Toyota does its own thing at its own pace—it’ll get around to its electric vehicles and tiny fashionable urban crossovers and whatever-else-you’re-after when it’s good and ready. Someone at HQ has finally realized the firm is missing a trick, however, and here we have the new Yaris Cross, due out later in 2021. Presumably, it’s cross because everyone else is pinching its sales.
This version is 90mm taller, 20mm wider, and 240mm longer than the Yaris hatchback it’s based on, but it has the same wheelbase. It uses the same TNGA platform that underpins a load of other Toyotas and has been credited with making them much more fun to drive than in recent years, and it gets the same 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine paired with a fancy hybrid setup. The one thing that Toyota actually did get working on years before everyone else clocked on.
Is the normal Yaris getting the chop, then?
If you’re worried about the fate of the standard, less-lofty Yaris hatchback, then be calmed by Toyota’s laidback assertion that the cars appeal to very different audiences. Right in the middle of the Cross’s, er, crosshairs are school-run mums looking for something stylish but easy to use. Styling is of course a very personal, subjective matter, but we think the Yaris Cross looks all right for what it is. It’s got a manga Volvo XC40 thing going on with its bluff front and rear, and even the squared wheel arches have a first-gen RAV4 vibe.
What are the engine options?
There’s only one option here, but the hybrid powertrain will be familiar to anyone who has driven a Toyota hybrid in the last 15 years or so. It’s all very simple—go, stop, the computer works out how much you can do without the gasoline engine running. There are two engine modes that do exactly what they say on the tin—you’ve got Eco or PWR, which is so eager to get going, it doesn’t even have all its letters.
Toyota’s going in hard on the sporty angle in its pre-game messaging, which feels a little odd from this company, but then again the Japanese carmaker is on something of a roll after the success of the GR Yaris and the improvements its new platform has brought.
On the road
Toyota’s hybrid system has always been technically very impressive, with genuinely innovative ideas serving to get the best out of the internal combustion engine. This latest version in the Yaris Cross is no less impressive, with 40% thermal efficiency and tweaks to generate more power and torque at lower revs.
The company is touting the car’s ‘sporty’ credentials, though, so that adds a bit more expectation to the car. Surprisingly, it mostly delivers. The Yaris Cross is perky off the line, more so than its sluggish 11.2sec 0-100kph time suggests, and handling is pleasantly darty around town. The steering has a decent heft, where perhaps the Yaris hatch in the past has felt over-assisted and bland.
Is the engine still crazy revvy?
Certainly the motor sounds a lot less shouty, which has been one of the chief complaints about the CVT-equipped cars in the past—that the engine jumps to maximum revs and stays there. Here, the yelling is kept to an appreciable minimum thanks to the low-down power, with the engine only going crazy when you hoof it and backing off quickly as you ease off the accelerator.
Is it comfortable to ride in?
So this is the chief issue we had with the car, albeit with the important asterisk and tiny writing underneath that explains we were driving an early left-hand-drive pre-production prototype that was presumably glued together, or built as a practice run or something. The ride was quite harsh and fussy, so much so that the mirrors were vibrating. The front seats were lovely and squishy, though, so if Toyota can filter out the worst of the noise and get a car that corners fairly keenly and flat, we reckon it could be quite fun.
And does the Yaris Cross take tiny sips of petrol?
We got about 24.2km/L out of the Yaris on a trip through country roads, highways, and a bit of urban running. The 2WD Dynamic-spec car we drove is officially rated at 28km/L and 98g/km CO2. The AWD system splits the electric motor from the front of the car and moves it to the back axle, to provide a bit of reassurance in slippier conditions, but that comes with a slight fuel and emissions penalty.
On the inside
In an area of the market that’s got some fairly fashionable cars, the Yaris Cross was always going to have it tough. That said, it feels decently stylish inside without also feeling like it’s going to date badly in the next two months. The front seats are squishy (in a good way) and comfortable, although it must be noted that there are some hard plastics around the cockpit that you can catch your knees on, to the side of the center stack and underneath the steering column.
There are some interesting materials in the cabin, a few decent cubbies, and the now-ubiquitous touchscreen wanged on the middle of the dashboard. This comes in eight-inch guise in the entry variant and gets upgraded to a nine-inch version on all the others. This is something else that’s much improved on previous iterations, especially the fact that you can now use Apple CarPlay and Android Auto where you previously had to slum it on Toyota’s own system.
Is it practical?
In the cargo area is where all the decent action is happening—the rear seats split 40:20:40 for maximum practicality, and even the floor itself is split 60:40 to allow you to carry taller things without having to drop the entire surface. The luggage cover is a strange piece of stretched material that feels like the front door of a festival tent. We’re not sure whether it’s an inspired piece of design or horrendous cost-saving—probably one of those features you have to live with to see whether you appreciate it.
There’s good rear passenger space in the Yaris Cross, with plenty of room to fit your feet under the seat in front. Toyota has used the extra length well. That said, the rising shoulder line on the back doors might leave kids in car seats a bit miffed that they can’t see out. Still, it’ll teach them to live with disappointment.
Despite its late arrival to the game, it seems like Toyota has brought a decent hand. The Yaris Cross doesn’t have the interior flair of rivals, but the exterior is bold and different without being divisive, and the hybrid setup offers an economical alternative for those who don’t have the budget or the stomach to go fully electric just yet.
NOTE: This article first appeared on TopGear.com. Minor edits have been made.
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