I get asked the question “Which car should I buy?” a lot. And by a lot, I really mean a lot. It’s part of my line of work. The discussions are usually protracted, of course. I try to match the budget with the lifestyle, and where the car will be used and how. Then there’s talk about engine specs, convenience features, and resale value. Don’t forget the deal breaker—after-sales service.
All these factors can confuse would-be buyers, leaving them overwhelmed and oftentimes exasperated. And if, after that long discussion, they can’t make a decision yet, I just come out and say it: “If all of this weighing of pros and cons is giving you a headache, just get a Toyota Corolla.”
Or the Altis, which is the name that this venerable badge has taken. For decades now, the Corolla has been known to be the car that does everything well. Fuel-efficient? Check. Reliable? Check. Good parts availability? Check. Massive dealership network? Roger that. Resale value? Excellent. Rarely will you find a model that ticks all these boxes.
But the thing is, you won’t hear people say that Corollas are exciting. Each generation has its share of diehard fans, and there are even particular models that have been elevated to superstar status. The nameplate, however, has also become synonymous with the word ‘bland.’ It does being a car so well that it has reached household-appliance status. Is that a bad thing or not? It really depends on whom you ask.
The story doesn’t end there.
The subcompact Vios is now lording it over the sedans on the local market—thanks in part to the Corolla, which has helped pave the way for the dominance of its younger brother. The compact class is shrinking now, relegated to undercard status on the day of the big boxing match. Who is even paying attention to the fight between the Corolla, the Lancer, the Civic, the Focus, the Elantra, and the Sylphy (Sentra) anymore? The guys who grew up with these cars, that’s who.
There’s a positive result with this shift to the mass-market focus on the subcompact segment: Compacts are now seen as more of a premium purchase; their higher price point demands it. Given this bit of freedom, there’s a chance for the unique personalities of these models that we know and love to shine through again.
Associate editor and test-drive guru Jason dela Cruz has said that the Corolla is armageddon-proof. I couldn’t agree more. It’s already a given that you really have nothing to worry about with this car, and my reintroduction to the Altis has renewed my faith in the model. It now has a bit more of that wow factor.
The interior is impressive, with a massive touchscreen multimedia interface taking the main spot. We prefer this flush-on-the-dash position, actually. Other makes have this screen mounted on top of the dashboard, and it does seem a little awkward. The air-conditioning controls are modern, soft-touch versions of ‘toggles,’ and this adds to the high-tech feel of the entire cabin. I wish the seat material were of a darker hue, though; the light tan fabric is a pain to keep clean and stains easily.
The exterior is understated and doesn’t have any of the flamboyant curves of the Mazda lineup, but it is handsome in its own right. You can see that the wheels are positioned at the farthest corners of the body, and the lengthened wheelbase not only frees up interior space, it also improves high-speed stability.
As is my custom with every long-term test unit that lands in my lap, a few road trips are in order. I managed to log close to 700km while the car was in my possession during the holidays, with two round trips to Los Baños and one to Pangasinan. Not only is the Altis composed on the long highways, it also manages to soak in the the bumps of our far-from-perfect roads. The NVH characteristics are impressive, and everything in the chassis and the suspension feels so tight and well-screwed together. Quite frankly, the Corolla feels unstoppable and solid.
You just have to get over the price. The P1.105-million tag could come as a bit of a shock for some buyers who are expecting the Toyota sedan to be more affordable, especially considering that there is ‘only’ a 1.6-liter mill under the hood. This is the variant that will sell more units, though, because it is packed with features found on more expensive cars. There’s no need to take the key out of your pocket anymore, thanks to the smart-entry function; headlights and wipers have an automatic setting; fuel mileage is measured and shown in real time on the gauge cluster; automatic climate control comes standard; and there’s a backing-up camera.
I do feel it should’ve come with cruise control, which is a feature reserved for the 2.0-liter variants. Oh well, you can’t have it all. Still, I managed a very impressive 12.6km/L in combined city and highway driving conditions. And this was during the holidays, when Metro Manila traffic congestion was at its peak. The excellent fuel economy is a result of using electronic power steering and a responsive yet efficient CVT. Best of all, the 1.6-liter engine doesn’t struggle at all, and is happy to be revved hard all day. It responded more than adequately to all my demands.
The Corolla Altis still does everything so well, but it has also stepped up its game. From the time you acquire the car, throughout your entire ownership of it, until the time you sell it—there’s really no stress involved. That’s hard to ignore. I felt sad when I had to return the keys after my month-long stint with it.
SPECS: Toyota Corolla Altis 1.6 V
Engine: 1.6-liter petrol I4
Transmission: continuously variable
Power: 120hp @ 6,000rpm
Torque: 154Nm @ 5,200rpm