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Toyota Corolla Altis 1.6V GR-S: The best midrange version yet

The GR-S package turns it into a very compelling offering

This is the second sedan in the growing family of GR-S models. PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again. The humble sedan has taken a back seat in favor of crossovers. Heck, the Corolla Cross easily outsold the sedan by almost double last year.

But for those people who have grown up with the Toyota Corolla Altis nameplate, don’t worry: The model is here to stay. And for those who were looking for an update to keep the badge fresh (and sporty), it now has a gasoline model grade with nearly all of the bells and whistles found in the Hybrid in the form of the Corolla Altis GR-S.

Subtlety is the name of the game for the Corolla Altis GR-S. PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

Out of all the GR-S models in the lineup, I personally feel this is the most well-done of them all.

The Corolla Altis has always had respectable power and handling for its class (and in the case of the E210 generation, sharp looks). The GR cosmetics here complement the car’s subtlety, making it look almost like a Lexus IS F Sport “junior.” My favorite bit would be the redesigned front fascia. You can see how the designers have “layered” the bumper to make it pop at the right angle, and the honeycomb-effect grille works well with the black grille surrounds to give the right amount of aggression.

Personally, I feel that changing the two-tone 17-inch wheels to something a little sportier and having an integrated ducktail spoiler (à la Camry and Supra) for the rear trunk would give it a sportier appearance. Nevertheless, it’s still a great-looking package, and comes with bright LED lighting all around (even the indicators and the reverse lights), rain-sensing wipers, and smart keyless entry.

GR accents can be found throughout the cabin. PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

As for the interior, it’s pretty much the same as the Corolla Altis Hybrid, just with a few GR-S touches here and there. Red contrast stitching and accents are found in the leather seats and the door cards. The GR logos are found on the headrest, the floor mats, and the engine start-stop button. It’s discreet enough to not be obtrusive, but good enough to let you know you’ve got a special model.

But at its core, it's still a spacious family sedan. PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

Aside from that, you get comfortable and well-bolstered seats that offer plenty of legroom front and back (with rear aircon vents), plenty of soft-touch materials, digital gauge cluster, six speakers, auto-dimming rearview mirror, pull-out rear sunshade, and generous trunk space (at 471L).

It’s still a very serene ride that also offers excellent visibility (arguably the best on a modern sedan), something that most Filipinos will see as a step-up from their average econobox.

The biggest improvements come in the new eight-inch infotainment with Android Auto/Apple CarPlay support (which newer V and Hybrid models receive), and the addition of Toyota Safety Sense that makes your drives safer and easier. No blind-spot monitoring or rear-cross traffic alert here, but the reversing camera and the rear parking sensors are always a welcome addition.

While the car is not faster, it has a bit more zing in how it handles itself. PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

The 1.6-liter naturally aspirated 1ZR-FE engine is potent for a vehicle of this size with 121hp and 153Nm. During our media drive, this car was the only non-hybrid vehicle in the entire convoy. Yet, it managed figures as high as 18.2km/L on the highway, 10.3km/L in mixed conditions, and 8.5km/L within the city (even in horrible traffic) even if the engine hadn’t been broken in yet.

Despite all of this, the CVT hinders the “sportiness” of this car. It’s more than enough for cruising in the city and maintaining highway speeds, but when you need to merge into a lane, the CVT is sluggish to respond even with your foot on the floor. Even when using the paddle shifters, downshifting in manual mode doesn’t provide the instant response you’d get from a proper auto gearbox.

If anything, Toyota could retune the CVT here like what they did in the Vios GR-S and sacrifice a little efficiency in favor of shorter gear ratios. But they did improve the suspension for this model. Having driven a few Corollas for a while, the difference for me is noticeable when taking corners and in general responsiveness. It’s not a full-on sports suspension that sacrifices ride comfort for handling, but it helps liven up the ride a little more with very few compromises.

If you're looking for speed, this is not the GR Corolla you were looking for. PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

For P1,302,000, it’s a P87,000 premium over the standard 1.6V. But since this is more than just cosmetic, it’s a no-brainer if you want the most feature-rich Corolla Altis without having to shell out the extra P293,000 for the hybrid system (and a few other features). But if you want the best, well, you’ll have to wait for the GR-S Hybrid later this year.


Engine1.6-liter in-line-four gasoline
Power121hp @ 6,000rpm
Torque153Nm @ 5,200rpm
Dimensions4,635mm x 1,780mm x 1,435mm
Drive layoutFWD
PriceP1,302,000 (P1,317,000 for White Pearl)
UpsideIt's the most feature-rich gasoline-powered Corolla Altis you can currently buy.
DownsideThe GR-S cosmetics might not be for everyone, and the CVT can hold the engine back.

Sam Surla

Sam is the youngest member of our editorial team. And he is our managing editor (believe it or not). He specializes in photography and videography, but he also happens to like writing about cars a lot.