I wouldn't have been able to discern how underrated the Altis is if I hadn't given it the chance. Exceeding my expectations, it comes equipped with a push button start and keyless entry system that does away with the need to ever take out the key fob from your pocket. Stand within arm's length and the driver's door unlocks itself to allow access to the plush fabric seats. Although the seats offered decent comfort, I would've preferred more lateral and lumbar support. Ergonomics in the cockpit are straight forward, logically laid out, and doesn't require an hour's worth reading the owner's manual. Everything can be intuitively fiddled with to find out their function. Steering is tilt and reach adjustable to fit the everyman and cabin space doesn't feel cramped despite the generous padding on the seats. The use of light colors in the interior certainly aids in the feeling of spaciousness. Though the utmost care is certainly required to keep the interior clean, as its light colors are dirt magnets. The headroom is generous in the front and rear, with the back seats being able to fit three adults in relative comfort. Trunk space is more than enough as well, with the opening being typical of most modern compact sedans.
With a foot on the brake, a quick press on the engine start button, and the engine comes to life without much fuss. A gated shifter ensures that missing gears are reserved only for the ham-handed as you slide the lever from Park to Drive. Then, a light tap on the throttle pedal and the Altis is underway. Off the line, it's all business. Like most drive-by-wire cars, it was more responsive to smooth incremental throttle inputs rather than insensitively mashing down on the pedal, at least for the first third of the pedal travel. Any more than that and it delivers prompt acceleration and responsiveness that closely resembles the good old cable actuated throttle of yore.
Drive dynamics are pretty good, although perhaps not as sharp as, say, a Nissan Sentra 200, but it is as predictable. Bumps, humps, and pot holes which could pass for craters are taken well in stride, as long as you slow down enough for them.
What's impressive is that acceleration is surprisingly quick - much more than one would think that a 1.6 liter engine that's been mated to a slushbox can deliver. Certainly, the engineers at Toyota have done their homework. Second gear easily tops 120 km/h when the roads are wide open, and the Altis out-accelerates slower moving traffic. Credit the Dual VVT-i engine and the broad torque band that it endows the Altis with, so much so that you don't feel the acceleration as much as you see it. It's that smooth.
Even more remarkable is that, in spite of heavy flogging which includes bringing up and having the tachometer needle dwell for long periods of time at the upper limits, the 1ZR-FE engine that resides under the hood still delivered a surprising 9.8 kilometers per liter according to the trip computer. That's more akin to fuel economy figures that one would normally see from a light weight sub compact car with a much smaller engine; not something you would expect from a vehicle tips the scale at a hair over 1,200 kilograms. I'm now left wondering how much better the 6-speed manual transmission equipped variant will be.
For a listed price of P970,000, plus a 15 grand premium for the pearl white color, I might just have a change of heart for Toyota's.