Corolla Cross – a new player in town

November saw the launch of the first locally-built hybrid vehicle in South Africa, marking an important milestone for Toyota, and for this country’s motor industry. A contingent of motoring media was flown into Cape Town and whisked away to the Mount Nelson Hotel, where the reasoning behind this bold move, and significant investment by Toyota South Africa 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 the Daihatsu Terios, Nissan Terrano, Mitsubishi Pajero iO and the Suzuki Jimny, with just a few ‘Cross’ versions of everyday hatches like the Polo and Etios. But fast forward to 2021, and there are more than 30 raised hatches spanning several size segments, all jostling for buyer attention. What this segment has done is expand the lifestyle possibilities for many young families, who are now no longer restricted just to tar roads. Thanks to these mini-adventure vehicles, they can tackle some gravel, and all the gear needed for a wide range of escapes will fit neatly in the larger sized family chariots.

Toyota’s has been well represented in the SUV segment with its bigger, updated RAV4, trendy C-HR and the more compact Urban Cruiser. The newest Corolla Cross, with its immensely popular nameplate, is both more spacious and priced below the C-HR. 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’ rigid body structure makes it perfect for tackling gravel roads, along with nicely judged suspension and crisp steering. The local models ride on a MacPherson strut front suspension with coil springs 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 sensible rubber as the lower grades feature 17-inch alloy wheels, with the higher grades shod in an 18-inch option.

Power up

The two powertrain options are confined to a nippy 1.8-litre petrol engine offering 103kW power and 172Nm peak torque and a more frugal 1.8-litre hybrid offering a combined peak output of 90kW power and 142Nm torque, achieved at lower revs. Both are coupled to a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), and while these can have a slightly laggy initial response to acceleration, this version is fairly responsive and makes for firm overtaking and happy cruising. In fact, we found the hybrid model offered the smoother acceleration of the two.

Just how frugal is that hybrid? Our drive from Riebeek Kasteel to Cape Town in the hybrid dished up 6-litres/100km, some way above the claimed 4.3-litres/100km, but this could be attributed to the heavy rush-hour traffic we encountered. The pure petrol version we drove earlier in the day delivered a less stellar 8.0-litres/100km, again some way above the theoretical index of 6.8-litres/100km.

The interior is functional, and everything is exactly where you would expect it to be. While there are some hard plastics, soft-touch surfaces are placed where it counts. The XR models boast partial 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 lane keep assist.

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 capacity 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 ready for the open road. If you are in the market for a family vehicle that will set you on course for many future adventures, the Cross should certainly be on your shopping list.

Model line-up and pricing:

  • 1.8 Xi: R349 900
  • 1.8 XS: R390 100
  • 1.8 XR: R425 400
  • 1.8 XS Hybrid: R413 000
  • 1.8 XR Hybrid: R448 300

A six-services/90 000km service plan is standard on all Corolla Cross models, with service intervals of 12-months/15 000km. A 3-year/100 000km warranty is included. The hybrid model carries an 8-year/195 000km warranty on the drive battery.

Proudly South African

The Corolla is one of the most successful model ranges ever built, boasting a diverse history spanning 12 generations and having racked up over 50 million global sales. Originally designed as a compact city car in 1966, the Corolla has continued to evolve in line with the needs of the times and of the regions, it is sold in. The Corolla Cross represents the first foray into the crossover/SUV space and combines the respected core-product characteristics Corolla is known for, with a new body shape that offers enhanced function and utility.

The Corolla Cross carries particular significance for South Africa, as the model is locally produced in Toyota’s long-running Prospecton plant in Durban, continuing the legacy of producing Corollas in Mzansi. Securing the manufacturing contract for this model carries considerable importance for the brand, with a direct impact on job creation, industry viability and economic support for not only South Africa, but Africa as a whole.

President and CEO of Toyota South Africa Motors, Andrew Kirby, noted: “If you tally up the investments we’ve made in this plant spanning the last five years, of which the Corolla Cross accounts for R2.6-billion, we arrive at a cumulative figure of over R6.5-billion. As Toyota, we are committed to further developing and strengthening our business in South Africa and making a difference in the country, our communities, suppliers, dealers, customers and in our own employees’ lives.” The introduction of the Corolla Cross model has generated 575 new jobs at the automaker’s South African plant while over 1 200 direct jobs were created in the component supply base. Another significant focus during the project was to maximise the local content for this model. This resulted in the localisation of 621 parts from 56 local suppliers.

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