ON a recent Monday a logistical mess of family errands had somehow gotten me in the backseat of the new Toyota Corolla Altis—a rarity as I am usually a terrible passenger. But on this occasion, there were no car-writer critiques or plain backseat-sniping coming from me. And the reason was simple; plenty of legroom.

    We’re not talking roomy-for-a-compact-car space here, but roomy for. . . well, a limo comes to mind. With me directly behind the driver—who is tall for a Filipina—the amount of space in front of my knees (I’m no shortie, either) was simply a vast spread of nothingness. I am exaggerating, of course, but not really much. The present, 11th-gen Corolla is a true lesson in clever packaging, considering its exterior really did not grow that much, if at all, from the previous model’s.

    Besides cabin room, the Corolla Altis’s interior furnishings are also a treat now. While the old car’s weren’t really hideous but rather just plain, the new model’s are stylish, with their silvery touches and shiny black trim and a lighting scheme that has gone all modern. Beige still rules, so the fabric seat covers on the car pictured here—a 1.6 V (Price: P1.014 million, including the P15,000 hike for the pearl white paintjob)—easily get dirty, but it can’t be argued that, every cabin piece considered, the look is now upscale.

    The latest Corolla Altis’s exterior has also been markedly revamped, its styling now sporting adventurous, rakish lines and contours. The production version got toned down from the concept Toyota had earlier hyped, but still the car’s looks are more distinctive than before.

    To match the sheet metal’s racier looks, Toyota, interestingly, seemed to have stiffened up the latest car’s suspension a bit, even if many of the parts remain unchanged. I am not too sure I welcome this—the previous model was quite a refined ride—but then Toyota must be shooting for more dynamism in the current Altis.

    But then electric power-assist steering comes in, dumbing down tiller response more than ever. Also, the car’s CVT isn’t the least bit energetic, preferring to take its time in shifting down while very eager to shift up. With this bolted to a 1.6-liter engine—the 1ZR-FE mill that is a carryover from the previous car—dynamism certainly isn’t the result. Simply, the 120hp (at 6,000rpm) and 154Nm (5,200rpm) power outputs are not enough.

    For sipping fuel, the engine-and-CVT combo is all right, though. And so is the general ease with which the car can be driven on a daily basis. In the 1.6 V variant, Toyota may be off the mark in making the Corolla Altis more exciting, but for those seeking ample family space, this one is best in class.

    It shuts up backseat-sniping car writers, after all.


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