Are you ready for this hybrid?

I don’t think anyone is going to dispute the fact that our motoring future is undoubtedly electric, with hybrid-electrics at the very least, as an initial step. All manufacturers are pushing hard and are releasing some pretty interesting offerings. So why are Pinoy buyers so on-the-fence about our electric future?

It’s not from a lack of choice as there are a few options on offer now. And as early as 2009 Toyota was already offering the Prius Hybrid locally. But let’s face it, despite its success overseas, cleaner emissions and killer mileage figures, the price of around 2.3M pesos wasn’t exactly inviting enough for the local market to give hybrids a try. Sure, we love our Toyotas for their bulletproof reliability, ease of parts and maintenance and if we’re going to call a spade a spade, somewhat cookie-cutter design. And I mean that in a good way, meaning styling that’s not too out there and pleases a large majority.

But the Prius was a tough sell. As I mentioned, it was expensive, it was a little too forward for our market at the time in terms of its look, and there was the nameplate itself: Prius. It’s totally alien to Pinoy buyers and we wanted nothing to do with it.

Well Toyota may have just hit the nail on the head with this latest hybrid offering. Their strategy? Reintroducing us to the idea of electric under a badge that were all comfortable with. The Corolla Altis.

Photo by Paolo Abrera

This is the first time Toyota is offering the Corolla Altis as a Hybrid in our market. Underneath the hood is a 1.8L gasoline engine that produces 98hp mated to an electric motor that is capable of 72hp.

And no, it’s not as simple as adding those two figures to come up with the total output. With all other factors taken into consideration you have a rather modest 121hp and 142Nm of torque. On paper, it’s down on power compared to close rivals in the category, the 1.8L Honda Civic and the 2.0L Mazda3. But then again you’re probably not looking at the Altis Hybrid for power — you’re looking for the superior mileage that a hybrid can offer. And if reports from other users are to be believed, we may see up to 28 km/l. To be transparent, when I took it out for a test drive, I was hovering at an average in the 17-18 km/l range, but a lot of what you can get really does depend on your driving habits. If you’re smoother on the gas and brakes, then you should be looking at 20-22 km/l easy.

Photo by Paolo Abrera

The look of the new Corolla Altis is perfect for what it is, a modern hybrid option for those looking for a more “traditional” look. Don’t get me wrong, the Altis has never looked better than this 12th generation, but it definitely doesn’t go the overly futuristic route in terms of styling that you often see with hybrids and EV’s. I see a touch of Lexus flavor to the horizontal-slat lower grill, bi-beam LED
headlamps, with interesting touches of blue-anodized elements inside the headlamp housing (which you only find on the hybrid model, incidentally). The rear has got some treats for the eyes too with its slim LED tail lamps, and C-shaped creases on either corner of the rear bumper that mirrors the look on the front. Overall a thoroughly more modern Altis with a definite sportier attitude.

On the inside, you’re treated to some pretty clean styling that again is not overly space-agey and will resonate well with the core market as well as the incoming younger set who may be looking at a smart eco-sedan as an option. Seats are worth a special shout-out for their comfort and the full digital cockpit gives you the benefits of a modern digital instrument cluster with a slight analogue feel to the way it’s been laid out. The infotainment could have been up-spec’d a bit considering this is a very tech-laden offering, it does get the job done but the lack of Apple Carplay and Android Auto is a big omission that will hopefully be addressed later on.

I think the best thing that can be said about the new Altis drive experience is it feels, well, “normal.” It accelerates as it should, suspension is good, handling is fine. It drives almost exactly the same way a conventional combustion-engined Altis does, and with the modern driving aids onboard, in some areas of the drive experience, it’s better than it’s ever been.

And that is a very good thing for people who are sitting on the fence. Apart from the fact that the 1.8L gas engine is unusually quiet to begin with, things get eerily silent at times when you realize there are moments when the car has shut off the gas power and has seamlessly switched to pure EV power for slower speeds like crawling in traffic or coasting downhill.

Photo by Paolo Abrera

Definitely worth mentioning the Toyota “Safety Sense” package that comes baked into the car. Adaptive cruise control, Toyotas version of lane-tracing assist/departure warning, and auto hi-beam to name a few of the onboard driving aids that really take the model up into luxury car territory.

It looks good, drives exactly the same way as a combustion-engine car, gets unbelievable mileage. And then there’s the price. At P1.58M for pretty much the same drivetrain that you get in the Prius, this could very well be the mainstream hybrid that many of us on the fence have been waiting for. The more things change, the more we want them to stay the same. And with the Altis 1.8L Hybrid we’re finally getting a package that just might finally open people’s eyes to just how good a drive an affordable hybrid can be.

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