Review: Toyota Corolla Altis 1.8 V HV

Text and photos by Kap Maceda Aguila

TO PARAPHRASE that almost ubiquitous tee with the swoosh, Toyota knows hybrids — even if many of us probably do not.

Quietly, the Prius has marked a decade of presence here in the Philippines. Long before fiscal relief was extended to hybrids through the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN), Toyota Motor Philippines (TMP) had made the vehicle available as perhaps a promise of what could be.

Noted and respected third-party testing company Consumer Reports fawns over the Prius — giving it, the Prius Prime (the plug-in hybrid [PHEV] version), along with, yes, the Corolla Hybrid its “Best Hybrids/Plug-in Hybrids” nods. The Honda Insight also makes its way to this elite club, although well, this model is nowhere in sight (sorry, that was just begging to be said) yet in these parts.

I am of the opinion that the correct way to regard a hybrid is to forget that it’s one. Let me explain. People are wary of the unknown, the unproven. We celebrate uniqueness, yes, but in many aspects we don’t want to be the outlier. We go for the safe, the known, the comfortable. Last year, no Priuses were sold — zero; the year before, that total was six. Hardly inspiring.

But that number is deceiving. Consider that, in September last year, Toyota Motor Philippines launched in a big way the all-new Corolla Altis. Bar none, the Corolla is the most successful nameplate in history. We grew up aware of the name and the many iterations of the car that is today being built in 15 plants spread over 13 countries. More than 46 million Corollas have rolled out of production lines. Locally, it holds a dear place in our hearts to the tune of some 220,000 sold over the decades.

The additional significance of the 12th generation’s release is that it is the first Corolla generation to feature a hybrid variant. Since its local launch, 89 units of the hybrid variant (1.8 V HV) have been sold. Whether it is a result of a more attainable price point (P1.58 million versus the P2.339 million tag of the Prius) or the undeniable familial affinity with the Corolla brand, more people today are surely getting a better appreciation of hybrid benefits. The word is getting out, finally.

While the Prius has certainly taken giant leaps in the looks department, there may still be people out there who think it’s just a little too funky-looking for their palate. On the other hand, the Corolla hybrid assumes the look of its ICE-powered brethren, with tasteful, tiny cues to indicate a hybrid heart. There’s the blue tinge on the front logo and within the headlamp assembly (featuring bi-beam LEDs and LED daytime running lamps), plus tiny “Hybrid” decals on the back and side.

It has a rather subdued front fascia, marked by a black maw-like feature on its lower portion flanked by two chrome-accented fang-like pseudo air dams. The rear is also highlighted by chrome appointments and small, elegant taillamp assemblies (LEDs, too). It’s almost as if the Corolla doesn’t care to stand out — and in a good way. You could easily see the shared look with its luxe big brother Camry. It’s not far-fetched to invoke the gods of Lexus because you could almost sniff out their handiwork here.

The muted look extends into the dark-colored interior with an uncomplicated layout. Dull silver accentuates the black, soft-touch materials of the dash and door panels. There’s nothing to feel “threatened” by within. We’ve heard that some people think a steep learning curve precedes comfortable hybrid ownership. Perish the thought. In fact, the only thing that might initially jar you is that when you first push the start button, you might not realize the car is already good to go because, well, you don’t hear or feel a thing.

That’s the electric motor, capable of delivering up to 71hp, at work. When its state of charge and your demand for power allow, the 1.8-liter, four-cylinder VVTi engine (97hp, 142Nm) shuts off and gives way to battery-powered goodness.

And when the internal combustion engine does engage (remember that you don’t have to fuss over the operation as the vehicle does everything automatically), the nickel-metal hydride battery charges. Three driving modes are available (Sport, Eco, Normal), giving the driver more control over throttle response. It might surprise you that this Corolla can actually get pretty zippy — all the while saving you frequent trips to the gas station. I had the hybrid with me over the Christmas season and, despite the insane congestion, it mustered 18 kilometers per liter with nary a sweat. I wasn’t even half trying to hypermile. We asked some TMP people who reported that their local, real-world testing yielded an average of 22kpl.

Some motorists have expressed fears that wading through floods in a hybrid might mean electrocution. Toyota assures us that the electric motor’s battery (which is under the rear seat) has a waterproof cover. In the remote change that reason water seeps in, the system will cut the battery out.

The Corolla Altis rides on the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform, which imbues benefits in the areas of agility, stability, and visibility. It’s a platform the Corolla shares with the Prius and the Lexus UX. NVH (noise, vibration, and harshness) levels have also been mitigated, a quality I can attest to.

The hybrid variant of the Corolla Altis is given the Toyota Safety Sense suite of features first seen in the new Hiace Super Grandia Elite. As in the van, the 1.8 HV gets a pre-collision system (PCS), lane departure alert (LDA), and automatic high beam (AHB). Meanwhile, it debuts in the Philippine market the lane tracing assist (LTA) and dynamic radar cruise control (DRCC) functions. All these mean a safer drive, and I did feel like someone was minding how I was at the wheel.

In addition, standard on all Corolla variants are seven SRS airbags, anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, vehicle stability control, hill start assist, and three-point emergency locking retractor seatbelts for all occupants.

So really, who’s afraid of hybrids? Why should you be?

Fuel economy, parking sensors and camera, suite of safety features, good looks in and out, head-turning 17-inch alloys, ample power, rear blower

Infotainment head unit needs an upgrade, USB port on side of unit is unsightly

Finally, a hybrid for you and me.