Toyota’s fresh-faced small SUV rarely puts a tyre wrong. But is the pricey flagship version worthy of the keenest buyer focus?
With Toyota boasting three of Australia’s top-five selling nameplates – and one in five cars sold outright – at the time of its launch two months back, the newcomer Corolla Cross would appear destined to inherit success in genes alone.
But after sampling the well-rounded range at its debut, the small family hauler garnered the sort of praise on individual merit that suggests the makings of a sharp-ender in its segment.
Initially, we surmised that Corolla Cross is precisely what it should and needs to be. And that despite a lack of much sense of adventure of stepping out of the safe shade of conformity, it oozed the same oh-what-a-feeling traits that have propelled the Aussie popularity of its RAV4 and Corolla siblings. On first impressions, it seemed pretty good…
Now, we’ve spent a solid week with the flagship Atmos AWD Hybrid version to shake out potential gremlins with the live-in experience. And to find out how right – and how wrong – I might’ve been with my first impressions of what was the very same Atomic Rush example I drove at the launch.
Spoiler alert: the new Corolla Cross is better than I’d first reported.
We’ll dig into the minutiae below, but perhaps the strongest suit of the model I’ve affectionately nicknamed ‘RAV3’ for obvious if not terribly clever reasons is that it really amalgamates the most attractive attributes of both the RAV4 and Corolla in one ideally sized, easy-to-use, fuss-free package.
As we’ll delve into, it’s properly large enough for family functionality, yet small and lithe enough for convenience in urban confines, mixed with downright enjoyable on-road manners.
It presents itself as a sort of goldilocks package of sorts: more sensible than C-HR, more utilitarian than Corolla hatch or sedan, more affordable – and without the infamously long wait times – as RAV4. And it largely proves itself as much in the experience.
In typical Toyota fashion, the Corolla Cross range offers a matrix-like choice of three trim levels and three powertrain options to appease buyers’ whims and budgets. Though there are seven other variants further down range, we’re here to size up how the all-you-can-eat Atmos Hybrid AWD fares in broad terms and also in the value stakes.
As the priciest of eight variants, the Atmos Hybrid AWD clocks in at $49,050 list, or around $53,700 driveaway as a cleanskin. Our test car adds Atomic Red premium paint at $580, or a touch over $54K on road.
The top-tier Atmos trim can also be had in Hybrid front-drive, which omits the on-demand electric rear axle drive and trims the list price by three grand, to $46,090. Opting for the third powertrain choice, the petrol FWD, drops pricing by a further $2500 to $43,550.
Throughout the range, the FWD versions fit a torsion beam rear suspension, while only the all-paw hybrid variants offer a multilink rear end.
Atmos spec brings 18-inch wheels, heated and driver’s electric leather-appointed seats, a largest-in-range 12.3-inch digital driver’s screen, a 10.5-inch multimedia touchscreen with nine-speaker JBL audio, a kick-sensor powered tailgate, auto-sensing wipers, a wireless phone charger.
Hybrid versions gain a high-spec 360-degree camera system and advanced park assist smarts.
The mid-tier GXL offers the same three powertrain choices, ranging from $36,750 in petrol FWD guise to $42,250 in Hybrid AWD spec.
Standard GXL features include, leather-accented and fabric seating, the Atmos-spec 10.5-inch multimedia system with sat-nav, lower-spec panoramic view monitoring and 17-inch wheels. Specifications shared with Atmos includes high-grade LED headlights and dual-zone climate control.
Pictured: Atmos (left), GXL (right) and GX (centre)
The front-drive petrol-electric GXL, at $39,250 list and below the median Corolla Cross price point, does appear to be a very sweet spot in the range.
Base GX is front drive only, with just petrol, at $33,000, and Hybrid FWD, at $35,500, offered.
Features include LED headlights, 17-inch wheels, fabric seats and a urethane wheel, 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment, wireless Apple CarPlay/wired Android Auto, DAB+, a 7.0-inch instrument cluster, a reversing camera and the well-equipped Toyota Safety Sense suite of assistance and safety features.
Boot sizing does vary, from a fulsome 436 litres (GX and GXL petrol) to 380L (Atmos Hybrid AWD) as tested here. Only the front-driven version fit a space saver spare – the Hybrid AWD format brings a tyre repair kit.
First impressions at the local launch left me feeling that you’re splitting hairs distinguishing this revised fifth-generation hybrid system that debuted on the Corolla Cross with the fourth-gen stuff still servicing elsewhere in Toyota’s local lineup.
I’m now convinced the shades of difference between them are stronger, albeit still shades.
Changes? Of the 112kW and 190Nm Atkinson cycle naturally aspirated petrol four and 83kW and 206Nm high-output electric motor on the front axle – total peak power 147kW – the latter is new, with six magnets per pole inside the rotor instead of the old design’s three, for more output.
The transaxle gears are smaller and stronger, while the lithium-ion battery pack is smaller and lighter yet more powerful.
The improvements are nuanced, though the electric-only phase of propulsion now feels broader in operating range and available more eagerly and readily.
The rear axle does add a further 30kW when the on-demand AWD sees fit, and what’s possibly a combined 236Nm – Toyota makes no total torque claim – feels ample in most driving situations most of the time.
Inevitably, a pang of disappointment accompanies the jolt of internal combustion kicking into life, a coarser transition than it ought to be, one that disrupts the relative serenity of EV-only drive. It’s a hybrid drive shuffle so many Aussies are now familiar with and perhaps get used to, if one that’s not nearly as seamless as other powertrains offered under a hybrid banner.
The Atkinson cycle buzz, exacerbated by the calibration of the CVT transmission, remains a conspicuous part of the Toyota hybrid experience, albeit one that’s slowly smoothing out its behaviour with, frankly, glacial evolution.
The otherwise decent refinement of the on-road Corolla Cross – or Corolla, or RAV4 – experience would take a quantum leap forward as a dedicated EV, because it would suit the rest of the well-sorted package.
Toyota claims 4.4L/100km for the combined cycle, which raises slightly to 4.6L for the open road and drops marginally to 4.3L for EV-favouring urban driving.
And during the mixed, unsympathetic week-long custodianship, the Atmos returned numbers very close to these claims. The petrol FWD, by comparison, is advertised as a 6.0L/100km combined prospect.
Quick? Not especially so, though we did manage to better Toyota’s 7.6sec claim with a 7.47sec best at our test track. Its 100-0km/h emergency braking assessment returned a commendable 36.30-metre benchmark.
I quite like the well judged ride and handling of the Atmos Hybrid AWD – again, the powertrain format with a multilink rear – at the range launch.
I’m now even more impressed, across my regular, poorly maintained daily routine route in Sydney, afforded direct comparison with all manner of press vehicles passing through the Chasing Cars garage. It’s a damn fine chassis indeed.
At once, there’s a proper compliance to primarily big bump and secondary small-ripple ride, polished and very resolved without ever becoming flaccid or floaty. In fact, on its 18-inch rolling stock, the suspension feels thoroughly tied down, bringing a crispness and lightness to the Corolla Cross that leans harder into Corolla hatch territory than it does RAV4 turf.
The TNGA-C platform, shared with Corolla, is a real gem, but the clear highlight is the actual suspension tuning itself. There’s an undertow of playfulness and strong signs of fun factor while you’re tooling about commuting.
Succumb to temptation and push on, on a twisty road or even perhaps on a broken surface like loose gravel, and the small SUV demonstrates some surprising dynamic talent.
It’s not just for the sake of a lark. The Corolla Cross’s keen handling prowess brings an underpinning sense of confidence and predictability that even novice drivers will benefit from at the helm and that directly translates into an undertow of added safety.
That’s not always the case with SUVs where overbearing safety system intervention is a Band-Aid for wayward and under-delivering chassis.
The more I drove the Corolla Cross, the more I wanted to drive it. Why? Again, it’s the almost goldilocks ’smedium’ size that’s a genuine lure.
Its light nature is aided by impressive outward visibility, conspiring to a friendliness that makes it easy to place and park in tight spots. And yet, at the same, it still feels substantial and commodious by a measure few small SUVs match: you feel wrapped in ample metal and it seems practical enough to not short change you on everyday practicality.
But the real sublime attraction is the sheer turnkey – or, more accurately, push button – convenience of the Corolla Cross. It’s a real just-get-in-and-go machine, demanding little intervention, adjustment or distraction on the move.
That it’s generally so free of niggles and annoyances really did entice me to go for the Corolla Cross key over anything else in the Chasing Cars burgeoning garage-full of options during our time with the Toyota newcomer.
At the model’s launch, even in top-spec Atmos guise, I did find the Corolla Cross thoroughly conventional to the point of unadventurousness, particularly the joyless mid-grey colour theme. And compared to its far funkier C-HR sibling, it’s also light on for surprise and delight.
Frankly, those opinions haven’t changed much. But with added familiarity comes a real appreciation for the Corolla Cross cabin’s friendliness, functionality and ease of use.
The no-nonsense design is somewhat refreshing in an era of increasingly convoluted SUV interior seemingly for the sake of showiness. Everything is clear, easy to find, a doddle to adjust and all the controls fall neatly to hand (and foot). It’s inviting and relatively free of distraction, as it exactly needs to be.
The Atmo’s exclusive big-screen digital instrumentation is fancy but not overbearing. And that 10.5-inch touchscreen, perched almost ostentatiously atop the dash, is easy to see, reach and use.
The central stack feature array descends logically: normal dual-zone climate control, easy to access USB outlets, a convenient phone charging pad. The transmission and handbrake interactions are one-touch easy.
The big win is that there’s so little to grumble about. Sure, I’d prefer a volume knob than volume buttons, but that’s a tiny gripe. And the multimedia system doesn’t really appear to have a home screen – rather, it just toggles between feature screens – which, again, is no biggie.
If there’s one glaring glitch, it’s that Apple CarPlay pairs quickly sometimes and simply refuses to other times. For no apparent reason. Nor is it some personal phone setting gremlin: other Chasing Cars colleagues noted the same technical hiccup using other devices.
The generous glass area, high ceiling and airy ambience are, as initially praised, most welcoming for extended seat time, as are the supportive if leisurely shaped front bucket seats.
The partial leather trim is more hardy than properly sumptuous but that’s no bad thing: comfort is ample, though you sense it’ll withstand the horrors of kids’ confectionery in row two.
Second row accommodation is excellent: if you’re after midsize, adult-oriented spaciousness, you could find the Corolla Cross just large enough.
It’s not premium-plush, per say, but it’s comfy and inviting, roomy in all directions, and covers off what ought to be basic conveniences such as dual USB-C outlets, rear air vents and cup-holders. A minor markdown is the lack of decent door bins.
As outlined above, boot space does vary quite considerably for Corolla Cross depending on the variant. Due mostly to packaging implications of the hybrid AWD format, the top-spec Atmos gets the lowest measure of the lineup, with a still decent 380L. And unlike the front drivers, you get an inflator kit rather than a space saver spare wheel.
The Corolla Cross range received a five-star ANCAP rating around the time of its local debut. It scored 85 percent for adult occupant safety, 88 percent for child occupant safety, 87 percent for vulnerable road user and 83 percent for safety assist.
The Toyota Safety Sense suite, plus other safety features, are offered right across the range and includes:
However, progressing up the variant grades does add expanded features. The Atmos hybrid gets parking support braking that helps to avoid impact with objects, other vehicles and pedestrians. It also gets the top-spec LED headlights and so-called panoramic view monitor 360-degree camera system.
The Atmos Hybrid AWD comes with a combined consumption claim of 4.4L/100km that proved very close in real-world driving. Typical of this series-parallel hybrid drive type, the Corolla Cross becomes slightly more frugal around town (4.3L claimed) and a little thirstier on the open road (4.6L claimed). It runs on 91RON fuel.
Servicing is capped at $230 per visit for the first five years, or a total of $1150, so it’s affordable to maintain.
Warranty is a fairly typical five years of unlimited-kilometre running.
At our initial launch drive of the Corolla Cross range, we surmised that Toyota’s new, more-practical small-SUV offering is, in concept and largely in execution, what it should and needs to be. That still rings true.
But there’s now a slightly different perspective, at least of the flagship Atmos Hybrid AWD, having sampled it day to day, in familiar real-world commuting, and A-B-ed against a variety of other press cars that occupy the Chasing Cars garage. And it’s a rosier perspective at that.
That’s because the more time I spend with Corolla Cross, the more I like it and more I tend to favour it as the vehicle of choice among many for pretty much any daily situation.
Why? Because it’s ideally – dare I say almost perfectly – sized for balancing full-formed family friendliness and unflustered driving manners. It’s easy to use, fuss free and almost completely bereft of annoyances and gremlins. And while it doesn’t do anything outstandingly, it does nothing poorly or badly.
The flagship variant is still kind of pricey. And we do still suspect that the mid-spec GXL Hybrid front-driver – around ten grand more affordable – could well be the sweet spot in range.
That said, I’m inclined to think that anywhere you might land in the Corolla Cross range, especially as a hybrid, depending on your budget, you’re going to land at a sweet point anyway.
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Key specs (as tested)
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Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid 2023: Australian pricing and release date revealed for RAV4 Hybrid alternative
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