Ask any parent with school-going children which is the most frequently seen SUVs on school runs and the Honda HR-V would mostly dominate the list. That on its own speaks volumes about what Toyota has had to offer in the compact SUV segment…which hasn’t been much unless you consider the stylish but ergonomically compromised C-HR to be an option, a moot point now that it has been discontinued to make way for the all-new Corolla Cross.
The fact that Toyota is leveraging on the iconic Corolla nameplate leaves little to the imagination, this is quite simply the crossover rendition of the Corolla, but with a few tweaks. Dimensions wise, it is shorter in overall length and wheelbase compared to the Corolla sedan, but it is wider, taller and with a higher ground clearance (of course); that the Corolla Cross’ actual ground clearance is only 161mm tells you that it’s made to for paved roads rather than muddy ruts.
More crucially for the Corolla Cross, it is longer (+126), wider (+53mm), taller (+15mm) and has a longer wheelbase (2,640mm vs 2,610mm) compared to its intended rival, the Honda HR-V. But that’s not that surprising given that the Corolla Cross is built on the TNGA-C platform whereas the HR-V is based on Honda’s B-segment platform.
To ensure that the Corolla Cross is able to compete in price against the HR-V and other B-SUVs, some cost measures were implemented, one of which sees the independent multi-link rear suspension used in the Corolla sedan replaced by a more straightforward and space-saving torsion beam set up, which is par for course in the segment, along with presence of a foot-operated parking brake instead of an electronic one and a single zone climate control.Otherwise, the Corolla Cross is powered by the same 139hp/172Nm 1.8-litre 2ZR-FE four-cylinder engine mated to a CVT with seven virtual ratios. Some noteworthy features on the base 1.8G variant are blind spot warning and rear cross traffic alert being included as standard, along with 3D panoramic camera view on a large 9-inch touch display, powered driver’s seat (8-way), keyless smart entry and powered tailgate with ‘kick’ sensing.
The 1.8V top variant gets all the aforementioned but expands on the active safety list with pre-collision system, lane departure alert with steering assist, dynamic cruise control (from 30km/h to 180km/h), lane tracing as well as automatic high beam, on top of seven airbags and vehicle stability control applied across the board. Some say safety doesn’t sell cars, but it’s reassuring to know that the Corolla Cross is suitably equipped if something untoward does happen, which also explains its ASEAN NCAP 5-star rating.
How does it fare?
Some cars can have a very different expression when seen for the first time in the flesh, well, the Corolla Cross isn’t one of them. It is not to say that the Corolla Cross is unattractive, but given its target customer, it’s easy to understand why Toyota has chosen a safer, non-polarising path in the styling of this product.
Oversized front grille (a frowning one at that), slim headlamps and horizontally stretched out tail-lamps seem to be requisites these days for SUVs, the Corolla Cross also adds blistered fenders and kinks on its sheet metal to catch your attention. The end product isn’t quite as cohesive as a Mazda CX-5 but credit to Toyota for giving the Corolla Cross a look it can call its own, not just shrinking a RAV4 to size or jacking up the ride height of a Corolla.
Additional effort was also put into the interior to differentiate it from the Corolla; areas such as the door cards and lower dashboard are shaped differently though it remains largely recognisable and bears the robust build quality expected from a Toyota.
There are probably more blank switches than one would like to see in the Corolla Cross, and the storage spaces in the centre console aren’t exactly generous, but at least wireless charging is available (as an option) if the two USB ports found under the rear air-con vents aren’t sufficient. Interestingly, the Corolla Cross comes with a dark roof lining.
What matters is that the interior of the Corolla Cross is going to serve its intended market well. Not matter which seat you plant your bum on, it’s a comfortable place to spend time in. The seats are anchored at just the right height to ease egress and ingress, and there’s also an unimpeded view out of the cabin which isn’t the case with the C-HR.
There are no best-in-class numbers for knee room and headroom to share here other than the amount of space available is more than adequate for a typical Malaysian family (Lee Zii Jia’s exempted). Besides, Toyota has always prioritised seating comfort and support over on-paper figures, so it’s no surprise that the rear seatbacks can recline if you prefer a less upright position. Cargo space with the seats up is 440 litres, which shades the HR-V’s 437 litres.
The TNGA platform has been played up as the catalyst to a generation of Toyotas that finally drives well, and I’m quite pleased to report that it remains the case with the Corolla Cross. Like the Corolla sedan, you get a distinct impression that the Corolla Cross is built on a rigid structure which allows the suspension damping to be tuned for a smooth, composed ride, and the manner which the Corolla Cross cushions bad surfaces is a cut above other B-segment SUVs.
To term the 2ZR-FE as ‘proven’ is entirely appropriate as the engine is a known quantity, as is the continuously variable transmission paired to it, sans the steering shift paddles found in the Corolla. Not that you’ll miss them, this drivetrain requires minimal grey matter to operate beyond slotting it into ‘D’, ‘R’ and ‘P’; the CVT also offers forward momentum with minimal lag, though on our 1.8G test car which lacks the acoustic glass of the 1.8V, the strain from the four-cylinder is apparent under hard acceleration.
Otherwise, guiding the Corolla Cross through the snaking back roads of Semenyih was surprisingly rewarding in a car made to run family errands. And when it’s safe for families to hit the roads and cross state lines again, I can see the Corolla Cross being a very capable long distance travel companion thanks to its relaxed cruising qualities on the highway.
UMW Toyota is going all in on this one with local assembly to commence by the end of this year. As the initial CBU run is factored with the CKD incentives, prices and specifications are not expected to change when the CKD units roll out. At a starting price of RM124,000 for a C-segment based crossover (the 1.8G variant), the Corolla Cross has to be in the final reckoning for families who prioritise comfort, safety and reliability, and nobody does those things better than Toyota.
(The media test drive of the Toyota Corolla Cross was conducted on the 1.8G variant only as the 1.8V would only be available in Malaysia from July onwards, hence its retail price of RM134,000 includes the 10% sales tax)
Toyota Corolla Cross 1.8G
Price: RM124,000 (with 50% SST exemption) Engine: 1.8-litre 4-cyl, FWD Output: 139hp and 172Nm Transmission: 7-speed CVT Performance: 0-100km/h in 11.0 seconds (estimated); top speed 190km/h (estimated) Wheels/tyres: 215/60 R17 Safety: 7 airbags, Electronic Stability Control, Blind Spot Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Alert Warranty: 5-year/unlimited mileage