Car companies kind of can’t help themselves. Once they have produced some successful models, the inevitable push is for more models. It makes sense – once you’ve invested in creating a chassis, a series of engines, factories to build them in, of course you’re going to spread that investment out over as many bets on the market as you can.
Hence why Toyota’s line-up has expanded so much in recent years. Once upon a time, Toyota made just one 4×4 – the mighty Land Cruiser. Then it created the original RAV4. That was followed, eventually, by other crossovers such as the wildly successful C-HR, the big Highlander and, more recently, the cute and engaging Yaris Cross.
There was an obvious and potentially lucrative gap in the stacking doll line-up of crossovers, though. Between the compact C-HR and the chunky RAV4, there was a perfectly sized gap for a medium-ish crossover, maybe one that bears the name of the most successful individual car model of all time – hence the birth of this, the Corolla Cross .
It seems almost daft that there hasn’t been one of these before. There was, briefly, a crossover-y version of the Corolla Touring Sports estate, with some stick-on plastic bits and a slightly higher ride height, but this failed to set the market alight. So here’s the proper Toyota Corolla Cross, which looks like an almost perfect halfway house between estate, compact crossover and beefy SUV. Indeed, if you parked one of these between a Yaris Cross, a C-HR and a RAV4, you’d probably think it was some kind of morphing special effects set-up. (Actually, does anyone else remember the mid-80s Toyota Tercel station wagon? I think that might have been designed by a time-traveling Corolla Cross engineer.)
So, the Corolla Cross gets the chunky grille and narrow lights of the RAV, but has an overall softer appearance, more in keeping with its on-road mission. There is extra space under the chassis if you want to traverse some lumpy terrain, and you can spec it with all-wheel drive if you like, but doubtless most will come, like our 2.0-liter test car, with front-wheel drive only. .
It’s quite a pleasant-looking car, although, as with so many crossovers and SUVs, now that they’ve come to dominate the market, it’s also rather generic-looking. You could easily lose it in a car park.
There’s better news on the inside, where you’ll find Toyota’s updated – and vastly improved – infotainment system, which lives on the 10.5-inch touchscreen in the center of the dash.
There’s a new all-digital instrument panel too, 12.3 inches across, which is itself a big improvement on the half-digital, half-analogue instrument pack of the Corolla hatchback.
The cabin isn’t particularly innovative or anything, and it lacks the nice rugged, rubberized buttons of the RAV4, but it’s roomy up front, with decent storage in the doors, under the armrest, and in the center console. Quality levels, as you’d expect from a Toyota, are excellent (although no heated seats in a €41,000 car seems a bit stingy).
In the back, things are less good. Although there’s plenty of headroom, legroom is actually a bit on the tight side, while the boot, at 436 liters with the seats up, is hardly all that impressive. Indeed, the less-fashionable Corolla Touring Sports estate has comparable legroom in the back, and a 598-liter boot, thus proving once again that those buying SUVs and crossovers in the belief that they’re practical family cars are often fooling themselves.
The Corolla Cross also trips up a bit in how it drives. It does nothing wrong, nor does it operate with anything other than total competence, but it’s lacking either the incisive steering and front-end bite of the Corolla or the rugged, languid feeling you get from the RAV4. Basically, it’s competent but nothing more than that, and, given Toyota’s recent track record of making cars that are engaging and enjoyable to drive, that’s a bit of a disappointment.
The 2.0-litre hybrid system is as good as ever, allowing the chunky Corolla Cross to average 5.7 liters per 100km in mixed driving (only fractionally below its official claimed figure. It’s no performance powerhouse, in spite of the 197hp power output, and some of the old-school hybrid high-revving acceleration is still present, but it’s generally a flexible and useful power partner, so you’ll have few, if any, complaints. Refinement could be better, though, as there’s quite a bit of tire roar at a motorway cruise. The ride comfort is excellent, though, and the Corolla Cross’s springy feeling is ideal for dealing with urban lumps and tar scars.
Competent but lacking in desirability is, I feel, the way this is heading. The Corolla Cross might slot snugly, size and price-wise, into the Toyota line-up, but it seems to be a car searching for a reason to exist. If you want a fashionable crossover, the genuinely sporty and fun C-HR is right there. If you need something big and practical, the RAV4 is just next to it. If you want to mix practicality and driving enjoyment, well then just get a Corolla Touring Sports. The Cross tries to mix all of those ingredients together, but ends up with a slightly unstimulating result.
Lowdown: Toyota Corolla Cross 2.0 Hybrid Sport
Power: 2.0-liter four-cylinder petrol engine with hybrid assistance developing 197hp and 190Nm of torque, powering the front wheels via a CVT automatic transmission.
CO2 emissions (annual motor tax): 115g/km (€190).
0-100km/h: 7.6 sec.
Price: €41,590 as tested; Corolla Cross starts from €38,910.
Verdict: A mish-mash of ideas that doesn’t add up. Just buy the much better (and more practical) Corolla Touring Sports instead.