3The Corolla was first launched in India when it was in its 9th generation in 2003 and although it did enjoy the reputation of being a top-selling car around the world, this Toyota product could not make a mark here. The executive saloon segment that it is placed in still does not have many customers and to make matters tougher the number of rivals has increased. These include Skoda Octavia, VW Jetta, Renault Fluence, Hyundai Elantra and Chevrolet Cruze.
But even with limited sales, the car has continued in India and got subsequent facelifts and design modifications. It is now in its 11th generation and continues in same diesel and petrol models. In the petrol avatar, Corolla is powered by 1.8 litre engine that generates 138 bhp and 17.6 kgm of torque. This comes with 6 speed manual and 7 speed automatic transmission (CVT) variants. The diesel engine is a 1.4 litre turbo churning out 87 bhp and 20.9 kgm torque. This is mated only to a standard 6 speed manual gearbox.
Complaints with the earlier Corolla Altis were a lack of premium factor when compared to its primary rivals and the underpowered diesel engine. The equipment level in the cabin was not quite admirable.
We did a road test of the new generation car and checked to what extent has the Japanese carmaker addressed the issues concerning build, design and cabin comfort. Here’s the report:
The Outside Impression
In the newest form, Corolla looks quite evolved. The muscular proportions, cuts, creases- all add to its striking appearance. Different from the previous design, the front sports a crouched stance that gives it a more athletic look. It is also 80 mm longer and 16 mm wider than its predecessor but the height has been decreased marginally by 5mm. Despite the changes in dimensions, the kerb weight for both petrol and diesel versions has not changed. Also, while the diesel is 50 kg heavier than the manual petrol variant, it weighs the same 1270 kg as the petrol automatic.
When you see it from the front, the big air dam and new upswept headlamps with a strip of LEDs give this Corolla a more aggressive look than what was seen on the previous, conservatively designed car. The grille gets chrome on its slats instead of body colour.
Viewed in profile, the silhouette appears attractive but the wheels look somewhat puny under their flared arches. While the 16 inch size with 205/55 R16 is not really small, it is the raised ground clearance of the car that makes them appear so. It now rides 180 mm above the road that makes it possible to go over large bumps with aplomb. The rising window line and sharply designed C pillar enhance Corolla Altis’ sporty stance further.
The new angular wrap-around tail lights look more striking than the simpler units of the previous model. Design of the reflectors on the rear bumper has also been changed from round to slim bands. There is a dollop of chrome for the number plate garnish, an element that is loved in India. While the panel gaps are consistent, a keen study will tell you where the company did some cost cutting – the interior lining of the 470 litres trunk uses low quality materials and the on the whole the fit & finish of the fabrics inside the trunk is also not refined.
With the changes in exterior design, Corolla has got a fresh appeal. Interestingly, there are some changes under the skin too. The revised chassis is stiffer and the wheelbase has been extended by 100 mm.
There is a choice between 7 colours for this car. The shades include White Pearl Crystal Shine, Celestial Black, Champagne Mica Metallic, Grey Metallic, Silver Mica Metallic, Blue Metallic and Super White II.
The Cabin Design and Comfort
Even the previous model of Corolla was not short of space but with the increase of wheelbase for the 11th generation car, there is even more. The packaging of the revised interiors has also made them more comfortable. What’s more, the glass areas are big helping with the visibility factor. The steering wheel is adjustable for both rake and reach in all variants. Driver’s seat can be manually adjusted for height in the D-4D J, D-4D JS and D-4D G trims, and electrically in the top end D-4D GL trim. Similarly, for the petrol line-up the lower two variants have manual height adjustment and upper two get powered adjustment for driver’s seat. Electric lumbar support convenience is also offered in the top end variants of Corolla Altis. The seats themselves are ergonomically designed with soft foam stuffing and feel quite comfortable.
The new layout of the dashboard has done away with the T-shaped design of the older car but it sits low and appears rather blocky. To add some flair, Toyota’s designers have segregated it into different layers of colours and textures. The upper black surface is fabricated with refined, soft-touch materials and the beige facia takes in the infotainment screen and the side AC vents. Compared to the upper part, the lower bit of the dashboard still feels tacky due to its plastic quality.
It is the 7 inch touchscreen, Bluetooth compatible interface that takes the centre stage on the dashboard and then there is the climate control set-up. The audio control buttons on the steering wheel are big enough to be used comfortably. But the low resolution display of the touchscreen is somewhat disappointing and cannot be read easily on a bright day. On a positive note, the Bluetooth audio pairing system is good and sound quality is also pleasing. Among other comfort elements, the top end variant has reversing camera, the cup holders are illuminated and there is a reading lamps for rear seat passengers. The upper end CVT variant comes with cruise control, paddle shifters and eco driving indicator. All door pockets have bottle holders and the glove box is also spacious if not cooled.
At the rear the seats are 60:40 split foldable and can be reclined for comfort – a feature that makes Corlloa Altis back seat more luxurious than in most of its competitors. The extended wheelbase has created 92 mm of extra knee room for the passengers here. Three people can sit easily without feeling squeezed in but the headroom is just about enough. Also, there are no separate AC vents for the rear part of cabin – feature that you do get in VW Jetta and Hyundai Elantra.
While the fit of cabin has improved and the equipment also feels richer, the quality of materials and overall finish fall short of what you get in a Skoda Octavia.
The basic safety features include 2 SRS airbags (only Driver + front passenger), ABS, EBD, brake assist, 3 point ELR seatbelts with pretensioners + force limiters in front and 3 ELR seat belts for three passengers at back – these are common to all variants.
Engine, Transmission and Performance
For a 1.8 litre petrol variant, we drove the 1.8VL with 7 speed CVT automatic gearbox. The engine feels refined and has a character that is quite relaxed. Power delivery is smooth and linear. What may bother driving enthusiasts is the notorious ‘rubber-band impact’ when they push the pedal hard on open roads. However, at part throttle the CVT box keeps this effect in control and shifts quite well. The gear ratios have been worked upon for better performance of the 11th generation car. It also comes with paddle shifters that add a better sense of control and excitement to the complete driving experience. With a light tap you can change the gears quickly. As an example, at around 65 km/hour, just tug the paddle down, and it can come down from 7th to the 1st gear.
The seamless gear changing does make Corolla CVT an enjoyable car but pushing the engine to its 6600 rpm limit is not fun because the last 2000 revs only show on the needle climbing up the tachometer and do not really contribute to a thrust. According to documented specs, the peak power of 138 bhp comes at 6400 rpm, but it is best to drive the sedan between 2000 and 5000 rpm zone where it is more responsive. The 0-100 km/hour dash for this model can be achieved in 12.16 seconds.
Coming to the 1.4 litre diesel engine driven model, the figure of 87 bhp (at 3800 rpm) looks pretty dull when compared to any of Corolla’s close competitors – Renault Fluence, Hyundai Elantra, Skoda Octavia, VW Jetta, and Chevrolet Cruze. What’s good however is that the lack of sudden turbo surge makes it an easy to drive car in the city. The clutch is also light and the 6 speed manual gearbox is easy to work through. This is good because despite the variable geometry turbo, there is considerable lag and you will need to downshift more often to keep the engine in tempo.
On the highways, the Corolla feels comfortable to drive between 2500 rpm and 3800 rpm where the peak power is churned out. But all in all, it is a weak motor that does not allow you to push the car to its limits. It can go up to 120 km/hour with the engine working at 2500 rpm in the sixth gear.
Ride and Handling
Toyota worked on the suspension for the latest avatar of Corolla Altis and it shows. The sedan now goes over most potholes, speedbreakers and ruts with good composure that is comparable to some SUVs. Even if it is carrying 5 people, it can go over speedbreakers without scraping its underbelly. However, on a series of undulations, this car still does not offer a cushy ride experience and there is appreciable vertical movement. Also, there is fair amount of road noise and this is particularly so on a coarse tarmac where noise even from the tyres can get irksome. So the cabin needs slightly better insulation even though the engine noise is well under control.
For handling, it lacks lively steering geometry and does handle in a predictable style. Being chunky, the steering wheel is also good to hold. The car turns confidently into and out of corners, and this can be done at some speed too. More importantly, the steering that feels light for city driving and parking weighs up sufficiently as the needle moves up the speedo. Interestingly, it is the petrol model that shows a degree of torque steer under hard acceleration at low speeds.
It is not really an exciting car to drive, but this new Corolla Altis has precise steering and feels confident on roads.
The petrol CVT Corolla offers a fuel economy of 9.8 km/litre in the city and up to 14.5 km/litre on the highways. For the diesel, the figures are 12 km/litre in the city and 17 km/litre on the highways. The diesel car could have been more economical if the engine had little more gusto as that would help in doing away with the frequent downshifts.
In the 11th generation, Toyota Corolla Altis looks more stylish and has added to the strengths of its predecessors. With the revamping of the model the interiors, particularly rear seat became more comfortable. It’s just the engines, especially the diesel one, that lack adequate power and make the car somewhat dull to drive. The quality of build and the equipment used also has room for improvement. But if you are looking for a sensible and reliable executive sedan and prefer being chauffeur driven, the Corolla Altis is a good choice. No wonder, it runs for cab services extensively in so many countries.
The price range for the petrol model is between Rs 12.40 lakhs and 17.07 lakhs. For diesel the price starts from Rs. 13.25 lakhs and goes up to 16.86 lakhs (all process ex showroom, Delhi).
Value for Money: 3.5/5