The Corolla Cross Hybrid is better than the gas version - but is better enough?
The Toyota Corolla Cross is destined to replace the C-HR as the brand's entry-level crossover, and carrying the Corolla nameplate lends credibility to its aim of being both affordable and dependable. In hybrid guise, it strives to be even more.
The Corolla Cross range has been around for a year now, but it's a car that's easy to forget about. It's a fine, small crossover, sure, but it also exists in a sea of other fine, small crossovers. But, what the segment lacks - and Toyota is typically exceptionally good at - is hybrid options, which makes the new Corolla Cross Hybrid a logical addition to the lineup in 2023.
We had the opportunity to spend some time with the Corolla Cross Hybrid in San Diego, recently; it was our hope that the new powertrain would elevate the small crossover, give it some much-needed pep, and deliver great fuel economy to go with its comfortable ride.
It's safe to say the Corolla Cross's styling didn't wow anyone at launch, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. After all, one person's "Wow!" is another person's "Ugh!" The Corolla Cross's job is to appeal to a wide range of buyers as an entry-level crossover, not so much to draw attention and make a style statement. If you want to stand out, there are some color options that make the Corolla Cross Hybrid pop. Those colors include Blue Crush Metallic, Cypress green, and Barcelona Red Metallic. It's available in what Toyota un-ironically describes as three "Sport grades," consisting of S, SE, and XSE.
The Corolla Cross Hybrid is differentiated from the gas-only model by unique front and rear styling and can be customized in one of four two-tone exterior paints, if you opt for the SE or XSE and are willing to pay a bit more. This includes a black roof with either Acidic Blast, Blue Crush Metallic, Sonic Silver, or Barcelona Red, as on our tester. The S and SE trims come standard with 17-inch Alloy wheels and LED headlights, while the SE adds privacy glass and roof rails. The XSE comes with 18-inch alloy wheels and premium LED headlamps, taillamps, and fog lamps.
If you've been in a modern Corolla, then you'll recognize the Corolla Cross's interior immediately. The main difference in the Cross and Cross Hybrid relates to having a higher driving position. The interior is not exciting, but it's bolted together properly and feels like it will outlast all of its owners. The cabin is spacious upfront, but the Corolla Cross's rear seat legroom is better suited for kids than adults. It's roomier than the C-HR, but not as spacious as the RAV4.
Visibility is great for the driver, despite what looks like a small rear window. It's easy to get a good, comfortable driving position. The cabin is generally well equipped, but single- or dual-zone automatic climate control is dependent on trim level. Only the XSE gets SofTex-trimmed seats, with lower-rung models making do with high-quality fabric.
The new Toyota Audio Multimedia System with Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is standard across the three trim grades and has Over-the-Air (OTA) update capability. Apple Music and Amazon Music can be connected directly to the system, and a Wi-Fi Connect subscription is available through an AT&T connection. "Hey Toyota," wakes up the intelligent assistant, and it works well, even for changing the temperature in the cabin.
The infotainment is controlled via an 8-inch touchscreen throughout the range, and it's a smooth unit to use. It responds quickly to inputs and is easy to understand. The system allows for two devices to connect simultaneously via Bluetooth, too.
While it's not a big lump of extra power, the Corolla Cross Hybrid makes a total of 196 horsepower over the standard gas model's 169 hp, and it gets torque assist from the lithium-ion battery-powered electric motor. The motor is attached to the back axle while the 2.0-liter engine drives the front, which means the Corolla Cross Hybrid is (on-demand) all-wheel-drive in every trim level. There's 139 lb-ft of torque from the engine and 151.9 lb-ft from the electric motor, and the whole ensemble gets the Corolla Cross Hybrid up to speed noticeably better than the gas-only models. It's still not quick, with a zero to 60 mph time of around eight seconds, but it's now enough to get the Corolla Cross onto a freeway without taking the engine to its limit.
The fuel economy isn't at Prius levels, but the Corolla Cross Hybrid's 45/38/42 city/highway/combined is strong and not dependent on trim level.
Despite having "sport-tuned suspension," the Corolla Cross isn't a car you'll enjoy pushing the limits with. However, like its non-hybrid counterpart, the ride is unfussy, as is just about every aspect of driving the Corolla Cross Hybrid. Everything about driving the small crossover is agreeable, including the steering and its tight turning circle. Power is now appropriate versus the gas-only version, and its delivery is smooth through the continuously variable transmission. Its dynamics are predictable, and the driver can easily relax and just drive.
There's nothing to zero in on when driving the Corolla Cross Hybrid, which sounds damning, but in reality, it's a good thing for a car designed to manage the daily grind, and it means anyone can drive it comfortably and without a steep learning curve. It's easy in the city; it's easy to park in tight places; it's easy on the freeway. It will make for a great first car for people that don't care about sporty handling or standing out, or even being subtly stylish.
The only fault we can find on the Corolla Cross Hybrid is the tight rear seats, but even then, that's not a Corolla Cross-specific issue - as a small crossover, it's par for the course. The starting price for the Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid S is $27,970 before a delivery charge, then $29,290 for the SE, and $31,065 for the XSE.
Additional packages will increase the price, but that only applies to the upper trims. Both can upgrade to a JBL audio system for $800, but since the XSE already has a moonroof, you can add it to the SE for $940. Adaptive headlights are available to the XSE only at $615. The most expensive add-on is also just for the XSE: the Convenience Package, which costs $1,250. All-in, the Corolla Cross Hybrid, even in top-spec and fully kitted out, won't break your budget.
And with its excellent fuel economy, Toyota build quality and longevity, ease of use, and small footprint, the Corolla Cross Hybrid is the sensible choice for those looking for a small crossover.
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