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Altis still raises the bar on all fronts

Toyota's Corolla Altis sedan returns with a familiar but much improved experience that recalibrates expectations of mainstream cars.

Above: The new model is the same size as before (give or take a few millimetres) and has the same 1.6-litre engine, but everything else is new.

Above: The enlarged driver's digital display is clear and useful, and backed by comprehensive steering wheel controls.


HOW do you know what to expect as standard issue on any automobile today?

In the past, you would use the world's most popular car as a yardstick. The Toyota Corolla, known here as the Corolla Altis, has always been just that sort of vehicle, the platonic ideal of a regular car for regular people.

As the most mainstream of automobiles, the Corolla has never ridden the leading edge since a major part of its appeal lay in knowing exactly what you're getting. That also explains how the Corolla driving experience has over the years become a remarkably homogeneous one, for better or worse.

But while its stellar sales - at least 44 million sold over more than six decades - prove there's plenty to made selling the automotive equivalent of white goods, this new model breaks the Kitchenaid mould.

The new model is the same size as before (give or take a few millimetres) and has the same 1.6-litre engine, but everything else is new, which is a much needed shot in the arm, since you couldn't have said the same of any Corolla in the past decade or more.

If sameness was on the cards, someone forgot to tell the design team, too. There's more than a hint of sporty aggression here with the large, grimacing air intake, and the front end takes a lesson from electric vehicles (EVs) by eschewing a conventional grille.

There's a balance and familiarity to its lines too, especially around the rear taillights, which are joined by a chrome strip, a visual cue to make the car look wider and lower - something the newest Lexus models do.

Moving upscale is mirrored inside, too. There is almost no hint of it being built to a cost - the ergonomics are improved, the design and layout neater and easier to engage than ever before.

The enlarged driver's digital display is clear and useful, and backed by comprehensive steering wheel controls. Then there's a 6.4-inch touchscreen that even has a smartphone screen mirroring function, though here's where the six decades show - it only works when the car is in 'P' with the handbrake engaged.

Past Corollas had interiors built to withstand warzones and toddlers, but felt it. There's none of that here, with an obvious improvement in the feel of the buttons and switchgear, with less hard plastic to see or touch, all of which give a solid affirmation that you've got your money's worth.

It's a fine complement to one of the things that Corollas have always excelled at: A smooth driving experience.

There's a gentle progressiveness to everything, meaning the acceleration, cornering and braking. While you can argue that a Corolla is the opposite of exciting, there's plenty to be said for a car that never surprises you.

It's noticeably quieter than before, and the power delivery so smooth passengers might wonder if it's a hybrid. In fact, this generation does have a hybrid version, a Singapore first, which borrows its petrol-electric drivetrain from the Toyota Prius.

That's an engineering feat made possible by the new platform the Corolla runs on. Having ditched its old, long-carried bones, the new car adopts the TNGA (Toyota New Generation Architecture), which is shared with the Prius.

TNGA claims to deliver improved handling thanks to a lower centre of gravity and it does ring true in the Corolla. One benefit we see in the car's predictable, safe handling, but another is the fact that the Corolla gains a dynamic shine it never had before.

Classic Corollas would show a sort of resigned, butler-like acceptance if you tried to drive them around corners too quickly, but the new one is far more up for fun and games.

That's not to say it encourages hooliganism, rather the opposite. The Corolla also gains a new suite of active safety systems (the brand dubs it 'Toyota Safety Sense' or TSS), which will stop you from veering out of your lane, warn you of impending doom, brake autonomously, and even make life on the highway easier with adaptive cruise control.

The only other car in this class with similar capabilities is the excellent Mazda 3 Sedan, and the two of them are clearly leading the East Asian sedan race now.

That hasn't always been the case, with conservative engineering making past Corollas a solid, but very middle-of-the-line choice. The new Corolla combines the most important facet of Corolla-dom - a car that almost anybody can be at ease with immediately - and pairs it with a little more excitement, and features that make it, quite literally, a safer choice than ever before.

Toyota Corolla Altis Elegance

Engine 1,598cc, inline 4
Power 129hp at 6,400rpm
Torque 159Nm at 4,200rpm
Gearbox Continuously variable transmission
0-100km/h Not revealed
Top Speed 190km/h
Fuel efficiency 6.4L/100km
Agent Borneo Motors
Price S$102,888 with COE
Available Now