CARLSBAD, CA – Amid higher, wallet-squeezing gas prices and the soaring popularity of subcompact utility vehicles, comes the ’ 23 Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid.
The packaging is attractive, and it drives perfectly well. But the most attractive quality of the first hybrid in the Corolla lineup is the 42 mpg, (45 city/38 highway), or 5.6 L/100 km, which tops competitors including the Subaru Crosstrek, Jeep Renegade, Kia Seltos, Kia Niro, Hyundai Kona and Ford Escape Hybrid. The Hybrid improves significantly on the 30 mpg (7.8 L/100 km) combined for the standard Cross.
The Corolla Cross franchise is the descendant of the Toyota Matrix (2002-2014), which flew under the radar with practical buyers who wanted AWD at a lower price than most Subarus.
Since then, Toyota has moved the package and the spot in the showroom to the Corolla brand. And why not? For decades, Corolla has represented steady-Freddy transportation for legions of first-time car buyers and middle-class drivers.
Corolla Cross Hybrid Keys
- The hybrid system, the same as found in the ’23 Prius.
- Sporty trim levels SE and XSE, as well as a new S base trim, with a sport-tuned suspension not available in the standard Cross. That “tuning” gives more weighting to the steering wheel but seems like little else.
- The Cross Hybrid has a different fascia than the standard Cross, with a trapezoidal grille moving to the lower half of the front end and finished in gloss black.
- A black contrasting roof is available as a $500 stand-alone feature.
- The glossy black trim continues on the rear deck, contrasting with the black matte plastic trim bits on the standard Cross.
- Comes with Toyota’s latest infotainment system, which lags rivals in design and user interface. We’ve lost physical menu buttons here, which for a system that still looks 10 years out of date, is not a good thing. The screen is 8 ins. (20 cm) whereas many rival brands are offering 12-in. (30.5- cm) screens.
- Digital instrument panel, which remarkably is a place where Toyota shorts you – the hybrid meter does not appear on the S or SE trim level. Seriously?
The Corolla brand certainly has a long legacy of practicality, reliability and thriftiness. But the issue for Toyota is that Hyundai and Kia are out to take as much lunch money from Toyota and Honda as they can. Both Korean brands set out in each model design to overachieve on expectations, while Toyota seems content with meeting expectations, especially when price tags are below $40,000. Working harder at enhancing the ride via software should be dialed in for the midcycle improvements.
Corolla Cross Hybrid Pros:
- Standard all-wheel-drive, which is not available on the Kia Niro Hybrid.
- 21.5 cu.-ft. (609 L) of cargo space behind the rear seats.
- 12 mpg fuel economy gain compared with standard Corolla Cross.
- 8 ins. (203 mm) of ground clearance.
- Nifty look with colors and contrasting trim.
Corolla Cross Hybrid Cons
- Cramped legroom in rear seat.
- $4,000 price premium over standard Corolla Cross, which means payback for driving greener is a longer payback. After 20-plus years of selling hybrids, a premium of $2,000 seems more reasonable.
- Droning engine noise
The Corolla Cross Hybrid checks most of the boxes if you want a vehicle that is good in sloppy road conditions, and for some, the vehicle’s color and graphics will represent a bit of jazzy departure – like serving tacos at the early-bird special.
That’s not so much a criticism of Toyota’s longest-running brand, but an invitation to do better, which may mean benchmarking Hyundai and Kia for infotainment, engine performance and interior design.