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Corolla Altis : Tested At sepang Circuit

The iconic Toyota Corolla Altis is now in its 10th incarnation. Officially introduced on Wednesday at the Sepang International Circuit, we were there to welcome it to the Malaysian market by putting it through the usual phases.

Slalom attacks, acceleration test, brake test as well as overall balance and ride tests were the proving grounds for the new Altis, with the older 2.0 Altis also present to serve as a benchmark. Now it must be made clear that all the Corolla Altis present at the launch were specified for the Thai market, so the Malaysian models are going to be carrying few visual differences, like the colour of the leather and specifications for example. The Malaysian market also never had the 2-liter Altis for sale, so this is the first time it will be sold here.

Made available for the spin were the both the new and old 1.8-liter and 2-liter models. The new Altis highlights its Dual VVT-I and the 7-speed Super CVT-I as features of the cars new powertrain. Besides that it was the usual ho-hum of enhanced performance, an updated and tuned power steering system that gets a software upgrade for better feel and response, and of course increased fuel economy; the new 1.8 is 15 percent better than the outgoing model while the 2-liter and 1.6 is 10 percent more frugal than the models they replace.

So after the usual product briefing it was off to the track to see how the car withstands track punishment. After a bit of a confusion as to where I needed to be and with who (I never do well with instructions) I found myself in a 2-liter Altis at the back of the pack. First impression, I was not really that impressed with the car. Its fine really, comfortable, silent, but it felt aged, the CVT-i didn’t seem to be working because I felt every gear change, in fact everything just didn’t seem befitting of a new car. It was only after the driver change came around was it mentioned that I was actually in the older Corolla Altis. Chest out, stomach in, pride swallowed, I made way to the new car.

Inside the new darker wood trim is the first hint that you’re in the cockpit of the new 2-liter . A thicker 3 spoke wheel with more buttons than the outgoing model that control the display meter, the radio and some other functions is also a feature unique to the 2-liter.

The centre fascia is pleasant to the eye and touch, the silver accents ooze modernism and the quality of the plastic knobs and buttons reassure that your money has been well spent. The arrangement of the controls are within reach and easy to operate as I found out while negotiating a bend at well over 120km/h, easy.

Talking about bends, the new Altis worked pretty well at a circuit that is designed to test the grip and balance of a car aka “a high downforce circuit”. The car doesn’t have huge wings, barge boards, or a blown diffuser to work well, but it does have VSC, EBD and a few other acronyms that don’t really help with circuit fun but work wonders at saving lives and precious metal on the road.

The safety electronics have an annoying tendency of kicking in too early, provoking a barrage of visual and audio reminders that the Altis is a people friendly daily driver, not a track machine. It actually is a good thing that the electronics are so alert, I would rather that than them kicking in at the last possible moment. Again, this is not a track machine.

The new software upgrade for the electronic power steering system provides for a better steering feel. At low speeds it lightens up and helps with maneuvering around tight areas. At higher speeds, the steering tightens up, feels heavier and provides adequate feedback to accurately judge further steering inputs, just don’t expect it to be livewire like with its feedback.

Body roll was also very noticeable further driving home the message that the car is meant for comfort and cruising, and with the suspension doing a great job at keeping the road noise down to a shush, it was obvious that Toyota had successfully retained the DNA of the Corolla, comfort and stability.

At the handling test, the Corolla Altis proved that it is among the best in its segment, but it was at the acceleration test that the Altis came alive. Packing 145hp and 187Nm of torque backed by a Dual VVT-i system that provides maximum power all along the rev band, the system is also aided by ACIS (Acoustic Control Induction Sytem) that optimises power and torque throughout the powerband using a variable intake manifold system.

The shove in the back provided by the convergence of these two systems is reminiscent of that of a decent hot hatch, except that it doesn’t scream all the way to the redline but wafts along to the 100km/h mark in just over 10 seconds without you even noticing the gear shifts, this is made possible by a new Super CVT-i system.

The new 7 speed Super CVT-i (Continuous Variable Transmission – intelligent) is a lightweight pulley system that replaces the conventional gear system. It cancels out lag in shifts and shift-shock (that thump you get everytime the transmission shifts up or down) and is great in traffic, the shifts are so smooth that power is immediately available when you need to merge. Even when using the paddle shifters, I was surprised at how smooth and quick the shifts came along, effectively giving the car a sportier feel. Great stuf for those who only care about keeping the pedal floored.

The entry level 1.6E is priced at RM105,990 but its specifications vary tremendously. Firstly it has smaller wheels at 195/65/R15 (the other models run on 205/55 R16), its transmission is a 4 speed Super ECT system compared to the 7 speed Super CVT-i of the other models, it's steering wheel is a 4 spoke urethane and does not have any controls, like the 1.8E, it also does not have VSC and TRC.

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