Back in 2001, UMW Toyota wowed Malaysians with its ninth-generation Toyota Corolla Altis. Nearly 15 years ago, the Corolla Altis had a very different image in the eyes of the general public. Far from being a conservative car aimed at ‘uncles,’ the ninth-gen Corolla Altis was the car that many young executives aspired to own.
It upstaged the Honda Civic, which had a reputation for being a boy-racer’s car which was said to be a poor choice choice for one’s professional image. The Corolla Altis on the other hand, looked very different from anything else in its class, and projected a mature and sophisticated image.
In fact, the Corolla Altis was so popular that it soon became a victim of its own success – the strong demand for the car also pushed it to become the No.1 target for car theft syndicates.
At that time, the Corolla Altis was the most technologically-sophisticated car in its class.
It was the first in its segment to feature electronic stability control, or as Toyota calls it – Vehicle Stability Control (VSC). In fact, it was also the first locally-assembled car in the country to come with the feature!
Up until then, the feature was limited to only luxury cars like the BMW 3 Series.
VSC was a big deal for Toyota and its local distributor, UMW Toyota, even commissioned a television commercial touting the feature. Titled ‘Stuntman,’ the commercial is still fondly remembered by many, even to this day.
Under the hood, the Corolla Altis’ innovative ways continued. Where the Civic had to make do with a 1.7-litre VTEC engine, the Corolla Altis was powered by a more powerful, more advanced 1.8-litre ZZ-series engine and featured VVT-i technology, which was superior to Honda’s VTEC technology as Toyota’s VVT-i continuously adjusted the intake valve’s opening and closing throughout the engine’s rev range. Honda’s system (at that time) only worked at the upper-end of the engine’s rev range.
Inside, the Corolla Altis featured an Optitron back-lit instrument display. Up until this time, the Optitron feature was only available in Lexus vehicles, let alone other vehicles in its class. So you can imagine what a big leap over the competition the Corolla Altis was.
Its four-speed automatic transmission featured Super-ECT electronic control technology and had two shift programmes the driver could choose from – Power and Economy. The gear shift lever also featured a ‘gated’ shift pattern, which up until this time, was only commonly seen in Mercedes-Benz vehicles.
VSC, 1.8-litre VVT-i engine, Optitron display, Super-ECT and gated shifter – all these add up to give the ninth-generation Corolla Altis a big leap over its peers.
At that time, the range-topping Corolla Altis 1.8G was sold at around RM122,000, quite a lot of money in those days, but the high price didn’t deter buyers.
Sadly, the success of the ninth generation model was not kept up with the subsequent model. Soon, Honda countered with its awesome FD-series Civic sedan and the tables were turned on the Corolla Altis, which over the course the year lost its appeal as an innovative car and became synonymous with mediocrity.
For various reasons, Toyota has since retreated from its position of offering the most advanced safety features in its class.
Nearly 15 years ago, VSC was only offered in the highest range Corolla Altis 1.8G. Today, there is still no improvement in fitment of VSC across a wider range Toyota vehicles. VSC is still only limited to the highest range Corolla Altis 2.0V model, even though the feature is now widely available in many lower range cars on the market, nevermind its peers from the same segment.
On the upside, the current generation Corolla Altis looks really good, drives and rides very well too. Pity that it no longer challenges its peers like its predecessor two-generations before used to.
This article first appeared on our sister-site LiveLifeDrive.com.