Test-drive report – Toyota Corolla Altis 1.8G

Test-drive report – Toyota Corolla Altis 1.8G

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Over the many years that I’ve been testing new cars, there have been some which have attracted a lot of attention and the new Toyota Corolla Altis was one such ‘attention-getter’. Even a chicken rice seller paused from cutting up chickens to come out and look the car over! That said a lot about the car and how public curiosity has been growing with the long-drawn ‘teaser’ advertising campaign.

From any angle, the car has a classy look and exudes ‘presence’ with its size. The front half of the car has a resemblance to the Lexus GS 300, which is a sports-oriented sedan, especially in the shape of the grille and headlights.

The headlights are certainly distinctive and purists will find the functional design very appealing. No longer are coloured lenses used for the signals and amber-coloured bulbs are fitted for the purpose. At the rear, the lighting units are styled in accordance with the latest trends which began with the Lexus IS200/Toyota Altezza.

Getting into the Altis (I am going to drop the Corolla for ‘practical’ reasons of reducing typing!), the first impression was of a more commanding position. The eye level is higher than usual, thanks to the raised hip point as well as the thickly cushioned seats. Women should like it as it gives a good all-round view.

The ambience of the interior is as classy as the exterior and for the first time, the cabin looks like the ones which I used to see in the catalogues of models for the Japanese market. I think it has something to do with the two-tone scheme as well as the optional leather upholstery which was provided in the testcar. The combination of cream leather and brown upper level makes for a nice atmosphere which is enhanced by the JPJ-compliant tinted glass.

The standard fabric upholstery has a nice feel but not many people like the pattern on it. It’s hard to describe the pattern but some of the descriptions included ‘like skin disease’ and ‘old paper’! In the catalogue, it looks nice enough but close up, it’s less appealing to the eye. I think the background texture is too light and perhaps a darker texture would be better.

The wood trim also drew mixed responses from different people who saw it. Some felt it added class while others hated it. Personally, I don’t like wood and the one in the Altis is too polished and shiny for my taste too. I can understand the aim of giving a luxurious look to the cabin and wood is associated with luxury cars. I would be just as happy with the dark gray trim which is used for the Altis 1.6E.

The driver’s seat can be adjusted to suit different people with a rotating wheel to change the seat angle for more or less thigh support. The seat length felt a bit short for me and those with longer legs may find this more obvious. The steering wheel has a nice feel to it with the frequently-held sections wrapped in gray leather while the top and bottom sections are polished wood.

The Altis 1.8G has an Optitron instrument panel and when I first heard about it, I was quite impressed that Toyota had put this in because it was originally developed for the Lexus. The strong point of the Optitron is its clarity which is achieved by using a very high-intensity cold cathode lamp. When the ignition is off, the whole panel goes black and when you turn the key, the pointers are the first to light up in red like Darth Maul’s light saber. Pretty cool and something to dazzle (no pun intended) friends with.

On the brief preview drive to Port Dickson in afternoon light, the Optitron lighting appeared to be very good but after living with it for a while, I began to find its intensity a bit too great at times other than around noon. I tried the other colours besides the white and the amber was okay but I can’t think of anyone switching to blue because it is too intense.

The problem is that there is no way to reduce the intensity because the rheostat works only when you switch on the lights (and figuring out how to adjust it required reading the manual three times because the adjustment is by the same button that sets the tripmeter and the meter colours). And in my view, even the lowest setting still seemed too bright at night although amber may be okay. Frankly, the Optitron meters are something I can do without and the conventional ones which are in the Altis 1.6E would be fine.

There’s also the green dot which marks the positioned engaged in the transmission. Its presence and intensity could prove irritating on long drives. Much better would be a square surrounding the position, as what is found on some other cars.

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