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For backseat driving

autos Updated: Jul 28, 2010 15:19 IST
Shapur Kotwal

Every Diesel Toyota that’s been launched in India has been a runaway success. The Qualis had takers long after it was discontinued. The Innova dominates its segment despite its premium pricing.

And the order book for the Fortuner was so large that Toyota simply couldn’t meet the demand. The diesel Corolla Altis creates a very positive first impression. Start up the motor, let it settle into a smooth idle and you realise that this is one of the smoothest and quietest diesels available. Instead of the normal clatter at idle, you have a smooth pitter-patter. The motor revs sweetly too.

Interiors
From the backseat, where I garner my first impressions, you simply can’t tell what fuel this car runs on. It really is impressive. There’s plenty of legroom at the rear, the seat back is angled nicely and overall comfort is impressive too. However, I would have liked a little more thigh support.

The overall insulation is equally impressive. In an effort to keep the noise of the diesel motor out, Toyota has added many layers of insulation. There are three layers between the engine compartment firewall and the cabin. Two layers insulate the floor, and even the rear wheel arches get their own insulation, making the rear-seat ride a quite silent affair.

Ride
The suspension set-up is spot-on. The springs and dampers have been stiffened due to the slightly heavier diesel motor but this has had no detrimental effect on ride quality. The Altis absorbs bumps beautifully and glides over rough patches of road.

This Altis is also impresses while cruising on the highways. The addition of a sixth gear means gear ratios are more tightly packed and you have an ideal ratio for almost any cruising speed. And because the higher gears keep engine revs down even when driving at speeds as high as 120 or 140 kph, highway efficiency should be good.

Under the front bumper, Toyota has also added aerodynamic spoilers in order to smoothen out air flow over the front wheels — it claims that this also adds to highway efficiency. Toyota claims an ARAI-certified figure of 21.43 kpl, which is very impressive.

Performance
From behind the wheel, the Altis diesel doesn’t feel nearly as impressive. This is largely down to the size of the motor. While other cars in this class are powered by engines displacing 1.9 or 2.0 litres, Toyota’s motor is much smaller in size.

Despite Toyota investing in a more expensive and flexible variable geometry turbocharger, the power output is a paltry 87 bhp. Maximum torque stands at only 20.9 kgm, a figure easily trumped by the Corolla’s rivals. However, you do get the added advantage and flexibility of a six-speed gearbox with a tall overdrive gear.

What spoils the driving experience even more though is massive turbo-lag. Allow the engine speed to drop below 2000 rpm and the only way to get the car moving again is to downshift to a lower gear. There is, however, a nice spike in power after 2000 rpm and the motor pulls well till around 4000 rpm, provided you keep make careful use of the gearbox.

While stability at highway speeds is decent, the suspensions soft set-up means the chassis hasn’t been optimised for driving pleasure. There is quite a bit of body roll.

Toyota corolla diesel L/W/H: 4540/1760/1480 mm
Engine:
4 cyls inline, variable nozzle turbo, 1364cc, diesel
Installation: Front transverse, front-wheel drive
Power: 87 bhp at 3800 rpm
Torque: 20.9 kgm at 1800-2800 rpm
Gearbox: 6-speed manual
Fuel economy: 21.43kpl (ARAI test figure)
Brakes (f/r): Ventilated disc / solid disc

Verdict
The diesel Altis looks a lot like the petrol version — good features and a generally impressive finish. It is by no means ground-breaking, but what it lacks in flair, it more than makes up in practicality. It’s pretty clear that this is a car for those who prefer to be chauffeur–driven.