Toyota Urban Cruiser 1.3 2WD (2009) review

Published:15 April 2009

Toyota Urban Cruiser
  • At a glance
  • 3 out of 5
  • 2 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 2 out of 5
  • 2 out of 5

Don’t laugh too loudly at the name. With the Urban Cruiser, Toyota’s clearly cashing in on its brutish 4x4 Land Cruiser branding (there was once a Scooby Doo Mystery Machine-style Space Cruiser too) rather than deliberately evoking images of kerbcrawlers. It’s attached to a Kia Soul-style MPV-lite body, that’s really little more than a built-up supermini, complete with 1.3-litre) Yaris motive power. And it costs £14,500.

Ouch. That sounds a bit steep

You’d be right. The cheapest Urban Cruiser (there are only two – the four-wheel drive 1.4 diesel costs £16,400) starts at a whole £4000 more than the cheapest Kia Soul, and the Soul is a 1.6 with 122bhp. And there’s nothing about the Urban Cruiser that’s cleverer than the Soul. Still just five seats (and you wouldn’t get three adults in the back), a pretty ordinary boot space and no clever storage solutions inside. The equipment level is decent – air-con, electric windows all-round, alloys, keyless go – but sat-nav is an extra and the hard plastic interior finish falls leagues short of a Golf’s. Yes, you can buy a Golf for this money.

It must be a great drive, then

You wish. Actually there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the Urban Cruiser, other than that it’s pitched to punch above its station. About four grand above its station actually, and we have to judge it at its asking price.

The Yaris’s 1.3-litre four-pot is quite smooth and willing and the six-speed gearbox means there’s usually a ratio to suit your needs. Until you get up to cruising speed and run out. Then the Urban Cruiser gets out of its depth and truly lives up to its name, struggling in sixth and forcing you to shift down to fourth if you’re baulked and need to build up speed again. There’s also quite a lot of wind noise making itself heard around the extremities of the Toyota’s boxy body, and crosswinds will have you scattering across the carriageway like autumn leaves. The seats are mean too, and will make you fidget after half an hour. Once you’re outside city limits, this car stops making sense.

Even the dashboard is annoying. Toyota has crammed the speedo and rev counter into a single circular dial to save space. And then liberated a black hole on either side of the binnacle with nothing to fill them other than some warning lights. Somebody didn’t think that through.

 

So what about round town then?

Around town, the Urban Cruiser is (cue fanfare)… alright. Up to 50mph this is an okay car. The steering is light, the gearshift undemanding, the clutch easy, the ride quite soft and buoyant. It’s easy to get in and out too. Visibility is fine. It’s every inch an unintimidating, hassle-free Toyota. Er, I’m running out of things to praise now.

Hasn’t it got one of those stop/start thingies?

Yes it has. And during 400 miles of test-driving at every kind of speed, in town, country, on the motorway, I never got it to activate once. Was it switched on? Yes. Was it too cold to operate? Not all the time. What about the other half-dozen caveats listed in the owners’ handbook? Well, unless our Toyota had a seriously knackered battery, there was no reason for the stop/start thingy to completely never actually do its stop/start thing.

Editor Phil McNamara activated it once. But he admits he may have stalled. And this is the second Toyota we’ve had on test that failed to stop. And start.

Verdict

Oh dear, we can’t think of a good reason to buy the Urban Cruiser. Not at these prices. In the USA, it’s badged the Scion Xd and costs around £11,000. And it gets a 1.8-litre motor for that money, too. Fine. Do that for us and you might be onto something, Toyota.

As it stands, this kind of money gets you into serious do-anything territory. Not the all-terrain, people-carrying type of do-anything territory but hyper-competent, useful family car territory. A three-door VW Golf TSI is just over £15k. How about a boggo Ford Focus for less than £14k?

Or save a small fortune without seriously compromising on usefulness or refinement and buy a Mitsubishi Colt 1.3 CZ2 five-door for just £9299. It might not look as lifestylie as the Urban Cruiser, but the Toyota’s cashing cheques that just aren’t in the bank.

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Specs

Price when new: £14,500
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: 1329cc 16v 4-cyl, 100bhp @ 6000rpm, 97lb ft @ 3800rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Performance: 12.5sec 0-62mph, 109mph, 51.4mpg, 129g/km
Weight / material: 1120kg/steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 3930/1725/1525

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