This week saw the launch of the first locally-built hybrid vehicle in South Africa, marking a pretty big milestone for Toyota, and for this country’s motor industry. After flying into to Cape Town we were whisked away to the Mount Nelson Hotel where the reasoning behind this bold move, and significant investment by Toyota SA in their Prospecton Plant, was explained.
It’s no secret the Compact SUV and Crossover market has exploded in South Africa, at the expense of traditional sedan and C-segment vehicles. Step back a few years and the compact SUVs were vehicles like Daihatsu Terios, Nissan Terrano, Mitsubishi iO and Suzuki Jimny, with just a few ‘Cross’ versions of everyday hatches like the Polo and Etios. But skip forward to 2021 and there are more than 30 raised hatches spanning a number of size segments, jostling for buyer attention.
What this segment has done is expand the lifestyle possibilities for many young families. No longer restricted just to tar roads, these mini-adventure vehicles can tackle some gravel, and you can pack in all the gear needed for a wide range of escapes.
Toyota’s has been represented recently in the segment with its bigger, updated RAV4, trendy CH-R and the more compact Urban Cruiser. The newest Corolla Cross, with its immensely popular nameplate, falls between the latter two in terms of size and pricing.
The design of the Cross is striking, with a clear nod to the type of bold features which set this Crossover segment apart – in this case, a raised stance, chunky double trapezium grille and prominent wraparound rear fender.
Built on Toyota’s new TNGA platform, the Cross has been gifted with a rigid body structure perfect for tackling those gravel roads, along with nicely judged suspension and crisp steering. The local models ride on a McPherson strut front suspension with coils, and a newly developed torsion beam rear suspension, which though not out of the top technology drawer, contributes (at sensible speeds) to decent handling with predictable turn-in responses and contained body roll. The ride is firm, but not jarring. Put that down, at least in part, to the lower grades featuring 17-inch alloys, with the higher grades shod in 18s.
The two powertrain options are confined to a nippy 1.8-litre petrol engine offering 103kW/172Nm, and a more frugal petrol hybrid offering 90kW and at 143Nm, quite a bit more torque. Both are coupled to a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), and while these can have a slightly laggy initial response to acceleration, this version is pretty responsive and makes for firm overtaking and happy cruising. In fact, we found the Hybrid offered the smoother acceleration of the two.
Just how frugal is that hybrid? Our drive back from Riebeek Kasteel to Cape Town dished up 6.0 litres/100km, some way above the claimed 4.3, but this could be attributed to the heavy rush-hour traffic we encountered. The pure petrol version delivered a less stellar 8.0 litres/100km, again some way above the theoretical index of 6.8.
The interior is functional, and everything is exactly where you would expect. While there are some hard plastics, there are soft-touch surfaces where it counts. The XR models boast leather seats and two interior colour choices: black or Terra Rossa. The top-grade XR, in addition, has a range of premium driver safety systems, including adaptive cruise control and a lane keeping assistant.
As a family vehicle the Cross is perfect. Not only do the rear seats have ample legroom, but with a class-leading rear boot size of 440 litres, there is plenty of space for stowing holiday gear. One concern is the towing ability of the hybrid, which is limited to 400kg, half of the 800kg rating of the standard petrol versions.
So, what did we think of the Cross? After our short encounter, we came away impressed. The interior is well designed with plenty of space, it’s good to look at from every angle, and the drive is both easy and comfortable – just right for the open road. So, if you are in the market for a family vehicle that will set you on course for many future adventures, the Cross should be on the top of your list.
Toyota expects to sell almost 2 000 a month, so before you sign up for one of the rivals, head into a dealership and take a good look at this competitive crossover. While you’re there, we’d like to issue a challenge. Toyota has hidden 24 tiny Toyota logos, “Easter Eggs”, in places all over the new Corolla Cross. If you can find them all, drop us an e-mail listing their locations, and you stand to win one of 10 available 12-month subscriptions to Adventure Afrika/Adventure Afrika.
Models & pricing
• 1.8 Xi – R 349 900
• 1.8 Xs – R 390 100
• 1.8 XR – R 425 400
• 1.8 Hybrid Xs – R 413 000
• 1.8 Hybrid XR – R 448 300