► Toyota's B-segment SUV tested on UK roads
► Hybrid drivetrain delivers real economy
► But it's also good to drive
'Oh no', I can hear you cry, 'not another small SUV.' Yes, and this one's the first one that Toyota's sold in Europe since the Urban Cruiser. But this one's different, because Toyota's already riding high on the success of the CoTY-winning Yaris supermini, and this one's closely related to it. So, we're looking at the zeitgeist of real-world small family cars – it's a hybrid and it's SUV-shaped...
Sitting on the same TNGA-B (GA-B) platform as the Yaris (and its GR cousin to some extent), the Cross gets Toyota's latest, fourth generation hybrid powertrain. The 1.5-litre hybrid system is based on the larger 2.0- and 2.5-litre powertrains used by the Corolla, C-HR, RAV4 and Camry. The new 1.5-litre, three-pot Atkinson-cycle petrol engine is optimised for torque and its thermal efficiency is a diesel-beating 40%.
What that means for you is if you're looking for an economical and fun-to-drive small family car that offers lots of room and a family-friendly interior, this should fit the bill. The firm says it's a genuine SUV, benefiting from all the experience it has amassed with the RAV4, with two models in the range benefitting from AWD-i intelligent four-wheel drive. We've driven a pre-production prototype on UK roads to see if Toyota has managed to successfully percolate off of these ingredients.
What's it like inside?
It might be closely related to a big-selling supermini, but thanks to the high seating position and roomy cabin, it feels much roomier than a Yaris, and more like a car from the market sector above. The dashboard, while like its namesake, comes with some useful storage areas, is fully featured and dominated by a high-set central infotainment screen above digital climate controls with physical temperature control knobs. A head-up display, adaptive cruise control and a fully digital instrument panel are also on offer.
It's solid and well laid-out and ticks all the boxes – and all it lacks really is the design flair you'd expect to find in a Peugeot 2008 or Renault Captur. It's functional and spacious, with the right amount of cup- and bottle-holders, but it's also dark and boring to look at. Still, dark interiors are easier to keep clean.
It's 240mm longer than the Yaris hatchback, which means more room inside, despite an identical wheelbase. There's plenty of space up front and in the rear, with a pair of tall back-seat passengers being able to make themselves comfortable without too much difficulty. The 40:20:40 split folding rear seat, electric tailgate and split-level boot floor are all positive points – you can't argue with its practicality.
What's it like to drive?
This is where the Yaris Cross comes to life. The total power output of the petrol and electric motors, and it's good for a WLTP combined fuel economy figure of 65.9mpg and CO2 figures of less than 120g/km (135g/km for the four-wheel drive model). Performance on paper is ho-hum with a maximum speed is 105mph and the 0-62mph time is 11.2 seconds (11.8 for the four-wheel drive version).
But on the move, it feels quick away from the lights and smooth in general driving when underway. The three-cylinder engine is eager but never intrusive, instead humming away quietly in the background. It's best suited to town work, but give it the beans, and it sounds good and rarely gives away the fact it's being driven through an E-CVT. Finally, if you are venturing out of town, it's quiet and refined on the motorway, although our pre-production car was afflicted by a little too much wind noise around the driver's door mirror.
A dashboard indictor lets you know how much time it's spent in pure EV mode, and it can be surprising just how much that is. On our mainly urban test route, in the choked-up home counties, it reported we were in EV mode for anywhere between 60-75% of the time. When we did get the chance to stretch its legs, we saw it running on battery comfortably up to motorway speeds.
Handling and ride
But it's the handling that really impresses. Thanks to that super-stiff and lightweight monocoque, you get a car that's been tuned with precision. Accurate and well-weighted steering are a bonus, as is the minimal amount of body roll (for a high-rider) and keen turn-in that's a rare treat in this market sector. It's not sporty, but it's certainly capable of entertaining you on B-roads if you're putting the work in.
Despite this emphasis on handling, the ride quality is a cut above too – it's firm, but well-damped, which means you'll feel the lumps and bumps, but they don't come crashing through uncomfortably. Overall, a praiseworthy iteration of Toyota's flexible TNGA architecture.
There are four models to choose from, plus a fully featured Premiere Edition version, available for one year only. All models are well-equipped, but then they should be, as they don't come with entry point, nor are they as cheap as many of its small SUV rivals.
All models feature Toyota Safety Sense and driver assistance systems as standard. It can warn the driver of an upcoming collision and help steer and brake it out of trouble, or at least lessen the effects of a collision. It also has pedestrian and cyclist recognition, Lane Departure Alert and Road Sign Assist.
Toyota Yaris Cross: verdict
Forget the SUV-themed fripperies that come part and parcel of so many small family cars these days, because this is a clever and excellent all-rounder. For the rational stuff, the Yaris Cross scores well – it's practical, roomy for passengers and luggage and very economical. You can be sure that it's going to be reliable, and thanks to Toyota's 10-year warranty support, it'll be easy to sell. We'll reserve judgement on just how good it is compared with the class-leading Ford Puma and Skoda Kamiq until we've spent more time with it, but at the very least it's up there.
Where the Yaris Cross has the capacity to surprise and delight is in its fourth-generation hybrid drivetrain. Its unstressed 1.5-litre triple is smooth and eager, and mates beautifully with the E-CVT transmission and motor to create an effortless drive that works well in pretty much any situation, without some of the traditional drawbacks. For one, the transmission doesn't leave the engine mooing its disapproval whenever you want to go for a cheeky overtake, and you can sense the e-motor is really making a contribution to the car's mid-range punch.
Then there's the handling, which is far better than its jacked-up suspension would lead you suspect. Turn-in is eager, the steering is fluid in its response and the damping gives the firm suspension a welcome degree of pliancy. Considering it's been conceived as a family hack, it's unusually excellent in that regard. And that leaves it looking like a safe and sound choice with hidden depths that should mean lasting happiness in the long run.
The Yaris Cross is available to order now, with a starting price of £23,515 for the entry-level Icon model, and deliveries start later in 2021.
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