The Toyota Altis is what Kellogg's Frosted Flakes is to the world of cereal. You can have Lucky Charms, Koko Krunch, Captain Crunch, and Cookie Crisp - but nothing tastes more like home than good ol' Frosties.
Let's get the elephant out of this room, shall we? It is difficult to discuss top of the range offerings in the compact sedan segment without ever bringing up the mighty Honda Civic RS Turbo. If you are looking for something dependable in your daily commute to work, but require it to have some fizz on those weekends when you fancy a drive up to the beach, get the Civic RS Turbo. It will be worth every penny.
Now, what about the rest? Well, you have the Ford Focus, which for reasons I still do not understand, come equipped with a gasoline-powered engine. Why? The Focus diesels from the previous generation was such a hit. They had loads of torque, they smoked the competition performance-wise, and they were so fuel efficient. I know this, because I own one. Ford isn't for everyone, which I must say, I rather like.
You don't own me.
Then you have the Mazda 3. The car that was once the benchmark for driving enjoyment with its zoom-zoom qualities. Looks wise, it is still one of the best looking cars out there especially when blessed with some sport trim. The interior is stunning too. However, it doesn't offer the best space. It's a bit tight and snug, and when a car is like that, I expect it to go like stink, which it doesn't - and that stinks.
What happened there? It's a wonderful chassis born with an engine that can't produce at all. It is so slow, it can barely get out of its own way. Finally, the Mitsubishi Lancer. Do we really want to discuss this? I mean, it's pretty much gone virtually unchanged since I graduated high school. I've had more changes in my mundane and boring life than the Lancer has, so it's best that we leave it out.
"I do not like CVTs, but for some reason, it fits the personality of this car."
This means that we are left with the Toyota Altis. Sure, it isn't the most exciting car to talk about and neither is it the most exciting thing to look at. However, it does have some tricks up its sleeve to keep it relevant in today's compact segment war. For starters, let's just get right to it, it's a good car. It has to be a good car, because it isn't a daring one. It is unmistakably a Corolla, which means that out of all the cars here, it's this one that has close ties to its lineage - and I kind of like that. It remains true to itself. Sure, there are some faux sporty bits about it, like a pseudo rear diffuser and a body kit - but I must say, the package comes together very well.
I happen to like the way it looks. It has an understated look to it, and in the right color which cannot be red, I dare say that it looks elegant. I prefer the nose of the older car, but everything else looks great. I love the new shoes and I love that the tail lights are smoked in grey, which is reminiscent to aftermarket brake lights in Volkswagens and BMWs of the past. It looks European and that's quite a compliment.
Years of decadence.
The interior gives me a slush of emotions. I do love the architecture which harks back to the boxy Corollas of the late 80s to early 90s. I love that it has kept two full analog gauges for the tachometer and speedometer. I also like the new infotainment system that is very reminiscent of those found in modern day Subarus, but then again I'm also not completely sold on it, because I'm a bit old school in that I prefer buttons. I don't like guessing while I'm driving.
The car comes equipped with everything you'll ever need, from bi-LED headlights that work like a dream at night to a rear view camera with parking sensors. The steering wheel feels very good to hold and it also feels very nice to use. It has a nice beefy and weighty feel to it, that is for the most part, absent in its competition. Attached to the steering wheel are paddle shifters, which simulate a 7-speed transmission from a CVT. Keyword, simulate.
I do not like CVTs, but for some reason, it fits the personality of this car. Even with the sport trim and the carbon fiber-esque interior trim, we've known since God spoke to Moses on the mountain, that the Altis is the least sporty car in the segment. It does not care about driving dynamics or cornering speed. It only cares about reliability, comfort, and versatility - and in that regard it highly succeeds. The seats feel great and they offer great lumbar support for the driver, which is something that I always look for. Always.
The car glides on the road and does its business so calmly, I have to respect it for that. It gives this feeling that it all just comes together correctly because it was built simply with a purpose. The CVT does its best to disburse all of the horses when I need them, and at the very least, this car does not feel underpowered. Once you get the rhythm and the flow of how the Altis likes to be driven when going quickly, it's a very cohesive experience. It just feels right, and I love that confidence in a car.
I very much prefer driving this at night, because truth be told, even with all the updates to the interior, there's still far too much plastic. It kind of feels like you're in an uber compared to the likes of its plusher competition, but if you can look past it, I would rate it highly. The powertrain is good, the space is good, the features are good, and the way it drives is good. This Altis will never score stratospherically high on anything, because it has always been the jack of all trades. It does many little things well and the sum of all of that is a good car. It has always been the safe choice, and I can see why so many people buy it.
It does many little things well and the sum of all of that is a good car. It has always been the safe choice, and I can see why so many people buy it. The true magic of this car apart from being a good overall choice is in the aftersales area. When it decides to break down, which it probably never will because Toyota is so bulletproof, you can be anywhere in the Philippines and any shop or 'talyer' can fix it until you can take it back to the dealership for proper servicing. And when you do, you won't have to wait months to get it fixed because your parts will always be ready.
The sum of all its parts.
The Toyota Altis experience has always been about the convenience and reliability of it all, which has been tested and proven over time. Everything else that comes after that, like the good looks, list of standard equipment, and surprisingly enjoyable driving experience, are all but a bonus.
If you are in the hunt for a good compact sedan that isn't trying to be anything other than a car of good quality that promises to work each and every time, there isn't a better choice for you. I really do like this car, and I completely understand why there are so many of them on our streets.
Find who you have not yet become.