What is it?
There was a time when the Toyota Corolla Altis was the king of the executive sedan segment. Of late, though, this status is under pressure, with rivals like the new Hyundai Elantra and the Skoda Octavia earnestly fighting for a larger piece of the pie. To keep up with its fierce competition, the Altis has gone and gotten itself a light nip and tuck.
To be honest, the changes are not really extensive; in fact, the untrained eye might even miss them entirely at first. The biggest change is in the car’s face: the grille, headlights and front bumper are new. Keeping in line with the design language we’ve seen on the new Fortuner, the grille is thinner and narrower, and the headlights are longer and slimmer too, almost as if someone pinched those at the edges and pulled them outwards. There’s also less chrome in the nose, and even the shiny strip on the boot is slimmer; an unexpected but welcome change. The car is unchanged in profile, and the only change round the back is differently detailed tail-lights.
The headlights and tail-lights now feature LEDs. The headlights are bi-beam LEDs and do a brilliant job of lighting up the road. They are so powerful, in fact, that almost everyone I flashed at moved aside to let me overtake without any horn-blaring involved.
What is it like on the inside?
Changes on the inside are not extensive either. While the general layout of the dash is unchanged, the central console’s design has been altered slightly, more soft-touch surfaces introduced, some materials improved, a new touchscreen infotainment system with a larger screen introduced, and the air-con controls changed entirely, replacing the traditional button-and-rotary-controller setup with a sleeker button-and-rocker setup. Other changes include new circular side aircon vents, new steering-mounted controls, and the replacement of the rear 12V socket with two USB ports. On the whole, the cabin ambience has improved a fair amount.
The new infotainment system is a considerable improvement over the previous one, featuring a responsive touchscreen, navigation, voice recognition and MirrorLink connectivity. It is not as sophisticated as the system seen in the Innova Crysta, but it is satisfactorily functional, nevertheless. The infotainment system also rates you on how economical your driving is, telling you what you could change to make your driving greener.
Other equipment on this top-spec VL trim includes an electrically-adjustable driver’s seat with adjustable lumbar support, cruise control, automatic headlamps and wipers, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, electrically-folding and adjustable wing mirrors that tilt down automatically when the car is slotted into reverse and a rear-view camera. Also worth a mention is the air-conditioning: even without rear AC blowers and with the sultry Mumbai heat outside, it does a fantastic job of cooling the cabin.
The Altis then, in terms of equipment, now stacks up much better compared to its competition. However, it still misses out on equipment that its rival(s) get, such as a sunroof, two-zone climate control, ventilated seats and front parking sensors, and convenience features like one-touch lane-change indicators that are standard on cars several segments lower.
The seats, front and back, continue to be comfortable. Legroom in the back is generous and the rear seats can be reclined, though their bucket-like contouring renders the Altis best suited for just four passengers. The rear seats can be flipped down in 40:60 ratio to expand the 470-litre boot.
In terms of safety, the variant pictured here comes with seven airbags, ABS, EBD, brake assist, and vehicle stability control. We appreciate that Toyota has increased the number of airbags from two to seven, considering how critical they are to passenger safety.
What is it like to drive?
The 2017 Altis is mechanically unchanged. We drove the petrol automatic variant powered by a 1.8-litre, four-cylinder engine putting out 140hp at 6400rpm and 173Nm at 4000rpm. The engine is mated to a seven-step CVT automatic gearbox, although a six-speed manual is also available with this motor.
The most striking feature about this engine is its refinement: it is smooth and quiet at almost all times. In terms of performance, its power output is not ample, but delivery is predictable and the torque is evenly spread out. Under part-throttle inputs, the CVT gearbox shifts ratios smoothly, minimising the rubberband effect considerably; under hard acceleration though, this effect becomes more pronounced. This can be countered by taking control of the shifts via the paddles which are obedient to your inputs for the most. This engine works best in the mid-range, striking a good balance between performance and refinement.
The CVT gearbox also gets a sport mode and hill-start assist. However, putting it into sport mode does not alter performance much; the only difference is small changes in the CVT’s shift points.
The ride quality, as before, is laudable. The long-travel suspension glides over most minor road imperfections and handles larger bumps and potholes well too. Stability is good on the whole, though it does not ride as flat as some of its rivals on undulating surfaces. Through corners, the Altis feels composed and stable, allowing you to take bends at relatively high speeds.
The Altis’s steering is not particularly quick or sharp, but it does win points for how safe and predictable it feels. It is light enough to handle urban driving comfortably, but not so light that it fazes the driver on the highway.
Should I buy one?
This facelift brings with it only minor changes, most of them cosmetic and a few functional, leaving the Altis in much the same place as it was before. On the whole, this is a balanced, comfortable and reliable executive sedan that puts passenger comfort and safety before all else. The cabin is spacious, quiet and well-equipped; the ride is supple and stable, the handling safe and predictable, and performance adequate and smooth. To top that, the refreshed design and better materials impart it with a modern, sleek look and make it feel more upmarket.
With a price tag of Rs 19.91 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), the petrol automatic Altis is not the most expensive in its segment, but it certainly is on the pricey side. However, if driving thrills aren’t your priority, and what you want is a no-nonsense, efficient, reliable executive sedan, the Corolla Altis is still a safe choice.