Above a certain price point, car buying starts to become a game of desire versus rationale. At RM 140,000, you could easily get a used F30 BMW 3 Series or a W212 Mercedes-Benz E-Class. That’s desire talking. The rationale in you would be screaming maintenance cost and reliability.
For peace of mind then, you turn to new cars and for the longest time, the Toyota Corolla has been the embodiment of rationale. It will probably outlast cockroaches and sweep used car dealers' feet off.
Those who want something different but still safe, would go for its archrival – the Honda Civic. Honda has injected a dose of desirability into the Civic (FC) with the fastback sloping roofline and a strong turbocharged engine. Combine those with a spacious interior and a big boot, you get a winning formula.
The 12th-generation Toyota Corolla on the other hand, took an evolutionary approach and kept the traditional 3-box design. No sloping roof, no hand-sculptured bodywork like in the Mazda 3, and powertrain is carried over from before.
So, what makes the Toyota Corolla worthy of your attention? Let’s find out.
As mentioned earlier, it’s an evolution of the previous generation. Nothing radical or game-changing here and immediately recognizable as a Toyota. Apart from the chrome surrounds on each side on the bumper, I personally like how it looks from the front.
The Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla have identical overall length and wheelbase. But the Honda Civic is a little lower and with that sloping roofline, it looks longer than the Corolla.
The rear is where it gets slightly polarizing. Personally, I think the taillamps are a tad too high and the rear bumper looks rather chunky. It gets enhanced from some angles but from other angles it looks fine.
Panel gaps averaged about 4.0 mm and deviated by no more than 1.0 mm from each side. Paint thickness on the other hand, averaged in the high 90s of μm.
First thing I noticed upon stepping into the car is the length of the dashboard, which reminded me of the legendary FD generation Honda Civic. Strangely, the FD Civic feels way more spacious than the Corolla, never mind the current FC Civic.
The Corolla’s cabin feels narrower than its width suggests and worse still, it lacks storage spaces. There is a door bin, which is average-sized at best, and 2 cup holders at the centre. That’s it. There’s a wireless charging tray north of the gear lever but it would be stretch to consider it a storage space.
Apart from those, the cabin is actually is a rather nice place to be in. The seats are supremely comfortable with plenty of adjustments including lumbar and seat base angle for thigh support. Steering wheel has tilt and telescopic adjustment so driver of any size can get a good driving position.
Space in the rear is just about adequate and because the bench is high, headroom is no more than a Honda Civic despite it having a sloping roof. Kneeroom is in between the Mazda 3 and Honda Civic, so it’s alright.
Materials are par for the money. You get soft touch plastics on the top of the dashboard and door panels and hard plastics elsewhere. The armrests are covered with soft leather. Build quality is rather excellent, all the panels are well put together with no weird noises heard anywhere in cabin.
The tiny infotainment unit has been replaced by a 9-inch capacitive touchscreen unit, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. A very welcome addition. The bezels are much smaller than before which is more aesthetically pleasing. The display isn’t particularly crisp but it’s responsive and quick to load.
Sound quality is decent, not quite as crisp as the Mazda 3’s and strangely, not as rich-sounding as in the Toyota Vios. But it’s a smooth and easy-going sound signature that should be fine to most.
If you think that a C-segment sedan powered by a naturally aspirated 1.8-litre engine with 139 PS/173 Nm is slow... well, it is actually. As tested, the Corolla did the century sprint in 11.4 seconds, the slowest amongst its two main rivals.
But the Corolla isn’t about straight-line performance, it’s cruising. Mechanical refinement is excellent, powertrain is silky smooth and there are no suspension noises when going over broken surfaces.
Which is where the Toyota Corolla redeems itself - the ride and handling department. You wouldn’t expect a supple suspension setup like this to handle well, but it will run rings around the Honda Civic.
There’s a sense of fluidity in the way the Corolla handles and it sits in the corners with such composure, it feels like the chassis can handle twice its power.
The steering isn’t as quick to react as the Honda Civic's nor does it provide as much delicious feedback as the Mazda 3's. Instead, it’s a slower and linear steering response, and it isolates the driver from any road imperfections.
Driving engagement wise, the Mazda 3 still trumps and it has the GVC+ wizardry working in the background to smoothen things. But on pockmarked surfaces, you’d miss the Corolla’s pliancy and composure.
Another item you’d miss in the Corolla is the Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, which works in stop-and-go traffic. More impressively, the system is smooth in its operation without any sudden acceleration or braking.
This is, without a doubt, the most comfortable C-segment sedan on sale right now. Calling the suspension pliant wouldn’t do it justice. It’s like riding on a mattress. Only unusually sharp bumps or crater-sized potholes can send a jolt to the cabin, otherwise it’s just a gentle nudge.
Combine the plush seats with the cushiony suspension, the Corolla is by far the most relaxing car to drive in its segment. The rear passengers will also be able to appreciate the well-sculptured seats and high seat bench for a comfortable sitting posture.
However, there is one issue plaguing the comfortable ride - tyre noise. Even on Michelin Primacy 4 tyres, there is a constant drone from the tyres reverberating in the cabin. At higher speeds, wind noise will begin complementing the tyre noise.
The sound level meter recorded an average of 69 dB at 110 km/h, which is no quieter than the Toyota Vios.
After completing a 100 km journey broken down to 70% highway and 30% city driving, the amount of fuel required to fill brim the tank is 7.7 litres.
Which gives us an easy calculation of 7.7-litre/100 km. Strangely, the trip computer showed 8.5-litre/100 km.
The Toyota Corolla isn’t a car that would impress in showrooms; the cabin feels narrow, storage spaces are limited, and the powertrain is carried over from the previous generation.
To answer the question earlier, what makes the Toyota Corolla Altis worthy of your attention? Simply put, it’s comfort. The ride quality is exemplary for this sort of money and on top of that, it handles corners with a sense of surefootedness the Honda Civic wished it had.
But the Honda Civic has the advantage of power, better interior packaging and a bigger boot. On paper at least, the Honda Civic has the edge over the Toyota Corolla and represents a more complete package.
Personally however, since I’ve experienced the Corolla’s comfort level and handling prowess, I’m more inclined to pick the Corolla over the Civic.
Wow, did Toyota just make a Corolla that appeals to my desire?