker, they can become a bit too complacent in designing a car. Everything seems to be a bit too “copy-and-paste” this time around. Don’t get it wrong, the Altis is way sleeker and much more modern, but it looks too much to the model it replaces. It doesn’t send that special tinge up anyone’s spine. Drive it around the Metro without a license plate or even a conduction sticker, and no one will seem to notice—it’s the unashamed wallflower of the compact car world. Still, park the Altis and go up for a closer inspection and you’ll like the subtle details. The lines have been smoothened and the headlamps, protruding from the hood, are clearly a nod to the Camry. The rear is the Altis’s weakest point where it looks too much like the previous car, down to the lamp pattern.

The interior’s like tuna maki: no matter how much you dress it up, the ingredients will always be a role call of raw fish, rice and seaweed. If you were to enter the Altis blind-folded, you’d swear you’re sitting inside the 2001 model. Everything from the control layout, seat position and even color scheme all seemed to have been recycled. Toyota’s love for everything beige and wood causes you to age 10 years by simply sitting inside. Fortunately, that’s the only criticism you can level at the Altis’s interior. Cabin quality’s up a notch and now features more toys to play with including a tilt/telescopic steering wheel, powered driver’s seat (with push-button lumbar support), illuminated vanity mirrors and glove box and next-generation Optitron gauges which finally doesn’t washout in direct sunlight. There are various knick-knack storage bins also including two glove boxes, a compartment behind the center console (ala Vios/Yaris) and a sliding arm console between the front seats.

When the “Brad Pitt” model rolled out in 2001, the Altis offered a world-beating drivetrain and platform that had smoothness and NVH isolation a cut above the rest. With almost no mechanical changes from that model, the same applies for the 2008 car. In fact, despite facing much newer competition, the Altis is still king when it comes to quietness. Firing up the engine, reveals a very hush-hush cabin. You will hardly hear the thrumming of the VVTi-equipped engine. Slotting the four-speed automatic through its gated shifter and heading off reveals a comfort-oriented ride. Even with a non-independent rear suspension and bigger tires (an inch up to 16’s), it absorbs bumps well. Maybe too well, as the Altis has the tendency to feel floaty on more than several occasions.

Toyota has never positioned the Corolla to be sporty, and the all-new one does away with any sporty pretensions. Down 200-cc of displacement versus its main rivals, the Altis lacks the immediate punch, especially in going up places like Tagaytay. Though the 1.8V has a sequential shift function, it certainly doesn’t act like one. Slot the shifter to ‘S’, and the car will keep the revs up (similar to the previous model’s ‘Power ECT’ mode). Push the lever up to say, ‘3’ (as in third gear), and the Altis will work through first to third gear, but will not engage fourth. Put it in ‘2’, and the car will work through first and second gears only. As a result, it’s more like an “overdrive off” than anything else. The brakes though bitty, are offset by a very spongy pedal feel. The electric power steering, providing a one-finger operation (an important ally during parking maneuvers) causes the Altis to nervously wonder about at highway speeds.

If you’re the type of person who can’t tell Michael and Ralf Schumacher apart, then the Altis will be more than enough car. It putters around town perfectly well, with the front and rear proximity sensors a must when going through narrow side streets. The lines of visibility are a bit old school, with the hood and trunk in clear view, so parking is never a chore. And thanks to its 1.8-liter motor, this car does a very respectable 11.78 km/L.

And that’s perhaps the operative word with the all-new Corolla Altis—respectable. This car plays too much of a subtle game. Though the foundations are generally solid and the improvements here and there are welcome, it’s easy to dismiss the Altis as being too boring in its class. Whereas Brad Pitt looked sexy cool back in 2001, Orlando Bloom looks simply, well, respectable. And like Mr. Bloom, the Toyota Corolla Altis offers a respectable ownership experience for those who’re after respectable performance with a dash of respectable luxury. Oh, and it’s probably worth mentioning that its price is also very respectable.

Honda got severely burned (at least locally) with their lackluster seventh-generation Civic. It played the “big” and “beautiful” routine, when it was neither. Despite coming up with new variants (including some garish limited edition ones) and face lifting it more than three times, it didn’t become the darling the SiR-version once was. Honda went back to the drawing board and put all things high-tech with the all-new Civic. Launched in 2006, it became a success both commercially and critically. The Honda Civic was a home run, and the folks over at Honda are now sitting pretty for it. With the launch of the all-new Toyota Corolla Altis, does the Civic still have the fight left to maintain market supremacy? Well, it certainly depends on what you’re looking for in a compact car.

In terms of looks, the Altis and the Civic are equally matched. At first glance, you’ll be taken aback by the Battlestar Galactica styling of the Civic. There are some weird angles here and there, but after seeing more than a dozen of them on Manila roads, you begin to like it. The split-spoke alloys on the 2.0-liter model look great too. The Toyota Altis is the complete opposite. It’s easily more palatable, especially on the showroom floor. There’s not a line wrong with the look, but it’s too much of “been there, done that” in terms of styling. And that will put off some, who like to either show off their new ride or dress them up with aftermarket parts four or five years down the line. The same goes for the inside, where the fuddy-duddy styling of the Altis is a big plus for the mid-level executives and daddies who certainly hold the family purse. Meanwhile, the Civic’s futuristic treatment (down to blue leather seats) may take some more adjustment to.

While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it’s the experience behind the wheel where the Civic shows its greatest strength. It trounces the Altis is almost every aspect. The bigger motor (2.0-liter versus 1.8-liter) means it has around 30 horsepower up. The i-VTEC engine is certainly punchier whatever the rev range and it sounds sweeter of the two. The Civic also has an extra gear in hand, making high speed cruising a much more comfortable experience. This extra gear also helps keep the Civic’s fuel economy up—it averaged around 10 km/L in the city, a commendable figure considering it livelier performance versus the Altis. If your idea of a good ride is more on the traditional side, then the Altis’s is for you. It floats around, but doesn’t feel connected to the road in anyway. The Civic is firmer, but still fairly comfortable. The Toyota’s sole advantage over the Civic is in the area of sound and NVH insulation.

In the most important aspect: packaging, the Civic and Corolla are split. The Civic, with its longer wheelbase is roomier, whether you’re in front or at the back. Plus, the driving position’s much better and the seats offer better comfort. However, the Corolla, has much better visibility all around plus the trunk is much larger. And the Corolla even has a 60/40 split-fold rear seat for extra versatility.

By Ulysses Ang | Photos by Ulysses Ang and Jason K. Ang
Still the Shining Star:  Toyota Corolla Altis (2008) Still the Shining Star:  Toyota Corolla Altis (2008) Still the Shining Star:  Toyota Corolla Altis (2008) Still the Shining Star:  Toyota Corolla Altis (2008) Still the Shining Star:  Toyota Corolla Altis (2008) Still the Shining Star:  Toyota Corolla Altis (2008) Still the Shining Star:  Toyota Corolla Altis (2008) Still the Shining Star:  Toyota Corolla Altis (2008) Still the Shining Star:  Toyota Corolla Altis (2008) Still the Shining Star:  Toyota Corolla Altis (2008) Still the Shining Star:  Toyota Corolla Altis (2008) Still the Shining Star:  Toyota Corolla Altis (2008) Still the Shining Star:  Toyota Corolla Altis (2008) Still the Shining Star:  Toyota Corolla Altis (2008) Still the Shining Star:  Toyota Corolla Altis (2008) Still the Shining Star:  Toyota Corolla Altis (2008) Still the Shining Star:  Toyota Corolla Altis (2008) Still the Shining Star:  Toyota Corolla Altis (2008) Still the Shining Star:  Toyota Corolla Altis (2008)

 


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July 19, 2001
Slick Cat: Jaguar S-Type (2001)
July 2, 2001
Toyota RAV4 vs Honda CR-V (2001)
May 18, 2001
Slow Advancement: Toyota Revo (2001)
April 15, 2001
Below Expectations: Toyota Echo (2001)
April 15, 2001
Civic Revolution: Honda Civic (2001)
April 15, 2001
White Collared Brawl: Honda Accord and BMW 523i (2001)
March 12, 2001
Bus Driving 101: Mercedes-Benz MB100 (2001)
March 12, 2001
Everyday Transport: Toyota Corolla (2001)
February 5, 2001
Beautiful Day: Toyota RAV4 (2001)
February 5, 2001
Civilized Monster: Ford Explorer (2000)
December 18, 2000
Empty Space: Mitsubishi Spacegear (2000)
November 18, 2000
First Class Effort: Hyundai Starex (2000)
November 18, 2000
Service Please! Nissan Cefiro Classic Long-Term Test Update (1998)
November 18, 2000
Astra La Vista: Opel Astra (2000)
September 18, 2000
Old World Brute: Nissan Patrol Safari
September 18, 2000
Newly Hatched: Toyota Echo (2000)
September 18, 2000
Goodbye Beetle: Toyota Echo (2000)
August 15, 2000
Steer Flick'n Good: Audi A4 (2000)
July 9, 2000
No Lucky Stars: Ford Taurus GL (1998)
June 11, 2000
Simply Bulletproof: The Honda Accord VTi-L Long-Term Test Update (1998)
June 11, 2000
Still Life: Mitsubishi Lancer (2000)
May 13, 2000
Living with America: Ford F150 (2000)
April 16, 2000
Civic Minded: Honda Civic (2000)
February 20, 2000
Ford Lynx Ghia (2000) Driven
January 18, 2000
White Lightning: Honda Civic (1999)
December 18, 1999
The Lost World: Volkswagen Polo Classic (1998)
December 12, 1999
Against All Odds: Mazda 323 (1999)
September 29, 1999
Warp Speed Transport: Nissan Sentra Super Saloon (1995)
August 30, 1999
Complete Change of Mind: Nissan Cefiro (1997) Long-Term Test Update
August 30, 1999
Honda City LXi (1999)
July 12, 1999
Alternative Nature: Mitsubishi Galant (1999)
June 20, 1999
The Bavarian Delight: BMW 328Ci (1999)
May 15, 1999
Alpha and Omega: Opel 2.5 V6 Omega (1999)
February 5, 1999
Opel Vectra (2.0 (1999) Driven
January 1, 1999
The Daily Nightmare: Nissan Cefiro (1998)
December 1, 1998
VTEC with a Vengeance: Honda Accord (1998)
November 10, 1998