With the fuel price skyrocketing, a compact, hybrid SUV couldn’t come at a better time for Toyota. But that’s not the only reason it gets our approval…
When it comes to the new-car market, Toyota South Africa seems to be telepathic. If there is a customer want and a segment that needs exploring, you can bet your bottom ZAR that it knows about it and will explore the opportunity to the maximum.
This is the case with the all-new Toyota Corolla Cross hybrid, manufactured in Prospecton, Durban – thanks to billions of investment in the factory – and it is the first dual-energy Toyota built in South Africa. In one clean swoop, it targets three key areas. Firstly, it capitalises on the ever-growing SUV craze. We can all agree the yardstick for what defines an SUV has shifted and prerequisites like ample ground clearance and four-wheel drive no longer apply. Instead, consumers are after a slightly taller driving position and extra practicality.
Secondly, with the fuel price showing volatility like never before, consumers are looking for something that won’t break the bank at every fill-up and, in theory at least, a hybrid promises maximum mileage per tank. Thirdly, people are buying cars less often and, as a result, they’re holding onto them for longer, so reliability and resale value are top of mind. With the Corolla nameplate, you’ve got 50+ years of heritage and proven mechanicals that have been doing the rounds for years.
Aesthetically, it is definitely from the Corolla family but with a wider grille and rugged styling cues like roof racks and plastic cladding on the wheelarches. Toyota has done a convincing job of building a crossover atop the Corolla’s neat-and-tidy TNGA-C underpinnings. Size-wise, the vehicle is something of a shapeshifter. On arrival, we were initially struck by how compact it looked in the metal; from pictures, we were expecting something bigger. However, after weighing and measuring the vehicle, we realised it was a clever piece of packaging that was closer to a RAV4 in terms of practicality, with 440 litres of boot capacity and more than 1 200 litres of utility space with the rear seats folded flat. There is more than enough head, shoulder and knee room in both rows, and the rear will happily fit three adults shoulder to shoulder … no need to play rock, paper, scissors to see who rides shotgun every time.
Powered by the proven DOHC 1,8-litre VVTi petrol unit coupled with an electric motor and battery pack, the hybrid model we have on test produces 90 kW at 5 200 r/min and 142 N.m of torque (plus electric boost of indeterminate value) at 3 600 r/min. This is the same self-charging hybrid drivetrain that’s been in the Prius for some time and is available in the Corolla Sedan; except in those two applications, there’s less weight to carry around.
On our scales the Corolla Cross XS Hybrid weighs in at 1 408 kg, giving it a modest power-to-weight ratio of 64 W/kg. The resultant zero to 100 km/h sprint is not exactly quick at 11,96 seconds and acceleration through the various speed ranges is also sluggish; 60-80 km/h takes three seconds, 80-100 km/h in four seconds and 100-120 km/h in five seconds.
With the ever-increasing proliferation of battery-electric vehicles (BEV) locally, we’ve warmed to the satisfying surge of electric boost as soon as you touch the throttle. We were hoping for more of that sensation in the Corolla Cross. An instantaneous zing of electric power to get it off the line and up to speed before the combustion engine took over. Unfortunately, whether it is the CVT or there’s simply a shortfall of power, for a hybrid there’s a noticeable lag off the line. We believe more electric assistance at low revs and a few more kilowatts of total output would enhance performance and overall driveability.
Thankfully, while the hybrid is not the quickest conveyance, its real-world fuel economy is mightily impressive. Toyota’s claimed/combined figure is a rather ambitious 4,30 L/100 km, but when we set out on our standardised fuel route, we recorded a figure of 4,10 L/100 km in Eco mode and, interestingly, 5,20 L/100 km with the drivetrain in Power mode. A marked difference considering we drove the route in the same manner. Driven in the latter, the CVT holds on to revs for longer. On balance, we preferred to leave it in Eco mode and take a hypermiling approach. Drive it like you’ve got a newborn baby onboard and it’s smooth, calm, quiet and easygoing.
Besides being immensely spacious, the Corolla Cross XS cabin is a pleasant place to spend time thanks to the solid fit and finish and well-judged specification. The top portion of the dashboard is from a Corolla Hatch/Sedan with soft-touch materials and the large central touchscreen and dual-zone climate control, while the lower portion features harder plastics that put us in mind of the budget-minded Corolla Quest. The arrangement of the driver’s binnacle is straightforward with a central speedometer, power/charge gauge for the hybrid drivetrain and TFT screen for the trip computer/infotainment. By the standards of the day, the display is small and conservative but forgoing lavish graphics and digital screens undoubtedly makes it more affordable.
For the asking price of R413 000, Hybrid XS is in the middle wrung of the spec walk and we reckon it’s got the best of everything, including height and reach steering adjustment, electric windows and mirrors, leather seats, dual-zone climate control, reverse camera with park-distance control, LED headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, 17-inch alloy wheels and two additional USB ports. The only thing missing is 18-inch rims and the Toyota Safety Sense package that adds adaptive-cruise control, blind-spot monitoring and pre-collision warning. If you think you’ll need the latter, a top-of-the-line XR will set you back R448 300.
In the new Corolla Cross, Toyota has not just built an easygoing, budget-friendly SUV that’s compact on the outside and more spacious than you’d imagine, it’s a Corolla and will still be in your driveway 20 years from now, running as strong as the day you bought it.