New 2014 Toyota Corolla Altis - Test Drive
The Toyota Corolla Altis is Bangkok’s taxi. Over the years I have spent countless hours as a passenger in the Altis, but not a lot of time behind the wheel of the most popular C Segment car in Bangkok. In fact, it has been 6-years since I drove the 2008 Altis.
Last month I finally got behind the wheel of the “All-new” 2014 model and I’d like to share my opinions but before that I’ll cut to the chase and state it up front: The 2014 Altis is a great car! But... it isn’t perfect.
In keeping with the industry standard of making each successive generation of a model bigger than the outgoing model, the 2014 Altis is bigger than ever before. The wheelbase has stretched by 100mm which means it now matches the Nissan Selphy at 2700mm in this crucial measurement. Naturally this translates into increased cabin space which is particularly apparent when you sit in the back where there is generous legroom. And since the virtually flat floor has been carried over there will be comfort for 3 in the back. Toyota should also be applauded for the inclusion of a proper 3-point seatbelt for the center passenger. Actually scratch that, Honda, Chevrolet and others should be ashamed that they don’t include this as standard across the range. Penny pinch in other areas that don’t involve active or passive safety please! But, more on that later.
Back to the dimensions for a minute: The Altis has grown so much that if the car had been released in 1996 it could have easily carried the Camry badge! Comparing it to the outgoing Altis, the new car is 80mm longer at 4620mm, 15mm wider at 1775mm, but the height has been reduced by 5mm to 1460mm. In reality, this reduction in height is at the expense of ride height, and the car now sits just 130mm off the ground, rather than 155mm before, so the interior height is even more generous than before.
The Altis has grown, but has it improved? Well, the answer to that is yes. The outgoing Altis is a smooth and very comfortable car to drive, with good refinement and light controls. The 2014 Altis is noticeably better. I have recently driven the Proton Preve, and the Honda Civic hybrid, and the Altis is comfortably ahead in terms of cabin insulation and refinement.
As a result the 2014 Atlis is a quiet and peaceful car. I was also aware that external noises entering the cabin are at a minimum too. Otherwise loud traffic seemed far away, rather than right next to me. I realise that I’m dwelling on this point, but it is a major strength of the new Altis, and something that will matter to the average Altis customer. The test car Toyota provided was a 1.8 S (now known as ESport) which was riding on 17” alloys with 215/45 tires. Even so, tire noise wasn’t an issue either, and even over ruts and bumps the Altis suspension did an excellent job of smoothing out the surfaces.
While it may be true that many driving enthusiast and a seemingly large portion of the motor reviewers out there don’t seem to care for the CVT in general, the reality is that it seems perfect in the smooth Altis. Accelerate hard, and the engine revs will jump and hold while the transmission does all the work. Once you reach your intended speed and lift off, the revs will drop sharply and that’s it. No lag, no stepping, just linear acceleration with no fuss.
Should you prefer to feel more involved, the CVT comes standard with a sequential shift mode, allowing you to select from 7 gear ratios. These are actually virtual gears, where the computer will simply lock the CVT to simulate a physical gear. This counteracts the main advantage of the CVT: fuel economy, but adds excitement. The ESport and 1.8V Navi models also include steering wheel mounted paddle shifters.
In 2008 I bemoaned the lack of up-to-date engine tech in the Thai Alits. While Europeans, and even some of our Asian neighbours were treated to the then-new Dual VVT-i engines, we here in Thailand were left behind in 2002! The 2008 Altis also carried over the tired 4-speed automatic. Thailand did finally get the Dual VVT-i engines and the 7-speed CVT option on higher end models by the time the mid-life facelift came along.
The good news is that the 4-speed automatic is no more, replaced across the range with the CVT, and the 5-speed manual has been replaced by a new 6-speed box. This will help save fuel at cruising speed, but since this is only mated to the 1.6 litre engine in the base J model, it will not be popular.
This is one area of major disappointment for me personally. I’m currently shopping for a new car, and frankly speaking I will not even consider buying a new car in 2014 that fails to meet my expectations regarding safety specification. Anytime we buy anything there is always some element of compromise involved because nothing is ideal. Having said that, is safety an area where we should be willing to compromise?
I bought my last car in 2009, and it was a 2002 car. So we are talking 12 year old technology. However, that car came equipped with ABS, EBD, BA, VSC and TRC. In my opinion these systems should be standard on any car, but at a minimum ABS, EBD and BA should be required. The car also had 6 airbags, including full curtain airbags. Remember this was a 2002 car.
Back to 2014, and one would expect that there would be significant advances in safety systems, so how does the Toyota stack up to my 2002 car?
Not well! The base Toyota lacks ABS, EBD, BA, VSC and TRC! That isn’t funny, it is sad! All other specifications beyond the base model include ABS, EBD and BA, while only the 1.8V Navi includes VSC and TRC.
How about airbags? The good news is that airbags are now standard across the range. The bad news is that there are only 2 airbags! Side and curtain airbags are not even available as an option. Consider that we are talking about a car costing 769,000 baht that gives you five seat belts and that’s it! The range topper has good active safety systems, but passive safety is lame for a car costing over 1 million baht.
No 2.0 litre?
For now the Altis is only available with the 1.6 and 1.8 engines variants. Other SE Asian nations do get the 2.0 litre engine though, and it is possible that Toyota Thailand will introduce a 2.0 litre model at some stage in the future. E85 compatibility might be a reason that the 2.0 has been dropped for now, as E85 drinkers benefit Toyota in terms of tax rates.
This leads on to another issue with this new Altis:
Now this is where things are a little hard to work out. On the one hand, the Altis has grown bigger, and one could argue that it is almost a match for the Camry just a few generations ago, and for that reason, the Altis might seem like it is offering good value for money. Indeed even when you stack it against the Civic, it does seem to offer reasonable value.
However, ignoring the 1.6 J, and 1.6 J CNG for their lack of even ABS in a country that has a very wet rainy season and poor road conditions, we have to move up to the 1.6G at 829,000 baht, or the 1.8E at 839,000 to enjoy even these basics. That is a lot of money when you look at what you can get elsewhere.
For example, if you are concerned with safety specification you can get cars with side and curtain airbags for less than the price of the 1.6 J MT at 769k. Here are a few examples. The Proton Prevé and Ford Fiesta can both be had for 759k, each with side and curtain airbags. The 2014 Honda City is 749k in top trim, also including 6 airbags.
Yes, these are all compromises, but not when it comes to safety.
The Altis is good, but I don’t think it is good enough. I strongly urge everyone with a desire to see a reduction in road deaths in Thailand to avoid buying from manufacturers who compromise on safety.
Toyota is currently the worst offender in this regard. The Altis was an opportunity for Toyota to finally address this by including better standard safety specification. This should have been Toyota’s top priority.
It isn’t as if airbags are expensive! The price difference between the Honda City SV (with 2 airbags) and the SV+ (with 6 airbags) is a mere 15,000 baht. Since the SV+ does include a few other extras like seat-belt warning for the front passenger, we can derive that the average cost per airbag is somewhere shy of 3,750 baht. Hardly going to break the bank, is it Toyota?
If safety isn’t your main concern then Toyota will be happy to sell you the new Altis, since it isn’t their main concern either. If on the other hand, you want to encourage companies to keep providing the latest safety spec on cars in the Thai market, please consider something else. Compromise on something other than safety.