The Toyota Corolla is the one true superhero of the automotive universe. It’s been at or near the top of the world’s bestselling cars list for most of its over half-century life. In 1997, it surpassed the Volkswagen Beetle as the bestselling model ever, with 44 million units sold worldwide.
However, in today’s seemingly apocalyptic world where people seem to be clamoring for the go-anywhere capability of SUVs and crossovers (even if most of them don’t know what to do with that capability), the compact sedan may be losing its popularity.
The Corolla is no exception. It may no longer be the go-to Toyota for a growing number of buyers, but it is no less relevant to the venerable Japanese company and the car industry in general.
Which brings me to the current Corolla Altis Hybrid, the first hybrid version of a mainstream model available in the Philippines. And the car I liken to Pepper Potts in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Pepper Potts, of course, is Tony Stark’s ever-faithful executive assistant turned business partner turned CEO turned spouse. She may not have the killer moves (and killer curves) of Black Widow, but she is a looker in her own right. What Black Widow cannot do, however, is run a billion-dollar tech and energy empire in Stark Industries, which Pepper did after Stark appointed her as CEO. So, yes, she’s got beauty and brains—capable of pretty much anything life throws at her. Including doing battle against Thanos’s marauding army while wearing her own Ironman suit.
The Corolla Altis Hybrid is the embodiment of Pepper Potts’ capabilities. It’s not as sexy and curvaceous as the Mazda 3 or as sleek and quick as the Honda Civic RS Turbo—it’s two main competitors—but it absolutely drips with quiet competence in every aspect of its being. What it lacks in sex appeal in its sheet metal and in power under its hood (it doesn’t even have paddle shifters for the CVT), it more than makes up for with its supreme intelligence—intelligence in managing the earth’s resources using one of the most sophisticated and technologically advanced drivetrains made by man.
And what a drivetrain. The Altis Hybrid is powered by a 1.8-liter VVT-i, 4-cylinder DOHC, 16-valve petrol engine coupled with an electric motor for a 121hp/142Nm total system maximum output. I’ve been testing hybrid cars for a decade, but I’ll never get tired of that otherworldly eerie silence that makes you think that the engine is still off—until the car moves smartly forward with a tap of the accelerator while emitting that jet turbine-like high-pitched whine. So cool.
On the road, you experience a smooth and quiet ride with outstanding fuel efficiency while the battery self-charges during the drive. I usually get the worst fuel economy—I would average 7 km/l in a car that would deliver 8-9 km/l with most people. The Prius, which has the same gasoline-electric drivetrain as the Corolla Altis Hybrid, can achieve as high as 38 km/l in truly fuel-efficient driving. I can never achieve that with my driving. But I did manage a still-stunning 19 km/l in the Altis Hybrid in city driving. Without even trying. In the same driving conditions in other compact cars, I’d be lucky to get 8 km/l. That’s true Pepper Potts-level of brainy fuel management.
And if you think, driving a hybrid is a bore, the Altis Hybrid has three driving modes (Sport, Eco, Normal) to tailor its performance to your driving needs. It won’t outrun the Civic even when in Sport Mode, but it will commendably acquit itself in most driving situations—like when you need to overtake a speeding bus on the highway. Just punch the right pedal and it’ll do it without any fuss. That’s Pepper Potts in Iron Woman mode.
The new Corolla Altis rests on the Toyota New Global Architecture, which promises significantly improved agility, stability, and visibility. A lower center of gravity and improved suspension provide less roll and sharper vehicle response. Visibility is better due to the reduced cowl height, thinner instrument panel and repositioned mirrors while improved sound insulation results in a quieter and more relaxing cabin.
It’s also only the second Toyota to come standard with Toyota Safety Sense (after the Hiace Super Grandia Elite), which bundles a suite of active and passive safety systems such as the Pre-Collision System, Lane Departure Alert, and Automatic High Beam. Several new features are introduced in the new Corolla Altis 1.8V HV, such as the Lane Tracing Assist, and the Dynamic Radar Cruise Control.
LTA helps keep the vehicle centered while using DRCC. This function applies force on the steering to assist the driver in avoiding unintended lane departure. When driving with DRCC, meanwhile, the vehicle drives at constant preset speed and will adjust within the set cruise speed upon detection of another vehicle in front to maintain an appropriate distance. The system can even stop the car when the vehicle in front comes to a full stop.
All Altis variants are equipped with seven airbags (front, side and curtain), ABS with Electronic Brake Force Distribution, Vehicle Stability Control, Hill Start Assist, and 3-point Emergency Locking Retractor (ELR) seatbelts for all occupants. The high-strength frame of the vehicle adopts a body structure that is designed to absorb impact and disperse the collision energy to minimize cabin deformation in a collision. The structure of the hood and cowl louver has also been developed to reduce impact force to a pedestrian in the event of a collision. This Altis packs the most number of safety features in its class—Pepper Potts levels of sensibility.
All Corolla Altis variants have MacPherson strut front/double wishbone rear suspension. Ride quality is best in class, despite low-profile 225/45R-17 tires. Handling is not as sharp as the Civic’s or the Mazda 3’s, but for everyday driving, I feel it strikes the best balance between those two opposing characteristics.
Inside the spacious (again, a class-leading attribute for this model) and finely crafted cabin, the Altis adopts a minimalistic, almost-Zen-like design that gives off both a sophisticated and calming atmosphere. Intelligent ergonomics emphasize functionality and puts a premium on driver and passenger comfort. I’ve often felt that the Corolla offered the least in the way of luxury features, but in the new model’s case, it’s the other way around. The soft-touch materials on the new Altis’s dashboard and inner door panels are indeed the softest and plushest in its class—and won’t look out of place in a Camry.
Looks? Again, the new Corolla Altis channels its inner Camry, thanks to the signature Toyota trapezoidal lower grille that shows off the strong and wide stance of the new car. Above it is the Toyota emblem, centered at one sharp character line formed by the upper grille and headlamps. The 1.8 V HV and 1.6V CVT variants give off an even more striking impression with the bi-beam LED headlamps and LED line guide DRL. Very understated yet very upscale—like an Audi’s (which happens to be Stark’s favorite car).
The vehicle’s side-view silhouette has a dynamic and active look, further emphasizing the low center of gravity with the voluminous front and rear bumpers. Sleek defined lines are consistent up to the rear, with full LED taillamps that complement the striking look of the headlamps. 17-inch alloy wheels (for 1.8 V HV and 1.6V CVT) add sportiness to the overall look. 18-inch wheels would’ve undoubtedly made the car look and corner even sharper, but at a trade-off of a stiffer ride. Props to Toyota for not falling prey to the god oftiis-ganda. Again, very Pepper Potts in its no-nonsense pursuit of overall balance.
The new Corolla Altis Hybrid falls in line with the Toyota Environmental Challenge 2050, wherein environment-friendly technology is made more accessible to the car-buying public. Priced at P1,580,000 (more than P600,000 less than the Toyota Prius and right smack in the price points of the top-of-the-line variants of its compact sedan competitors), the Altis Hybrid is a perfect entry-point for Filipinos wanting to shift to hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) technology. It’s not exactly Stark Industries’ arc reactor technology, but I’m sure Pepper Potts would still be proud.