India has had the Corolla since early 2002, and it was a sensible, practical car. It appealed to the masses with its inoffensive styling and all was good with the world. One fine day, Honda decided to crash the party with the Civic. It wasn't a pretty sight; at least, not from Toyota's point of view.
The Altis is a massive improvement over the old Corolla as far as looks are concerned. Where the elder sibling was organic shapes and flowing lines, the new one is in-yer-face and modern. The front resembles the Camry, right from the 'comet' logo to the katana-blade headlamps. The profile is typical three-box sedan, but the A-pillar and C-pillar flow into the horizontal hood and boot with a lot of elegance.
If you look at the car from the outside, the only features that differentiate the Corolla Altis Diesel from its petrol sibling are the new black honeycomb-mesh front grille and the D4-D badge at the rear. Step inside the Corolla Altis Diesel and you will find that the dash is finished in matt-silver with the centre console in grey with wooden trim.
This car has got lots of space (more than the older car, although it doesn't seem that way!) A pleasant, upmarket-looking center console possesses fake wood bits and neatly-designed air-con controls. We particularly like the 'eyebrow' lights the recirculate and heater buttons have. The color combination of the plastics is sensible and pleasant.
The twin-pod instrument cluster houses a speedometer and tachometer, with fuel and temperature gau ges on the outside of the two instrument gauges. The dials are clear and easy to read, and the red-on-white lighting is clearer than most color combinations on offer in the market. The lights dim when the headlamps are switched on, and there is an intensity adjuster for those with sensitive retinae.
The audio system is a front-loading six-disc changer that can play mp3 and wma files. Its equaliser can take a little getting used to, but radio reception is good. We wish there was an option for an audio system upgrade - it sounds like the speakers are letting down the system. There are numerous small cubbyholes for passengers to place knick-knacks; our favourite is the novel slots that can hold mobile phones at the bottom of the centre console, to the sides. The glovebox is also worth a mention - it has an upper and lower compartment which can be opened separately, making life in the Corolla easier. Other thoughtful touches are the controls on the steering wheel, and the rear sun blind on the automatic and the top-spec manual.
The engine in the Altis is essentially the same engine from the older car, but both power and torque have increased from 125bhp and 158Nm to 132bhp and 170Nm. It is installed transversely and drives the front wheels. It utilises a DOHC mated to four valves per cylinder, and Toyota's respected VVT-i variable-valve timing system.The five-speed manual has a positive feel and slots into gear well, but hurry the shifts too much and you might miss second to third. The lever is well-designed with short throws, but we'd rather stick it in a particular gear and let the engine do the work.
The Toyota Corolla Altis Diesel has an 8-valve 1364cc common-rail, transversely placed diesel engine (engine code: 1ND-TV) that churns out 87bhp of power and produces 205Nm of maximum torque, powering the front wheels through a six-speed manual transmission. This powerplant made its debut in the European market in the Toyota Yaris, and is Toyota's first diesel engine to have an aluminum engine block that weighs just 99kgs. This oil-burner has a variable geometric turbocharger which spools after 2000rpm, and this is when most of the torque is available. Toyota has managed to reduce the turbo lag by adding on a six-speed gearbox to keep the torque curve as linear as possible, but once your engine revs at less than 1800rpm, you can feel the turbo lag. The six-speed manual transmission on the Corolla Altis gives the smaller 1.4-litre engine more mechanical advantage over the regular five-speed manual. The Corolla Altis diesel can be driven without any trouble in bumper-to-bumper city traffic, as it doesn't suffer from turbo lag and the gearing is pretty spot-on.
The Toyota Corolla Altis Diesel comes with the same suspension system as its petrol sibling which is McPherson struts in the front (It is also the most common system used on Japanese cars) and torsion beam at its rear. However the front suspension is stiffer as the diesel Corolla Altis is 55kgs heavier than it's petrol sibling. The Corolla Altis Diesel is more of a family car or a chauffeur-driven vehicle than an outright boy-racer. The Altis has a composed ride at low and high speeds and ploughs through potholes with just a muted thud. That said, the handling of the Corolla Altis cannot be compared to that of its European competitors, which can take most tight corners at good speeds without affecting the confidence of the driver. With the Altis Diesel, the culprit is probably the steering which doesn't seem to get enough feedback from the road - partly due to the modified McPherson struts which reduces some of the feel since it isolates the steering system from the road conditions. Under most driving conditions, the steering, like most Japanese cars is light and easy and it's easy to maneuver through the city traffic and whilst parking.
The Toyota Corolla Altis Diesel GL (top-of-the-line) comes for Rs 14.36lakh (ex-showroom, Mumbai) which we feel is a tad on the higher side, considering most competitors offer more in the similar price bracket when it comes to price vis-à-vis features. But then coming from the Toyota stable, it will no doubt be a hugely reliable product and the buyer will have a great Toyota ownership experience. Also, the depreciation will be lower as compared to some other cars in the segment. So, if you are an outright driving enthusiast this car may not appeal to you, however, if your needs dictate owning an economical and class-conscious sedan, in order to commute (or like to be chauffeur-driven,) your search ends at the Toyota Corolla Altis Diesel(similar is the case for petrol as its cheap to run and own when compared to competition). It may not set your heart ablaze but it ticks all the right boxes for a car in this class. A slightly more VFM tag may also help a little more on the sales numbers since the Indian consumer is looking for the most bang for the buck.