Testdrive Post-facelift the Corolla Altis offers better drive, smoother engine and good fuel efficiency figures

To buy Toyota's ageless Corolla has always been a decision authored by the head. However, the 10th generation Corolla, or the Altis, did its best to appeal to the buyer's heart with a younger and more aggressive design. Unfortunately, the drivetrain was left largely unchanged and this affected its performance. Now, however, the face-lifted Altis comes with changes under its skin that makes it more than just a cosmetic surgery.

Facial changes are noticeably minimal thanks to Toyota's policy of keeping the changes evolutionary. The headlamps have been re-sculpted and the grille in the petrol models gets some chrome. The new front bumper features a much taller air dam and the foglamp housings have been redesigned and look all the better. Another noticeable touch is the turn indicators, which are now integrated into the side mirrors. The rear bumper looks sportier too with stronger grooves and a more sculpted shape. The rear tail-lights with clear lenses and circular elements look more distinctive. And to give it some bling, there's a wider chrome strip above the number plate.

The new Altis comes with keyless entry and a start-stop button but the ‘smart' key fob looks a bit tacky. Cosmetic changes to the interiors include new perforated leather seats with motorised adjustments but the front seats could do with a more generous base for better under-thigh support. The faux wood trim and the dashboard top are now darker and this colour helps improve the perceived quality. The Corolla also gets more features such as a parking sensor and a touch-screen DVD/Media player.

Now to the business end of things. Toyota has made a significant change to the 2ZR 1.8-litre motor by tweaking the inlet tract and giving it variable valve timing As a result of these upgrades, power has been pushed up to 138bhp or 7bhp more than before while torque has improved by 0.3kgm. However, these numbers don't convey the extent of the improvement. The new updated engine feels smoother, more responsive than the earlier motor, and is more free-revving as well.

A key bit of new hardware is an all-new six-speed manual gearbox which is reasonably slick to operate but the clutch is a bit on the heavy side. Driveability is pretty good and the Altis pulls cleanly from 20kph in third gear without hesitation all the way till 140kph. The Altis' gearing is on the taller side in the interests of fuel economy but we feel a slightly shorter set of gear ratios would have made better use of the extra torque and given the Corolla a greater sense of urgency. That's not to suggest the Altis is slow. It will hit 100kph from a standstill in 9.5 seconds, an improvement of almost a second over the previous car. The extra ratios at the top make the Altis more relaxed while cruising and this has a positive impact on fuel efficiency.

Apart from the six-speed manual, Toyota is now also offering a seven-speed CVT-i (for intelligent constantly variable transmission). The CVT locks on to pre-set ratios to mimic a conventional set of gear ratios. The advantage is that gear changes are pretty quick, especially when downshifting. Step on the accelerator and you can feel the rubber band effect as the revs jump up without a corresponding increase in speed. Still, this transmission feels more responsive and satisfying to drive than many other CVTs. It's fairly quick too with the dash to 100kph coming up in 11.2sec.

The international Corolla with CVT has paddleshifts but this feature that enhances the driving experience is sadly missing on the Indian-spec model. In other areas the Altis feels largely unchanged. The suspension is similar to the previous car, which means the Altis is a bit stiff-kneed and doesn't feel settled over bad roads. Straightline stability at high speeds is pretty good but let's be clear, this is no sporty saloon and the steering though well-weighted doesn't offer much feedback, nor does it encourage you to fling the car through corners.

The new Altis has had changes in the right department. The powertrain is much improved and that's made a substantial difference. The refreshed Corolla might not be very exciting, but better driveablility and a smoother engine have made this car nice to drive. The CVT option is a significant step up from the four speed torque converter gearbox it replaces and this gives it better efficiency figures too. Despite the hike in price, the new Corolla Altis makes a strong case as more than just a competent executive class saloon.