Japanese carmakers are more conservative compared to European and South Korean brands, especially when it comes to electric vehicles. For while the Europeans have been launching numerous EVs, the Japanese have mostly continued with their combustion engine models.
To be fair, Toyota’s expertise in hybrid technology has enabled it to offer numerous petrol-electric hybrids, which have a much broader appeal compared to EVs. After, not every country has the charging infrastructure to support a large volume of electric cars.
And if there is one hybrid that could be more popular than the Prius, it’s the Corolla Cross Hybrid – a model that Toyota could have made a decade ago. Had Toyota done so, it would arguably be the most popular model in Singapore – especially if COE prices were reasonable.
TICKING THE BOXES
Toyota has a reputation not just for reliability, but in making cars that customers want and need. There’s a reason that the Corolla is a worldwide best-seller and indeed, the most popular car in the world, surpassing 50 million units sold in 2021.
But along the way, consumers’ tastes changed: In fact, since the early 2000s, people have just been wanting crossovers and SUVs.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or marketing guru to figure out that turning the Corolla into an SUV or offering an SUV variant with the Corolla nameplate is a good move. Throw in the hybrid powertrain and it’ll even be a hit.
So, it’s puzzling that Toyota only launched the Corolla Cross Hybrid in 2022. Better late than never, I suppose.
NOT A COROLLA ALTIS ON STILTS
Toyota could have taken the easy way out and just made a Corolla Altis “on stilts” but the carmaker isn’t one for shortcuts.
The car’s front end bears a resemblance to the RAV4 Hybrid and doesn’t look bad, but neither is it memorable. Elongated headlights frame a nondescript grille, while the swollen wheel arches and unpainted plastic trim give the crossover a rugged touch.
If you’ve owned an Altis before, you’ll feel right at home in the Corolla Cross, for the cockpit layout is identical, for it has the same steering wheel, gearshift lever and infotainment screen.
There’s one big difference, though: The instrument panel is digital instead of analogue and gives the driver a choice of several layout options. As with all Toyotas, the Corolla Cross Hybrid’s functions and controls are all straightforward and easy to figure out.
One feature that’s particularly convenient is the electronic parking brake, which is automatically activated/released when the driver shifts into Park and into Drive. It’s a small, Lexus-like touch that owners will appreciate daily.
The infotainment needs sprucing up, though. Both the screen and its housing should be more attractive or even integrated into the dashboard. Fortunately, it functions as it should, and has wireless Apple CarPlay. Plugging your iPhone into the system also activates CarPlay – no Bluetooth sync required.
The rear bench is more comfortable than expected. Given that the Corolla Cross’ wheelbase is less than 2700mm (2640mm), legroom might have been tight. It’s actually adequate, and there are rear air vents to help cool occupants as well.
The Corolla Cross’ specialty is its fuel-efficient powertrain, which consists of a naturally aspirated 2-litre 4-cylinder and an electric motor. This fifth-generation hybrid system produces a healthy 196hp and 206Nm of torque, giving the crossover a sprightly zero to 100km/h time of 7.7 seconds.
You’ll have to trust the figures, however, as the seat-of-the-pants feel seems slower than claimed. The good news is that that it’s probably due to the sound insulation that helps eliminate road and wind noise, making the car quieter and thus reducing the sensation of speed as well.
At any rate, most Corolla Cross buyers are more interested in the car’s excellent fuel economy. Toyota claims 18.9km/L, and I managed around 16.5km/L in urban driving. When cruising on expressways, the figure improved to 24.8km/L. Neat.
Such is Toyota’s experience with hybrid powertrains that after a while, you won’t notice the engine switching over to the electric motor and vice-versa. The changeover is always seamless, and that’s exactly what drivers want.
The Corolla Cross Hybrid is a great example of how Toyota gets things right. The carmaker knows what customers seek and gives them exactly what they want. It’s a solid and consistent approach.
Yet at the same time, Toyota could’ve done even more with this car. Yes, it has the Corolla nameplate and it’s a crossover. Yes, it’s efficient, powerful, and quite safe as well.
If Toyota had launched this model a decade ago or even earlier, the Corolla Cross, by now, might have a more stylish design and offer a more upmarket cabin. And COE prices aside, it arguably could have been the most popular model in Singapore.
Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid Premium 2.0 (A)
ENGINE 1987cc, 16-valves, inline-4, hybrid
MAX POWER 150hp at 6000rpm
COMBINED SYSTEM POWER 196hp
MAX TORQUE 206Nm
POWER TO WEIGHT 136.1hp per tonne
0-100KM/H 7.7 seconds
TOP SPEED 180km/h
PRICE INCL. COE From $189,488
AGENT Borneo Motors