Cars

Is the Toyota Corolla Altis Hybrid Worth the P1.61 Million Price Tag?

We get reacquainted with the Toyota Corolla Altis Hybrid.
IMAGE ERIC SORIANO
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The Toyota Corolla Altis Hybrid and the rest of the Corolla Altis lineup find themselves in a rather unfamiliar spot. Although close to two years have passed since the 12th generation of the world’s bestselling vehicle was launched in the Philippines, current-gen Corolla Altises are still a rare sight on the roads today. That’s just too bad because the Corolla Altis Hybrid has quite a number of stellar qualities that will surprise car shoppers—if only they would give this Corolla Altis a second look.

You're looking at one of the most fuel-efficient cars in the country
Photo by Eric Soriano.

How it looks 

Let’s start with its aesthetics. I have been around long enough to have gotten up close and personal with the last nine Corolla generations. I even got infatuated with a couple of them during their heyday: the E70 Corolla liftback from the early ‘80s and the E90 Corolla from later that decade. But I think the 12th generation Corolla is the fairest of them all. I find the styling of the Altis Hybrid quite mesmerizing and oftentimes caught myself just gazing at the car while it was parked during a recent week-long test.

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The slender C-pillar (the rearmost pillar holding up the roof and framing the rear windshield) and the short downward-sloping rear decklid gives the car a very sporty profile. The pointy two-tone taillight clusters are rather minimalist, while gouges on the rear bumper are a nice touch.

From certain angles, the hood, headlights, grille, and bumper look flush with each other. The blacked out bumper opening for engine cooling and chrome trim around the fog lamps lend an air of aggression. Seventeen-inch wheels wrapped in beefy 225/45R17 rubbers complete the car’s athletic stance. 

The Altis Hybrid looks great from this angle

Photo by Eric Soriano.

  

Cow-friendly seats

Environmentalists are not the only ones who will love this car and its fuel-sipping ways (more on that later). Vegans will appreciate the Altis Hybrid too because of its cow-friendly synthetic leather seat upholstery (kudos to Toyota for this!). 

Angular contours of the front seats give the cabin a very youthful vibe

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Photo by Eric Soriano.

The center of the speedometer can be configured to display hybrid system status, trip computer info, and driver safety aid settings. A button next to the gear shift lever lets you select from Eco, Normal, and Sport drive modes. There is also another button for brake hold, which allows the driver to keep the car stationary in traffic without having to shift out of Drive or having to engage the parking brake. The cabin is a pleasant place to while away the traffic but I had difficulties linking my Android phone to the audio system running on Toyota’s T-Link operating system.

Atkinson cycle in a nutshell

The heart of this car is its fuel-sipping hybrid powertrain composed of a 1.8-liter four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine and its electric motor sidekick. The Altis hybrid’s engine is pretty much a conventional engine except that the Atkinson cycle delays the closing of the intake valves during the compression stroke.

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If you played with a syringe as a kid—hopefully without a needle and with no banned substances in it—you can think of the syringe as the Altis Hybrid engine’s combustion chamber and water in the syringe as the air-fuel mixture. Imagine covering the syringe outlet with one finger (the closed intake valve) while trying to inject the water out. The extra effort needed to eject the water is similar to an engine’s pumping losses or the additional energy required to make the pistons reciprocate. 

The secret to getting 93.8 km/L...is to drive downhill

Photo by Eric Soriano.

Taking off your finger covering the syringe outlet as you squeeze the water out is like having an intake valve partially open during the compression stroke of the Atkinson cycle. The amount of air-fuel mixture in the combustion chamber is reduced as some of it is returned to the intake manifold. And just as it becomes easier to eject the water out of the syringe, the engine requires less energy to compress the air-fuel mixture. Both of these factors result in less fuel used up. 

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The engine’s fuel efficiency gains however come at the expense of lower power and torque as it is rated only at 97 hp and 142 Nm of torque. This is where the electric motors come in. When the gas engine and the electric motors work in tandem, they produce 121 hp—still a rather modest figure—but it’s enough to keep up with practically anything on the road. 

Parents, beware

After pressing the Power button to start the engine, you hear practically nothing as the Altis Hybrid runs in EV (electric vehicle) mode powered solely by the electric motors. The only sound heard inside the cabin is a barely audible hum of the electrical system coming to life, making it easy to sneak the car out of the garage (beware, Altis Hybrid owners with teenagers in the household).

If the battery has enough juice, the car can cruise at up to about 70 kph for a few kilometers as the engine slumbers. The engine awakens after hitting the aforementioned speed, when the motors’ batteries need charging, or when the motor can no longer keep up with the demands of the driver’s right foot.

Greta (Thunberg, not Barretto) might approve of this car

Photo by Eric Soriano.
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When the gas engine is running, the powertrain goes into EV mode a split second after the driver eases off the accelerator. The batteries then get recharged as they harvest the kinetic energy from declaration or braking. It’s amazing how the hybrid system does all these seamlessly. An EV mode button lets you switch to electric propulsion on-demand provided certain parameters are met.

My only complaint about the hybrid system was the high level of noise generated during prolonged engine braking as I descended from Baguio City via Marcos highway.

On twisty roads, the Altis Hybrid handles very predictably. The suspension and tires soak up road imperfections rather well.

Great expectations (met)

I was expecting the Altis Hybrid to produce good fuel consumption figures but it exceeded my expectations big time. With normal driving techniques in moderate traffic around Metro Manila, I managed to squeeze 23 km from every liter of fuel—probably more than twice as many kilometers to a liter as what the non-hybrid 1.6-liter Alits will do in similar conditions. In highway driving, the Altis Hybrid did even better, returning an astonishing 34 km/L. The Altis Hybrid is inarguably one of the most fuel-efficient cars on Philippine roads today.

Toyota claims that the battery is expected to last as long as the vehicle itself. Considering Corollas’ track record for long-term reliability, that says a lot about the Japanese carmaker’s confidence in the lifespan of the Altis Hybrid’s batteries. 

The car looks good from any angle

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Photo by Eric Soriano.

Pesos and sense

The Altis Hybrid sits atop the Altis range and its P1.610 million suggested retail price is about P600,000 more than the entry level Altis 1.6 E and P380,000 more than the top non-hybrid Altis variant, the 1.6 V. Will the fuel savings from the Altis Hybrid pay for the difference in vehicle price when compared to the 1.6V? Assuming one drives 10,000 km a year, fuel cost stays at P53 per liter, and the average fuel consumption of the 1.6 V is 8 km/L while the Hybrid gets 20 km/L, you will recoup the P380,000 in nine years. 

Here’s another important figure: for every liter of fuel we consume, about 2.3 kg of carbon dioxide exits from our tailpipe. Using the same annual distance travelled and fuel consumption assumptions above, the 1.6 E will emit 2.9 metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere—more than twice the weight of the car itself—in just one year while the Altis Hybrid will emit about 65 percent less or just over one ton of the greenhouse gas. 

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Blue lights help distinguish the Altis Hybrid from its non-hybrid siblings

Photo by Eric Soriano.

The icing on the cake for the Altis Hybrid’s is Toyota Safety Sense, a comprehensive suite of passive and active safety features that’s hard to come by in any other vehicle in the sub-P2 million range. Lane Departure Alert gives off a beep and a warning light goes on when the system senses that you are veering off your lane unintentionally. If that doesn’t work, Lane Tracing Assist gently tugs at the steering wheel to keep you in your lane (sensors can read lane markings). Dynamic Radar Cruise Control adjusts your speed to maintain a safe distance from the vehicle ahead and can make the car accelerate and decelerate accordingly. The Pre-Collision System helps prevent crashes by alerting the driver that the vehicle ahead has suddenly decelerated or stopped. It also preps the brakes to quicken engagement and shorten stopping distance.

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Industry-wide compact sedan sales will inevitably shrink further as consumers prioritize the extra space and better flood resistance that crossovers, multipurpose vehicles, and SUVs offer. But for the consumers bent on getting a compact sedan, they can’t go wrong with the sharp-looking, frugal, and safe Toyota Corolla Altis Hybrid.

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