Review: Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid - Come on HR-V, give it your best shot
Sanjay · Jun 18, 2022 12:00 PM
Was the last decade better for green motoring in Malaysia than today? You recall UMWT alone offering three models – the Prius, Prius C, and the locally-assembled Camry Hybrid – but that was that, and their successors never made it here.
How did that happen? Policies shoulder the brunt of the blame; as tax breaks went away, prices for these cars became a little too uncompetitive for most Malaysians. Hybrids then fell to the wayside.
But leave it to the Toyota Corolla CrossHybrid to challenge this narrative. Currently the sole electrified offering in UMWT’s stable, it accounts for 40% of the model’s sales and last we checked, we’re still not incentivised to spend the extra dosh for electrification. So…what's the pull factor?
Exterior – Seen one, seen it all
Styling is of course an entirely subjective appreciation, and if you like the regular ‘Cross enough then this will be no different. We like how it looks – certainly more chic than some of its rivals, and the unique Celestite Grey Metallic colour matches it well.
Save the squinting and screen pinching, the main differences between this and other variants are the blue tinges in the headlights, Toyota logos, and hybrid badges along the sides and rear.
Interior – Comfortably familiar
If familiarity is your thing, then you’d like the cabin which is essentially the same as you’d get in a Corolla Altis. Personally I feel it looks a tad bit dated, but the appeal of the Corolla Cross is less about its looks and more about how it works.
Aesthetic grievances aside there’s many good things about the interior – it's well-built, but that's still with a few nothes behind the premium touches of even a Proton, nevermind a Honda. Those aside the front seats are fantastically comfortable and paired with tilt and telescopic steering adjustment, most drivers ought to find a comfy position behind the wheel.
Which says a lot about its ergonomics too. It’s a car that you simply jump in and drive off, made possible by easy-to-reach, neatly laid out controls. The dual-zone air conditioning – only for this variant, the rest get single-zone – are operated by buttons and knobs, plus using the different ADAS functions aren’t layered behind a nonsense of submenus. Big tick.
Behind the steering sits a full-colour seven-inch digital instrument cluster, flanked by battery charge states and fuel gauges. The screen itself displays a large digital speedometer and basic drive info, and…er, that’s all.
Compared to what's in recent Honda cars, this feels rudimentary. In the Civic and CR-V you get turn-by-turn navigation, media info, and lots more to customise.
Sadly much like the other variants, the laggard 9-inch infotainment screen stays as the model's weakest link. Subpar audiovisual quality aside, the biggest problem this has is its self-activating turning cameras.
Drive below 20 km/h and the camera on whichever side the indicators are on pops up. Super annoying as this overrides Android Auto/Apple CarPlay navigation, and to make matters worse there’s no option to toggle or turn this feature off entirely.
That aside, storage space for smaller items in the Corolla Cross is lacking. For instance the centre console box is only big enough for a sunglass case and not much else, there's no small cubby by the window controls, and the little space below is centre stack is rendered moot if you spring for the optional (RM 520) wireless charger.
Cabin space – Fits most families
It’s comfortable alright – the confident ride and sculpted front seats make for a very nice experience for those sitting in front, while getting in and out is easy enough thanks to doors that swing wide with well-placed hip points.
Space at the back is average, with about 2 tennis balls worth of head- and legroom for me, who's 175 cm tall.
Three can sit fine across the bench, and as much as the two-stage reclining seat backs are a good thought, the rear never quite feels as comfortable as the plush front. They either feel too upright, or lean you back too much.
Packaging ingenuity means you don’t lose out on boot space, so there’s still a reasonable 440 litres behind the powered tailgate, and more when you flatten the 60:40 split-folding rear seats.
Driving performance – Wallet-friendly
Propulsion comes in two self-switching modes: pure battery (EV) or with the engine running. In EV mode, the battery directly drives the motor, meaning at low speeds it's pretty much an electric vehicle. However, due to the small size of said battery, you won’t get very far before the engine kicks in.
Realistically then you’ll spend most of your time in regular mode, in which the petrol engine works in tandem with the electric motor. This not only helps improve fuel efficiency, but it also means any excess power (under braking, or deceleration) is diverted to recharge the battery.
When you’re moseying around town the electric motor is as quiet as anything, and there's always a useful burst of acceleration. Noise levels significantly increase when you start to explore the depths of the 122 PS powertrain combo though, particularly from the naturally-aspirated engine.
Sport mode – a Hybrid-only feature – helps kick things up a notch, but nothing too much. As far as CVTs go however, the one here isn’t bad, with minimal whine and almost undetectable rubberbanding thanks to smooth and clever mapping.
Nought to 100 km/h takes 12.9 seconds, and it comes to a stop from that speed in 40 metres. Not that you’re likely to test that anyway; what’s more important is fuel efficiency, and this is a every bit a winner.
Across 130 km of mixed driving in city and highway driving, the Corolla Cross Hybrid returned an average of 5.1 litres/100 km. Bear in mind too that this variant has a smaller fuel tank than the others (36 vs 47 litres), so you'll be paying less for fuel in general.
Hard numbers aside there are certain things in the way the car works that we think could be better. That mostly boils down to its adaptive cruise control (DRCC) function, which is a step below the similar system in the Honda Sensing suite.
On highway drives it can get a little hairy, since it brakes too hard and too late, and is relatively slow to respond if the car in front pulls away or moves over. Plus, this hasn't got an electric parking brake (EPB); so it isn't able to resume moving on its own after it's stopped in a traffic jam.
Ride comfort – SUV par excellence
The Corolla Cross Hybrid is no GR product, but it does drive quite well for what it is – a family-friendly SUV that majors on practicality instead of outright fun. How it rides is most impressive – that’s the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) at play – with the Corolla Cross handling pothole-scarred roads with aplomb.
Suspension is soft, but it doesn't feel squidgy, with nicely-contained body roll. That's something you want; if anything that means there's way less risk of motion sickness for passengers. Of course, that's helped by the best front seats you can get for the money right now that's supportive in all the right places.
KL to Penang non-stop? No fatigue and not a cramp butt in sight.
Steering is progressive and well-weighted – not jarringly light – and in the hands of a smooth driver it is nimble enough to flow gently from one corner to the next. Mind you this was proven during our earlier media drive on the twisties surrounding Batu Ferringhi, so your usual LDP stretch will be a cinch.
Sound insulation is top notch, registering 67 dB at 110 km/h, on par with competitors of this range. Most of the noise seeps in through the B-pillar.
Corolla Cross Hybrid noise test
Idle, AC on
Idle, AC off
Conclusion - The best variant to get
The question posed at the start of this piece wasn’t meant to be rhetoric. Having spent a few days with the Corolla Cross Hybrid, we're glad the answers make themselves very clear. It's the all-rounder student you love to hate, the one who has a deft hand in almost every aspect.
You get space, practicality, and a reasonable drive, if only marred by the weak infotainment and the so-so digital speedometer. Shame, if those were better this car would've been this much closer to perfect.
Priced from RM 136,550 (SST-free prices valid until 30-June 2022, but the waiting list stretches past that already) it's just RM 7.5k above the 1.8 V.
That's a difference blurred in your monthly instalments – so we implore you to just spring for this Corolla Cross Hybrid. Additional features aside, it offers one way to future-proof; when revised fuel subsidies do happen and RON 95 prices spike, you'll appreciate the added efficiency.
That's one question answered, but soon the 2022Honda HR-V will come knocking with its own set of very tough ones. But from what we've experienced...we think the Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid has enough mettle to hold its own.
With humble beginnings collecting diecast models and spending hours virtually tuning dream cars on the computer, his love of cars has delightfully transformed into a career. Sanjay enjoys how the same passion for cars transcends boundaries and brings people together.