Camry Jr.

Since its release in 1966, the Corolla has always been a sensible car for persons who needed a sensible daily driver that didn’t ask for too much attention. Sure there were racier, more desirable cars that carried the Corolla name, but the workaday Corolla sedan with less-inspiring specifications was always an ordinary sedan with a bit more engineering than strictly required to ensure its longevity.

Then in 2000, Toyota decided to do something different with the E110 Corolla, at least in Asian markets. They gave it a new name – Corolla Altis – a 1.8-litre engine and decided to take the car a bit upmarket. Then when the E120 Corolla was introduced in 2001, the plain Corolla was gone and the Altis was suddenly everywhere as a kind of junior companion to the Camry. Let’s take a look at what the last of the E140 junior Camrys had to offer.

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Senior management gets the Camry, middle management gets this.

What we are looking at here is a 2012 Altis 1.6 V, basically the top-line Corolla variant with the 1.6-litre 1ZR-FE engine. A 2.0 V was available with even more equipment,  but that one was more of a downsized Camry than the “Camry-lite” that the 1.6 V was.

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From the outside, the Altis looks enough like a downsized Camry that the unfamiliar might make the mistake, especially in this shade of pearl white. It is a very nice shade, and sparkles in the sun, but is a pricey option.

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While not as cutting edge as the Civic, the Altis is more upright and traditional, dropping the creases and rounded edges of the preceding E130 Corolla for a larger, boxier look.

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The high sides and small glasshouse help give the car a substantial look, and the character line that runs from the end of the tail lamps and dissolves into the front fender helps ornament the car. Door moulding breaks up the sides even more, helping to visually thin the car.

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Equipped with dual-VVTi (variable timing on the intake and exhaust sides of the engine), there’s enough power for most driving conditions. What jarred during driving was the 4-speed transmission. No, it was not the low number of ratios, but the lag that occurs when you lift off the throttle pedal for a bit and then get back on it. It’s not a long lag, but it was consistently present and a little strange. Unlike other cars where the programming for the throttle is too conservative, here it’s a case of the engine revving without any increase in forward velocity, as if the transmission had been caught in neutral before quickly pulling up a gear. So it’s probably an issue with the transmission programming, but that small lag makes it difficult to be smooth in city traffic. I suspect this is a problem that will go away with familiarity and muscle memory, but still isn’t a problem that one should deal with in a new car.

Apart from the transmission, the rest of the driving experience is perfectly adequate. Steering, brakes and suspension are all perfectly fine, with nothing standing out about the car. Again, this is a sensible choice for a sensible man with a taste for luxury, so I was not expecting any more than a sensible drive.

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The Toyota clock is curiously absent.

The centre stack is suitably well-designed, with big obvious buttons where you need them and some silver accents to lift the interior. Sure, fake wood is a bit disingenuous, but at least the matte finish is vastly better than glossy plastic wood. Toyota does get some points for having a gated shifter instead of the typical column. However, the “D3-2-1” detents are a bit archaic.

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The steering wheel buttons and bluetooth phone connectivity are not archaic, however, and help bring the 1.6 V closer to the Camry, at least in terms of equipment.

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These are typical Toyota gauges, permanently backlit so they’ve included an indicator light between the dials to tell you when your lights are on. The black centres make tracking the red needles at a glance very easy, but I do think the water temperature and fuel level gauges could be a bit larger.

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Push button start. The future is here!

The 1.6V gets a push button start and a proximity key. While keyless entry is not included, you can at least leave the proximity key in your bag or in the centre console – it’s too large to leave in pockets – and start that car at the push of a button. I’m curious as to how this will perform when the car ages and starting gets harder.

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At about the size of a matchbox and three-quarters as thick, leaving the proximity key in your pocket while driving might be an uncomfortable proposition, depending on the kind of pants you usually wear. You can also release the trunk from the fob, so that’s a useful feature, although to fully take advantage of this I think the buttons should be much more distinctive, and be easy to push even when inside your pants pocket.

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The 1.6V also comes with climate control, so you can set an exact temperature for the interior instead of having to rely on blue graphics. Like most cars today, the blower is strong enough that conversations will become difficult at the fan’s highest setting. Proximity sensors are also standard, and the beeping isn’t particularly grating. The AUX jack is a useful addition, but could have been integrated better. On the other hand, that’s better than having two plastic blanks.

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Need to check up on your face? No problem, as Toyota have devised this thoughtful arrangement. Slide the mirror cover open and the vanity light comes on. Aside from providing a bit of theatre for the unfamiliar, this beats other arrangements that place the lights beside the mirror and blind you when you try to use it. The driver gets the same arrangement, not that you should be using it while on the move.

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Dual glovebox for all your glove storage needs.

Being based on a sensible sedan, the interior is filled with thoughtful little spaces to stow things in, the largest of which being this dual glovebox. The top box is flat and shallow, so wallets, small mobile devices (“smartphones” is so early 2000’s) and tollway tickets are a natural fit here, along with maybe a thin booklet or two.

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Lots of space for standalone GPS units, phone mounts, or dash cameras.

Front passengers get this cubbyhole beside the centre stack for long, relatively thin items, with a small hook rated to carry 3kg.

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The door also has this large pocket for bigger bottles, along with a confused array of shapes and creases.

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You might remember the huge debacle that occurred when Toyota faced problems with claims of unintended acceleration. Initially, floor mats were blamed for the “sticking” pedals, and after floor mats the accelerator pedal itself came under fire. Not even the Montero comes with floor mat hooks this substantial – these pivot too – so it seems Toyota took the floor mat theory seriously.

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Growing up from its sensible family-car origins, the Corolla Altis has become a sensible near-luxury sedan. Have no doubt that the Altis is still the sensible choice for the person who wants a daily driver that won’t ask for too much attention, but this time you can have a few toys to spruce up your sensible choice. Whether those toys will last as long as the rest of the car remains to be seen, but knowing Toyota, they probably will.

It may not be a car that will set hearts on fire, but it’s dependable, comfortable, easy to drive and above all, nice. For most people that’s all they really need.

– Words by Kristoff, pictures by Eugene

 

 

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