PORT ELIZABETH – Okay, let's get this out of the way nice and early: I won't be making any Rush-related puns in this driving impression of the newest addition to Toyota South Africa's crossover stable. As tempting as it may be, I'll simply stick to the facts instead.

Facts such as the reality that the fresh-faced Rush – which is a mite longer than a C-HR but a little shorter than a RAV4 – will be a serious contender in this particular part of the ever-growing crossover segment, where it interestingly finds itself without that many direct rivals (Honda BR-V, we're looking at you).

Five not seven

So, what is the Rush, exactly? Well, it’s essentially a rebadged version of the latest-generation Daihatsu Terios, which itself is loosely based on the current Toyota Avanza. In other markets, the crossover is available as a seven-seater, but Toyota SA says that its market research suggests South African buyers would prefer five seats and lots of luggage space instead.

And plenty of space there most certainly is. In fact, opting not to include those two rear seats has resulted in a frankly cavernous 609 dm3 luggage capacity. Unfortunately, though, Toyota has not included a parcel shelf, which is essential for keeping the contents of the boot well hidden from prying eyes (privacy glass has not been included back there either). Overall, though, the Rush is rather well packaged, offering generous headroom both front and back, and enough space to accommodate even long-limbed rear passengers.

Behind the wheel

The driving position, on the other hand, is a little awkward. For starters, there’s no reach adjustment on the steering column, which is frustrating for those who prefer to keep the tiller close. The absence of a dead pedal next to the clutch also means there's nowhere comfortable to rest your left foot when you're not swapping cogs. Furthermore, the driver's seat is positioned fairly high, which may prove tricky for taller drivers.

Still, the overall fit and finish of the cabin is quite impressive (although the inclusion of faux-stitching on the facia and door panels is a little strange), coming across robust enough to deal with the rigours of family life. As a bonus for those who obsess about staying properly hydrated, the Rush is fitted with as many as 11 cup holders throughout the cabin.

While the overall design of the interior is refreshingly simple, with cloth seats and plenty of basic plastic finishes, there's also a hint of piano black and contrasting enamel white trim to create an almost premium atmosphere. But the centrepiece of the cabin is undoubtedly the easy-to-operate touchscreen infotainment system, which includes handy features such as navigation, a rear camera display and screen mirroring.

On the road

The Rush is powered by a naturally aspirated 1,5-litre four-cylinder engine, which sends its 77 kW and 136 N.m of torque to the rear wheels via a five-speed manual gearbox (there's also the option of a four-speed automatic). The engine is surprisingly lively, likely largely thanks to the transmission's short ratios. But that means a shift to second gear is required almost immediately after taking off. In addition, the engine will settle close to the (lofty) 4 000 r/min mark in fifth at 120 km/h, which doesn't do great things for NVH levels and fuel consumption.

So, in urban environments, the Rush feels rather nippy, with a composed ride courtesy of the front McPherson strut and rear multilink suspension setup, while on the highway it's a little less at home. The electric power steering makes parking a cinch, but feedback from the tarmac is minimal. Should you wish to venture onto gravel roads, you'll be happy to hear that the Rush's 220 mm ride height lends it some ability.

Wrapping up

It's worth noting that the Rush's safety specification list is extensive, and includes driver, passenger, side and curtain airbags (that's a total of six) as well as ABS, traction control, stability control, hill assist control and parking sensors. At R299 900, the Rush might not be the most affordable crossover around, but it certainly offers impressive standard specification, including a generous six-service/90 000 km service plan.

While fairly minor details such as those short gear ratios and the lack of a parcel shelf might irk some potential buyers, there's no denying that the Rush is a compelling proposition that looks likely to give direct rivals such as the Honda BR-V a hard time, and even trouble more established conventional crossovers. Expect to see plenty on the road soon.