Toyota says the new Corolla will appeal to the heart and head. It certainly looks more appealing than the outgoing car. So, what's it like to drive?
Playing safe is something Toyota is famous for. Conservative in extreme, the measure-thrice-cut-once Japanese carmaker is so risk-averse, it only makes a move once it is absolutely sure. No short cuts here. This is particularly true in the case of the Corolla, the world’s largest-selling car, and the logic is understandable: why mess with a formula that works fabulously in the first place? Why indeed. But therein lies the conundrum; while Toyota has reaped the rewards of a conservative ‘acceptable-to-all’ Corolla over the years, the lack of excitement today is catching up with it.
Toyota knows this and has now issued a direct and simple diktat to its engineers – no boring cars. Toyota’s also pretty clear about communicating this message to the outside world. The opening line of the press information pack clearly states, “The new Corolla is designed to appeal to the heart as well as the head”, and that’s a fundamental change. Question is, can it prove to be as exciting, as fun to drive and as luxurious as the particularly stiff competition in the class? Cars like the VW Jetta, Skoda Octavia and Hyundai Elantra are no pushovers.
What Toyota has got right straight off the bat are the stunning Lexus-like looks. Sitting here, in the soft Singapore sunshine, with its muscular proportions and cuts and creases highlighted perfectly, the new Altis looks every bit the Olympian athlete in an Italian suit. Toyota designers have used a lower stance and a longer wheelbase to good effect – the car does look hunkered down. The low bonnet, rising window line and sharp-cut ‘C’ pillar carry the sporty theme further. And there are aggressive details wherever you look, like the large airdam, the aggressive upswept headlights and the ‘pushed-out’ wheel arches. It’s also fair to say the new Corolla doesn’t have a bad angle; this car looks stunning in profile and from the rear too.
The sporty theme is carried forward under the skin to some extent, with a lot of the hardware getting updated to improve the way the car drives. Toyota has started off from what appears to be the base of the earlier car, but has made fundamental changes. The new chassis is now considerably stiffer, the centre of gravity of the car has been lowered and the 100mm longer wheelbase delivers far greater stability.
Toyota has also improved the agility of the new Altis by using a thoroughly re-designed front suspension and providing a faster-acting steering. The supports for the front suspension strut towers are all-new (they are more rigidly located), there are new coil springs and wider-diameter dampers and the engineers have chosen to use ball joint-type anti-roll bars. Also improved is the electric steering of the car. It now uses a new control logic system and a more rigidly located and installed steering rack. The latter helps reduce flex in the steering geometry.