A new generation of the Toyota Corolla has been introduced, on average, every 5 years, and for almost every generation, customer requirements as well as expectations have changed. In fact, the Corolla of today has evolved significantly from the first generation that was launched in 1966, 48 years ago. Its size has increased and its looks have also changed with the times, while technological innovations have improved fuel efficiency, performance, reliability, durability and safety.

With the first few generations, it was easy enough to come up with a basic model that suited all the countries that it would be sold in. However, over time, as the Corolla was introduced in more and more countries – over 150 at last count – the requirements became diverse as different countries and regions have different economic states, while consumers have also become more demanding and expect good value for money as well as higher safety standards.

For Shinichi Yasui, chief engineer of the 11th generation of the Toyota Corolla Altis launched in Malaysia today, coming up with a product to meet all those diverse requirements was a big challenge (though every Corolla chief engineer has faced the same sort of challenge). But to add to the challenge was the directive from Akio Toyoda, President of the company, who wants the cars to be more dynamic and ‘fun to drive, again’. Having begun his motoring experiences in the days when young Japanese men enjoyed the exhilaration of driving cars like the AE86 Levin (the legendary ‘hachi-roku’), he knows that the element of motoring fun has been missing from Toyota products for a long time. And he wants to bring that back and in doing so, he believes that it will be good for the company.

The new 11th generation on the left and the previous generation on the right

And so the first impression one gets of the new Corolla Altis which is the 11th generation, is one that is a departure from what you have usually see with this model. It has a stronger visual impact than the previous generations as its styling is more expressive. The chiselled exterior design is taken from the “Iconic Dynamism” theme that was used for the Corolla Furia Concept which previewed the new generation. Though it is slightly larger, the car still has a compact appearance, thanks to a profile that tapers at the front and rear to emphasize the wheel arches and wheels-to-the-corner stance.

Corolla Furia Concept

The measurements for the tauter, more athletic shape are greater than the previous model with 80 mm more overall length and 16 mm more width. This has allowed the extension of the wheelbase by 100 mm (to 2700 mm) which has been utilised to give rear occupants more space (and it would also have some positive influence on handling).

In shaping the Corolla Altis, attention was given to improve aerodynamic efficiency. This not only helps in improving fuel economy as there is less wind resistance but it also lowers noise levels, especially at higher speeds. Aero-stabilising fins (used on the Camry and Vios) on the door mirrors, at the rear combination lamps, and front and rear bumper corner shapes, regulate airflow along the sides to reduce turbulence and enhance straightline stability.

The increased size has, surprisingly, not resulted in the car getting heavier and according to Mr. Yasui, the overall weight is fairly similar to the previous generation (depending on variant). The secret to preventing the weight increase has been increased use of high tensile steel throughout the body structure. A lighter type of steel (but costs more) it can be reduced in thickness to optimize the shape of structural panels while increasing strength to help improve rigidity and collision performance. Weight-savings amount to around 5.7 kgs per car structure.

The overall bodyshell rigidity has also been enhanced through an increase in the number of body spot-welds, a coupling of the front suspension spring supports with a straight-shaped cowl front, an improvement to lateral rigidity within the underbody, and an increase in structural rigidity around the back panel. Additional bracing (tunnel brace and rear floor brace) also helps increase platform rigidity.

Talking of safety, the provisions that come as standard for passive safety (protection when an accident occurs) are listed in the catalogue only as two front airbags and ISOFIX points for compatible childseats.

Of course, the GOA (Global Outstanding Assessment) bodyshell also contributes to passive safety as it protects the occupants during an accident.

But many people feel that just 2 airbags for a model in this class is disappointing as there are other models in the local market with more passive safety features and up to 7 airbags (and they cost less too).

However, UMW Toyota Motor seems to have adopted the approach of letting customers decide just how much safety they want. There may be those who are willing to accept two airbags and pay less money while those who feel that they must have protection as high as what customers in Europe get can opt for the Additional Safety Package which adds another 5 airbags (front sides, over the front/rear windows, and for the driver’s knee) as well as an indicator light to show if the passengers are belted in. This extra-cost option is only available for the 2.0V version.

When asked why it is not available (as an option) for all the versions, the answer was that the demand will be monitored and if there is sufficient demand from buyers of the other variants, then the package will be offered as well. It seems odd that the package is limited to only the 2.0V version when the other versions obviously have the same body structure and fittings but according to someone familiar with the product planning, it is not that straightforward as the wiring differs between variants and there would have to be a slightly different package for other versions. And for now, Toyota seems inclined to wait and see what the market feedback is before committing suppliers to a bigger volume. Of course, the easy way would be to just make 7 airbags standard but that would increase the price which poses a great challenge in the Malaysian market where buyers are so price-sensitive.

As for active safety which helps the driver avoid an accident, the handling has been improved, as mentioned earlier. All versions come with ABS managing the brakes as well as electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist which boosts braking pressure during emergency braking. Only the 2.0V gets Vehicle Stability Control and Traction Control to help the driver stabilize the car in slippery conditions.

The new Corolla Altis continues with a Macpherson strut front suspension and torsion beam rear suspension. It looks the same as before but there are quite a number of changes. The front suspension, for example, has a new, more rigid control-arm design. The torsion beam’s attachments points are now fastened to the body at a slanted, diagonal angle for its bushings as opposed to the straight attachment orientation of the previous generation. This diagonal attachment point layout is said to contribute to improved rear handling, grip, and stability.

The Corolla Altis 2.0G and 1.8E come with 16-inch alloy wheels and 205/55 tyres while the 2.0V has 17-inch wheels shod with broader 215/45 tyres.

As before, the assistance for the steering system is by means of an electric motor. The engineer have ‘tuned’ the system to provide a degree of feel and ‘weight” while increasing its sense of directness by more structurally rigid steering intermediate shaft. Our first driving impressions suggested that the tuning of the steering feel could be reviewed as the feedback was still not enough.

The powertrains are essentially the same as before with the ZR engines available in 2.0-litre and 1.8-litre displacements, but a 1.6-litre option is no longer available. It’s quite a change from the time when the original Corolla had a 1.1-litre engine. Actually it started off as a 1-litre unit but the displacement was increased by 70 cc at the last moment, giving the Toyota an edge over the rival Datsun model. Then over time, the displacements increased to 1.3 litres, 1.6 litres, 1.8 litres and during the past 10 years, up to 2 litres. Some markets got the bigger engines earlier to compensate for stricter emission control regulations that ‘strangled’ the engines initially.

On paper, there are no changes to the outputs of the engines in the latest generation but Mr. Yasui said that both engines – which have variable valve timing on the intake as well as exhaust sides – are a bit more economical than before.

While internal improvements have contributed to this improved fuel efficiency, re-engineering and re-programming of the 7-speed CVT (the only transmission available) has also helped to stretch each litre. The CVT for the new Corolla Altis features several enhancements to improve its efficiency and driving performance with shift points that help create a feel more similar to a conventional hydraulic automatic transmission with a torque converter. The engineers have managed to eliminate the ‘rubber band’ driving sensation where the revs climb seemingly out of sync with the increase in road speed.

To provide a more direct feel to pedal inputs, extensive analysis of conventional automatic transmission operation was made and there is a more linear connection between pedal effort and acceleration feel. The engineers addressed challenges presented by the typical CVT mechanism such as the high level of hydraulic pressure required for operation, and the optimization of the pulley ratio range to offer the best performance and fuel economy. Typically, CVT hydraulic-fluid pumps are driven at the same rate as the engine speed; as a result, the pump wastes considerable effort, impacting transmission efficiency at higher engine speeds as the pump moves more fluid than necessary to lubricate and sandwich the CVT’s belt.

The improved CVT design has its hydraulic pressure lowered to an optimal point to protect against belt slippage, while conserving drive effort to limit excess pumping losses. An oil pump with a coaxial 2-port design enables a 25% reduction in pump drive torque compared to other pump designs, and results in a greater efficiency with its reduction in parasitic engine loss.

The improvements are incorporated in the CVTs of both engines but it is believed that the one in the 1.8-litre engine has a slightly different design related to production cost. The focus of attention on this smaller engine is probably due to it being the more popular one (in ASEAN) so a more lower-cost CVT would be beneficial in view of the larger volume sold.

For the 2.0V version, paddle shifters are also provided for easier manual selection without taking the left hand off the steering wheel (for the other versions, shifting is done using the shift lever). It should be noted that the shifting points are ‘virtual’ and do not represent physical gears but give the driver a more familiar feel when accelerating hard. Selection can only be done sequential, ie 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 or vice-versa.

The cabin continues the “Iconic Dynamism” theme and through its design, use of materials, and attention to detail, it is meant to impart a greater sense of craftsmanship. In doing so, Toyota hopes that the model can gain a more upscale image.

A horizontally oriented dashboard structure helps enhance the sense of spaciousness while providing a more wide-open, intuitively functional space for interface with vehicle controls. The different components around the dashboard are made up of unified dynamic character lines, and metal-like ornamentation is applied around functional components as an accent feature.

The instrument panel is completely new and as before, the 2-litre versions get the highly legible Optitron meters that were first used in Lexus models (a long time ago). The layout is simple with a blue-theme that is also complemented by blue illumination under the dashboard. White lighting is used during the day to enhance visibility while blue illumination appears at night. The blue lighting is said to give a more relaxing experience and is easier on the driver’s eyes.

Between the two meters is the Multi-Information Display (MID) which provides data on fuel consumption, average speed, etc. To help the driver save fuel, there’s an Eco Driving Indicator Zone Display which indicates fuel consumption and when the driving is fuel-efficient, a green ECO light comes on. This usually occurs when coasting or driving at a steady speed up to about 80 km/h. It’s helpful as some drivers who are keen to lower their motoring costs will try to keep that green light on as much as possible.

For the 1.8E version, there’s a ‘3-meter’ layout (shown above right)with the MID located at the lower corner of the speedometer which is the largest meter.

Over in the middle of the dashboard, the audio system console has a ‘Cyber-Carbon’ look for the 2.0V while the 2.0G and 1.8E have a Piano Black finish. The 2-litre versions get a new DVD-AVX system as standard which features a 7-inch touchscreen display and multiple connectivity options. The system also comes with a Smartphone Link and Voice Recognition as well as a reverse camera.

As a result of the increase in the wheelbase, there’s better legroom for the rear seat occupants, with as much as 92 mm more knee room. This has also been due to the rear seat hip point being moved back and adopting a slim front seat back. The rear passenger floor is also flatter as the exhaust pipe has been re-routed under the car to offer better middle position foot room. Rear seat comfort is also enhanced with the use of denser urethane pads and foam inserts within the seats.

Besides creating more cabin space, the interior designers also improved the design of the seats to enhance support and grip for the body with increased seat-to-body contact. Extra bulges have been given to the seat bolster to enhance fitting comfort on the lower back. This new seat bolster shape prevents the pelvis from wobbling and ensures a natural driving posture. Lateral grooves have been positioned on the seat cushion to prevent the occupant’s hip from sliding forward and achieve excellent fitting comfort. The 2.0V front seats have a sporty design with added shoulder, torso and hip padding and the driver gets 8-way electrical adjustment.

The new Corolla Altis is said to offer a much more pleasant interior experience by its high level of cabin quietness. Environmental noise, in addition to road and engine sounds entering the cabin, are mitigated by an acoustic glass windscreen, improved floor carpet insulation, an instrument panel seal between the cowl and the windscreen, a fender sound insulator, and an inner dash silencer pad.

Where the equipment list is concerned, the 2.0V has all the ‘goodies’ with items like pushbutton starting, a smart entry system, and auto electro-chromic rearview mirror. However, it is good that UMW Toyota Motor is providing Toyota Premium Security & Solar Film as standard for all versions, giving drivers peace of mind in these times of increased smash-and-grab robberies. While the car itself has a 3-year/100,000-km warranty, the tinting film has a 7-year warranty and the warranty is transferable.

Customers can opt for the audio system unit which includes a navigation system. Picture on the left shows the parking sensor indicator with nearby objects shown as a red dot

As before, customers can also upgrade their audio system to include a navigation system and install an original Toyota aerokit designed for the new Corolla Altis. There’s no mention of a TRD Sportivo version at this time and maybe it will be added later in the model’s life.

Visit www.toyota.com.my to locate a showroom where you can view and test-drive the new Corolla Altis

Click here to read about the first 9 generations of the Corolla in our archives

[Chips Yap]

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