Toyota Yaris Cross hybrid prototype review

Toyota’s answer to the Nissan Juke isn’t set to arrive until later in 2021, but our time in a prototype hints at good things for the compact hybrid SUV

Pros

  • Looks
  • Efficiency
  • Practicality

Cons

  • Firm ride
  • e-CVT gearbox not great
  • More expensive than rivals

While it has a long history of producing reliable 4x4s and large SUVs like the Land Cruiser and RAV4, Toyota has taken its sweet time in launching a small SUV to rival the likes of the Nissan Juke, Renault Captur and Hyundai Kona. But, a decade after the launch of the original Juke kicked off the small SUV craze in the UK, Toyota is almost ready to launch its response; the Yaris Cross.

As you'd expect, it shares its mechanical platform and "self-charging hybrid" engine with the regular Yaris Hybrid hatchback that's already on sale. So there's a 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine and small electric motor, under the bonnet, as well as Toyota's 'e-CVT' automatic transmission. 

But, unlike the Yaris and many small SUVs, you can get the Yaris Cross with either front or four-wheel-drive. Toyota calls the latter 'AWD-i' and these cars get an additional electric motor powering the rear wheels. However, this is only an option in the high-spec Dynamic and Premiere Edition trims, plus it increases CO2 emissions and fuel use due to the extra weight and battery power required.

That’s not to say the Yaris Cross isn’t efficient in either two or four-wheel-drive form. The former emits just 103g/km of CO2, while the figure for the latter is 107g/km – in both cases lower than what both the Hyundai Kona Hybrid and Toyota’s own C-HR record.

Plus, when we tested the Yaris Cross on a variety of urban streets, A-roads, B-roads and motorways, the system reckoned we’d been driving in pure-electric mode for 66% of the time. If you do most of your motoring in urban areas, that could increase to 70%, which will get you as close as possible to Toyota’s official fuel-economy figure for the Yaris Cross of nearly 66mpg.

The car we tested was a front-wheel-drive example in Adventure trim, which we won’t be getting in the UK, but it's close to the Dynamic spec that will be available here (more on that later). Sitting in, it doesn’t take long to recognise that Toyota has succeeded in transplanting the solid essentials of the supermini into its taller sibling. 

The Yaris Cross delivers respectable amounts of body control for a compact SUV and the steering is direct, with a good amount of heft, but the ride may be too firm for some. Although it’s compliant enough in most situations, we found it was slightly happier at higher speeds than around town, especially on the 18-inch alloy wheels our test car rode on.

The latest version of Toyota’s hybrid powertrain for its smaller vehicles has improved over the years, but the grumble of the three-cylinder engine does start pretty soon after you pull away. It’s also not what you could call quick, with the Yaris Cross taking a leisurely 11.2 seconds to get from zero to 62mph. But again, that's on par with figures for the Hyundai Kona and Kia Niro hybrids – and good enough for most everyday usage. 

Inside, the Yaris Cross does feel slightly more premium than its supermini stablemate, with a generally smart and functional cabin that feels well put together. Toyota’s infotainment system has long been a weak point, but the Yaris Cross does feature some gains in that department. Our car had the larger nine-inch infotainment setup, admittedly, but the display was crisp, bright and easy to use. Plus, all models come with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity.

Being an SUV, the Yaris Cross also needs to boast superior practicality over the supermini version at least. Thankfully, there’s up to 360 litres of boot space – 74 more than the hatchback – or up to 460 litres if you pack the car up to the roof, which again is on par with the best in this class. However, rear-seat passengers approaching six feet tall may complain about leg and kneeroom, suggesting this car is aimed more at young families or couples, who Toyota hopes will be drawn in by its increased practicality and pseudo-off-roader styling, especially in the higher-spec Dynamic trim level.

The Yaris Cross starts out in Icon trim at just over £22,500, which comes with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, 16-inch alloy wheels, an eight-inch infotainment screen and a reversing camera. Design trim (just over £24,000) adds a few extra features like LED headlights and 17-inch alloy wheels, but you need to step up to Excel (nearly £27,000) before the nine-inch infotainment screen we tried is standard. That trim also gets 18-inch alloy wheels, a powered tailgate, heated seats and safety kit like blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.

The top-of-the-range Dynamic and Premiere Edition start from just under £26,500 and just over £28,000 respectively in front-drive form. Dynamic builds on Excel trim with more rugged exterior styling and two-tone paint, while Premiere Edition cars get black leather seats, an eight-speaker JBL sound system and a 10-inch colour head-up display. These are also the only two models available with all-wheel-drive, which is a more-than-£2,000 option for either variant.

Overall, the Yaris Cross delivers exactly what we’ve come to expect from a compact hybrid SUV. The engine offers decent fuel economy and a slight reduction in emissions compared to purely petrol-powered rivals, while interior quality is good, with well integrated technology that means the car should sell on more than just its good looks.

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