Toyota has unveiled the new Toyota Corolla Axio in Japan, which is a sign that it won’t be long now until the Toyota Corolla Altis receives a full model change as well, since the 5 year lifecycle that it typically runs on is about due now.

The Toyota Corolla Axio is one of the two Corolla models for the Japanese domestic market – it is sold alongside a wagon variant called the Corolla Fielder. You may wonder, what’s with all the different Corollas?

Two generations ago, the name Corolla Altis made its debut, because Toyota wanted to make its C-segment sedan contender appear larger and more luxurious for the world market, but a larger Corolla would not be suitable for sale in Japan as they have certain tax segment based limits for the exterior dimensions of a car, which made sense considering how limited space is in Japan.

So they sold a Corolla in Japan (and in some other countries like Singapore), while the rest of the world markets such as Malaysia got a Corolla Altis. When the time came for a full model change, the Japanese market Corolla got the Axio name tagged on when it was unveiled in October 2006 , and soon after, a corresponding Corolla Altis was launched and hit Malaysia in March 2008. These 2 models had different outlooks but they did share a very similar interior.

So while this latest generation Corolla Axio is not the Corolla that will replace our Malaysian Corolla Altis, we could assume that the next generation Corolla Altis could share an interior design derived from the new Corolla Axio.

The new interior design is quite a departure from the previous generation Corollas – the sleek vertical Volvo-like “waterfall” centre dash area that felt like very clearly split the passenger and driver areas has been replaced by a more horizontal oriented design that positions all controls higher up.

The area ahead of the gear shifter which used to have a sloping trim has been replaced by what looks like a storage area – variants that have wood trim in the interior now have it rather gaudily encasing the audio and air cond controls.

The instrumentation panel has been changed to a triple-gauge layout like the Camry’s, replacing the current twin gauge layout. Lower end models only have a single speedometer. Some variants have a bare steering wheel while others have a joy-pad like control on the left steering wheel spoke.

Two engines are available – the larger one is a 1NZ-FE 1.5 litre which should be very familiar to Malaysians as it’s the same engine in the Vios, but with some changes – the version with a CVT transmission has a higher compression ratio of 11.0:1. The smaller engine is a 1.3 litre Dual VVT-i 1NR-FE that makes 95 PS and 121Nm. The wagon Corolla Fields has larger engine options – instead of a 1.3 and 1.5, it’s offered as a 1.5 and a 1.8.

The Axio rides on a 2,600mm wheelbase, which is the same length as the previous two generations of Corolla. Wheelbase is not the ultimate indicator of interior space, but it’s worth noting that it’s one of the shortest in the segment – some C-segment cars have grown to have wheelbases of over 2,700mm. The Preve has a 2,650mm wheelbase. But despite sharing the same wheelbase length with its predecessor, Toyota claims the new Corolla Axio offers 40 mm roomier knee space in the backseat.

The Axio is also light – the heaviest 2WD model is 1,090kg – adding 4WD brings the heaviest version up to 1,200kg. As a comparison, the current generation Corolla Altis in Malaysia weighs from 1,250kg for the 1.6E up to 1,315kg for the 2.0V.

Although the Corolla is a very popular car, given that the market for a C-segment sedan continuously shrinks in Japan (non-hybrid Civic Sedan has been discontinued for Japan, for example). Toyota’s big seller in Japan is now the Prius – and 10,000 of these are targeted to shipped domestically every month, while combined monthly targets for the new Corolla Axio sedan and Corolla Fielder wagon only come up to 7,000, with more of these being Fielders (4,000 units) than Axios (3,000 units).

I think you can see some cost cutting efforts with the latest Corolla Axio, especially on the interior. Most of us will probably prefer the outgoing interior design to this latest one. But who knows, perhaps the new Corolla Altis will be an even further departure from the Corolla Axio and have a bespoke interior that is more upmarket. Look after the jump for a small photo gallery of the new Corolla Axio.