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REVIEW: Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid is practical, frugal and well priced

Published Jan 20, 2022

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REVIEW: Toyota Corolla Cross 1.8 XS Hybrid

JOHANNESBURG – Survival of the fittest. Adapt or die. Those terms apply as much to nature as they do to the modern business world. So what do you do when you have the world’s best selling car nameplate in your stable, but its best days seem to be behind it because the market is shifting rapidly from sedans and hatchbacks to crossovers and SUVs? Simple, you create something like the new Toyota Corolla Cross.

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In fact, such is the rapidly changing state of the market that Toyota South Africa Motors (TSAM) elected to produce the Corolla Cross locally instead of the latest sedan version, which continues as a full import alongside the hatch. With monthly sales of the Cross averaging around 1 700 units since its launch late last year, TSAM has undoubtedly made the right decision.

A super-keen price tag is also one of the reasons for its success, no doubt, with the Toyota Corolla Cross undercutting its rivals with a starting price of R349 900 and even the most expensive hybrid version costs no more than R448 300. Consider that the imported sedan range starts at R413 700. It’s agreeably stylish too, and even more so in the flesh with its slim headlights, large grille, pointy rear fenders and squat side window lines that remind us of the Rav4.

But is the Toyota Corolla Cross all it’s cracked up to be? We spent a full month with the midrange 1.8 XS Hybrid derivative to see what it’s like to live with on an everyday basis and how it handles a holiday road trip.

What’s it like to drive?

We took our test unit for a quick trip from Gauteng to the KZN coast and back in late December, followed by a few shorter trips in the countryside around Gauteng in January.

For the most part it delivered what was asked of it in a refined manner, but I wouldn’t go as far as describing the performance as effortless and it can get a bit noisy up hills. Overall, it’s a very comfortable vehicle to live with. The seats are comfortable, the ride is compliant, the steering is well weighted and the driving position is comfortable.

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The Corolla Cross Hybrid models have a familiar closed-loop hybrid powertrain that’s done service in the Prius for quite some time. The petrol engine component is a 1.8-litre Atkinson Cycle normally aspirated unit that produces 73kW and 142Nm, and it pairs up with an electric motor and CVT gearbox to allow for a total system output of 90kW. But thanks to the e-motor’s instant torque delivery, the vehicle feels sprightlier than its outputs suggest.

It’s also impressively efficient around town as the electric motor assists with off-the-mark acceleration, which is when a petrol engine is at its least efficient. The vehicle is eerily quiet on pull-off and it’s also impressively refined, even when the petrol engine does kick in. However, it can get noisy up hills and other instances where the petrol engine has to work hard as CVT gearboxes emit a somewhat annoying drone at higher revs.

But apart from those noisier acceleration moments, which were few and far between, the Corolla Cross hybrid cruised comfortably and quietly on the open road. Overall performance proved adequate, although overtaking manoeuvres can require some planning.

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This car seems to work best when the driver takes a more relaxed approach, and I suspect that a turbocharged engine might have worked better for regions such as Gauteng where a more aggressive and obnoxious driving style seems to be the norm. A force-fed version would no doubt also suit those who do a lot of long-distance driving.

Drive it within reason and the Corolla Cross Hybrid delivers impressive fuel consumption. Our car returned 6.1 litres per 100km in urban conditions, while the highway road trip saw an average of 5.6 l/100km. That’s not bad for an almost-midsize vehicle that weighs around 1 385kg. The small gap between urban and rural consumption also highlights the fact that hybrids are ultimately best suited to city environments.

At 36 litres, the fuel tank is tiny though (to make space for the hybrid battery), and this means you have a very limited range between refuels – 500km if you’re lucky. Believe me, I almost found this out the hard way!

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Is the Toyota Corolla Cross practical?

I just referred to the Corolla Cross as being close to midsize, and if we have to get all technical, it’s 4 460mm length puts it halfway between a Hyundai Creta and Toyota Rav4. In fact, it’s a similar length to the increasingly popular Haval Jolion, although the Toyota’s 2 640mm wheelbase is somewhat shorter than the segment norm. As a result, rear legroom is perhaps not quite as cavernous as it could have been. Granted, it is still quite acceptable and occupants are unlikely to feel cramped, but there isn’t really a lot of space to stretch out. Hollowed out seatbacks will at least ensure adequate knee room for taller rear occupants.

The boot is as large as you could expect from a modern family car and I was impressed by both its surface area and depth. With the adjustable tonneau cover folded back, you can load large and bulky items.

The cockpit area is largely a carbon copy of what you find in the Corolla hatch and sedan.

The dashboard isn’t going to win prizes for the way it looks, but the ergonomics are hard to fault as it places the screen high up on the dashboard and the ventilation controls are also within easy reach. If you’re looking for an uncluttered dashboard with giant screens you’re not going to find it in the Corolla Cross, and the touchscreen’s graphics don’t exactly look modern.

Yet this car seems to find a very user-friendly balance between digital and analogue. The touchscreen infotainment system is easy to operate and it’s flanked by buttons and knobs that allow you to avoid menu digging on the screen. It’s not the most visually elegant solution, but it really works a charm.

Overall, the cabin is solidly put together and there’s a tangible feeling of quality but you’d never call it fancy.

Our test car was a midrange XS model and I was impressed with the balance it achieves between value and functionality. It’s got all the stuff you need, but none of the stuff you don’t. And none of the annoying stuff that you really don’t need like those slow-operating electric tailgates.

It might be a mid-range model but you still get full leather seats in the XS, as well as dual-zone climate control, Apple Carplay and Android Auto connectivity, cruise control, reverse camera, 17-inch alloy wheels, TFT info display, rain-sensing wipers and LED headlights and foglights. Opt for the range-topping XR derivative and you also get 18-inch alloy wheels, LED interior illumination, Toyota Safety Sense driver assist gadgets such as adaptive cruise control.

VERDICT

Priced between R349 900 and R448 300, the Toyota Corolla Cross is something of a bargain within its segment. Sure, the Haval Jolion is even cheaper, but then it has yet to prove its durability in the long run. This is one area where Toyota trumps time and again.

The 1.8 XS Hybrid model that we had on test, is a steal at R413 000, and the balance it finds between value, quality, practicality and economy is hard to beat. With its somewhat relaxed powertrain, however, it’s not necessarily suited to those with a heavier right foot. I’m usually in the latter category, but somehow the Corolla Cross found a way to relax me.

Toyota Corolla Cross 1.8 XS Hybrid

Price: R413 000 (January 2022)

Engine: 1.8-litre, 4-cyl petrol electric hybrid

Transmission: CVT

Drive: Front-wheel drive

Power: 90kW (72kW +53kW electric)

Torque: 142Nm (+ 163Nm electric)

Top speed: 170km/h

Fuel use: 5.6 l/100km (tested, highway)

Fuel use: 6.1 l/100km (tested, urban)

Boot capacity: 440 litres

Towing capacity: 400kg

Ground clearance: 161mm

Warranty (vehicle): 3-year/100 000km

Warranty (battery): 8-year/195 000km

Service plan: 6-service/90 000km

IOL Motoring

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