It’s practically known to almost everyone that the Toyota Corolla (or Corolla Altis in our region) is the best-selling car of all time globally with more than 40 million units already sold. This car is perhaps the automotive equivalent of a refrigerator. People buy a Corolla because they simply want a car that takes them from point A to point B without any fuss or drama. All of these qualities hold true even to this Toyota Corolla Altis hybrid, and while its electrified powertrain may sound revolutionary to us Filipinos, the normality of how it operates in the real world is what makes this electrified Corolla one of Toyota Motor Philippines’ most important products to date.
Whereas the Toyota Prius, especially the current model, flaunts its electrified nature through its futuristic albeit weird styling, the Corolla Altis hybrid practically flies under most people’s radar. Your only hints of this Corolla being a bit more special compared to other variants are its hybrid badges and the blue hues on the Toyota logo and the LED headlights.
Through Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda’s promise of “no more boring cars”, the Corolla Altis looks more dynamic than before. V variants such as this hybrid model ride on 17-inch alloy wheels wrapped in relatively low profile tires. And while designers made a bit more effort to give the Corolla a bit more excitement, it still looks rather conservative. However, this car’s inoffensive styling is also what makes it universally appealing to the common folk.
The same inoffensiveness practically applies to the Corolla Altis hybrid’s interior. It looks reasonably stylish, sure, but there’s none of the excitement that you find in a Honda Civic or the plushness you find in the Mazda 3. That doesn’t mean that the interior is cheap, though. Poke through the interior panels, and you’d be surprised by the sheer amount of soft-touch plastics that Toyota used. It’s the most premium Corolla interior to date, though a Mazda 3 is still the class benchmark in this regard. If there’s one thing that irritates me about this interior though, that would be the infotainment system that sticks out like a sore thumb.
Overseas Corolla models use an in-house 7- or 8-inch infotainment system that uses Toyota’s tile interface, but for some reason, Toyota Motor Philippines still insists on swapping out that infotainment for a third-party 2DIN unit. As a result, it looks out of place in an otherwise sleek cabin. In addition, the user interface is really awful and it’s irritatingly hard to connect via Bluetooth. Making matters worse is the lack of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Thankfully though, more Toyota vehicles in the Philippines are finally using Toyota’s own in-house infotainment, including the new Corolla Cross, new Hilux and new Fortuner.
Clunky infotainment system aside, space inside the Toyota Corolla Altis hybrid is excellent. I especially love how pressure point-free the seats are in these new Toyotas riding on the company’s newly-developed TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture) scalable platform. Ergonomics are also really great, with everything falling naturally to your hands, except for the clunky infotainment system of course. Those seated at the back will also enjoy the supportive seats, which are especially good for long-haul trips. Head, leg and shoulder room are pretty good, though the raised middle seat is best left for smaller adults.
Regardless of which Corolla Altis you choose, trunk space is the same at 471 liters. This is thanks to the hybrid model’s battery pack being placed under the seats. This puts the Corolla Altis in the middle of the compact sedan pack, with the Honda Civic offering a benchmark space of 519 liters.
The Toyota Corolla Altis hybrid shares the same powertrain found in the Prius, which means it consists of a 1.8-liter 2ZR-FXE Atkinson cycle gasoline engine that produces 98 hp and 142 Nm of torque. This is mated to a 600-volt electric motor that provides another 72 hp and 163 Nm of torque. In total, the whole system produces 121 hp and 207 Nm. This is mated to an eCVT (electronically controlled continuously variable transmission). Do note that the total hybrid system output is simply not a matter of adding the two power sources.
The first thing you’ll notice upon pressing the button is the sheer silence of this car. By default, the Corolla Altis hybrid always starts in pure electric mode, which makes sneaky getaways from home very easy. The electric motor itself that drives the front wheels already produces enough power on its own, which is why compared to past Toyota hybrids, this system is very aggressive at driving in pure electric mode.
Since this is just a normal hybrid and not a plug-in hybrid with a bigger battery, this car’s pure electric range hovers at around one to two kilometers. Another benefit of this is if you want to join the electrified bandwagon, owning a Corolla Altis hybrid has no learning curve. The small battery means the engine and regenerative brakes are already enough to top up the battery, which is why Toyota’s marketing team cleverly calls their hybrid cars “self-charging hybrids”, but the legitimacy of the term is a debate best reserved for another day.
Thanks to the excellent noise suppression, driving the Corolla Altis hybrid feels so serene, especially at city speeds where the gasoline engine barely needs to kick in. When it does kick in, the transition from pure electric to normal hybrid mode is seamless, at least for the most part. Your only indicators that the engine has kicked in are through the digital gauges or the slight vibration you feel at the throttle pedal as the engine breathes to life. The gasoline engine will also breathe to life when you want to overtake or drive aggressively. When you do, the eCVT makes no pretense at all of being a traditional automatic, droning the cabin with constant engine noise as you increase your speed. It’s not terrible, since noise suppression is generally good, but it’s definitely not a sporty experience if you drive this car in a spirited manner.
Also contributing to the tame driving experience is the steering. It’s not as responsive as what you would find in a Honda Civic or Mazda 3, nor does it have any feedback whatsoever. The slow steering means it’s perfect for going down long highways since you do not need to apply a lot of steering corrections. As for the brakes, hybrids tend to have a grabby pedal feel since the initial bite is due to the regenerative brakes and not the friction brakes in order to charge the batteries. That grabby feeling still applies to the Corolla Altis hybrid, but not as much as past hybrids, so good job on Toyota’s part for this.
Fundamentally though, I do believe that the Corolla Altis lineup as a whole has the potential to be a sporty sedan. The rigid TNGA platform and well-tuned suspension not only does a good job of ironing out bumps, but it also keeps the car composed when going through corners. Body roll is minimal, and thanks to the new multi-link rear suspension, this is the most dynamic Corolla in recent years. If it weren’t for the slow and numb steering, the Corolla Altis would be a completely sporty package.
Now, your main concern for owning a hybrid is its fuel economy right? Well, you’d definitely be impressed with its fuel economy figure during our week’s worth of use. How does 25.6 km/l in the city and 20.2 km/l in the highway sound? Our average, meanwhile, is at 22.75 km/l. Though the Corolla Altis hybrid has a subcompact car-like 43 liters of fuel capacity, it still had a little less than one-fourth of fuel left despite traveling more than 650 kilometers over a week, which is an amazingly fuel efficient feat for any car.
As for those seeking to save on fuel bills, the added cost of this hybrid model over the 1.6 V variant won’t be recuperated at any point in the vehicle’s life. Maintenance costs should be roughly the same as the standard Corolla Altis models since electric motors aren’t maintenance intensive, nor do these components need any fluid changes. Toyota Motor Philippines does not expect this to be a volume seller, which is why the Corolla Altis hybrid also comes with a standout feature not seen in other Corolla Altis models: Toyota Safety Sense (TSS).
TSS is the Japanese automaker’s suite of advanced driver-assist features, specifically full-speed radar cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning and an advanced lane keeping assist system called Lane Tracing Assist (LTA). LTA is able to keep the Corolla Altis right smack in the middle of the lane without any bouncing whatsoever. Combined with the human-like radar cruise control with stop-and-go that smoothly brakes and accelerates, and you’ve got a car that’s relaxing and easy to drive in long highway journeys and congested city traffic. Just remember that this is not a full self-driving feature and therefore you are still ultimately responsible for the operation of the vehicle.
The Toyota Corolla Altis hybrid is a very important car for Toyota Motor Philippines. While the Corolla Altis remains to be as popular as ever, this hybrid variant isn’t expected to be a huge seller. The reason for its importance is the fact that at P1,595,000, owning a hybrid vehicle has never been this accessible. Pragmatic the Corolla Altis may be, but the prospect of owning an electrified vehicle to Filipinos is still seen as something trendy and cutting edge.
We do not know the sales numbers of the Corolla Altis hybrid versus the standard models, but based on the amount we’re seeing on our roads, a hybrid Toyota has never been this mainstream. For that sole visual metric alone, it’s easy to say that Toyota has accomplished its goal of making hybrids more accessible to everyone.
Pricing and Rating
Exterior Design: ★★★★☆
Interior Design: ★★★★☆
Space and Practicality: ★★★★★
Fuel Efficiency: ★★★★★
Value For Money: ★★★★☆
Overall: 4.4 out of 5
*Pricing is correct and accurate as of this article’s time of writing.