Toyota’s Corolla is a perennial global best seller. In fact, the parents of a lifelong friend of mine swear by them. They’ve had nearly nothing but Corollas over the past 20+ years. Today, that Corolla nameplate stretches across a broad swath of models. Yes, the compact sedan is still alive, even with an available hybrid now. There is also the hatchback, including a just released scintillating GR Corolla that introduces the U.S. to the idea of a 300 horsepower $50,000 Corolla, yes you read that right, $50,000 for a Corolla. Back to the more pedestrian end of the spectrum we have this Corolla Cross, a subcompact crossover set to do battle with the likes of the Honda HR-V, Kia Seltos, Nissan Rogue Sport (although it was just discontinued), Hyundai Kona, VW Taos etc.
Now, you might be thinking, isn’t that what the ultra funky Toyota C-HR is for? And yes, that too is a subcompact ute, but that extraverted styling and lack of all-wheel drive seemed to relegate the C-HR to the sidelines. C-HR sold just under 36,000 units in the States last year while Honda moved over 137,000 HR-V’s. Out with the funk (C-HR has not been discontinued… yet) and in with the vanilla.
Vanilla isn’t bad. It rarely upsets people. It’s a reliable go to and mixes with just about anything. You could also use that to describe what the Corolla has been to millions of people around the world. The Corolla Cross lives up to the legendary name. It’s practical and comes in a nice size, particularly for urban life. In fact it’s just 5 inches shorter than the RAV4, which I’d bet will grow a hair in its next iteration given what all the competition has sized up with.
Up front, there’s good headroom and seating position. The raised ride height fits right in that not too high not too low spectrum. Easy entry and exit. This combined with available all-wheel drive make this pretty compelling for lots of car buyers today. Rear seat is a bit tight for adults, but would be manageable for treks to lunch, etc. Honda’s brand new HR-V is a bit larger in most seating measurements, but overall they seem pretty close.
The Corolla Cross comes across as smooth and comfortable for the class. Good visibility in all directions thanks to a pretty airy greenhouse. And while the exterior mirrors are pretty large, wind noise was still minimal even at highway speeds. The cabin is decently quiet, although the engine does get a bit loud and coarse on acceleration, something fairly common on several newer Toyotas. Also noted an odd whine present during acceleration that intruded into the cabin, that might be part of the CVT transmission, which actually wasn’t terrible. Low bar I know, but it did well in mimicking a traditional automatic.
Speaking of that transmission, all Corolla Crosses come with the same powertrain – a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine with 169 horsepower and 151 of those torques. All-wheel drive vehicles are rated at a respectable 30 miles per gallon combined. That power splits the difference in the two available Subaru Crosstrek engines (152 HP / 145 lb-ft, 182 HP / 176 lb-ft), and slightly more than the 2023 Honda HR-V (158 HP/138 lb-ft).
Ride quality and motions are well managed adding to the comfort. Notably the all-wheel drive versions get a more sophisticated rear suspension setup, which was also true of the Toyota Corolla Matrix back in the day. The steering is also pleasant for the intended function of the car. It’s not super crisp, but it’s predictable and easy to manage and help maneuver the vehicle. It is light years ahead of the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport that we recently had as a rental.
Inside there’s a big cluster screen in the XLE and it is nice and crisp, with plenty of information and easily accessible through the steering wheel controls. The Corolla Cross, particularly our top spec XLE, really has everything you need and nothing you don’t. Glad to see Toyota make rear heat and A/C vents standard on even the base Corolla Cross L, something always missing in the compact sedan segment. We had a nice power driver seat, heated front seats, power rear lift gate, a sunroof, the optional JBL sound system, wireless phone charger and even front and rear parking sensors. So many mainstream brands only provide rear parking sensors if any at all. Only initial gripe – cupholders up front don’t have any sort of lining/rubber mat, and they don’t have any spring-loaded tensioners to help keep drinks snug.
Of course the full suite of Toyota safety and driver assistance tech is standard as well. That includes the pre-collision system, lane departure alert (although only the audible kind), full-speed adaptive cruise control that can bring you to a stop, with additional active lane centering, auto high beams and road sign assist. Blind Spot detection is only on the XLE trim. Our XLE also had the optional adaptive headlights that could do the active side to side swivel. I remember that being on luxury cars like the 2004 Lexus RX and the 2006 BMW 3 Series.
Then again, as equipped, our XLE AWD rings up at over $32,500. That’s some $2,000 or so more than where the new Honda HR-V EX-L maxes out, and similar to where Subaru Crosstrek Limited is with similar equipment. Toyota is still going to sell a lot of these. They’re already pretty popular, well above the C-HR, but they have a lot of work cut out for them to catch the Crosstrek or HR-V.
Of course, Toyota’s secret sauce of late, the hybrid, is also coming to the Corolla Cross, with both more power and more fuel economy, it’ll be interesting to see how much of a price premium they try to tack on. So no, I don’t think the Corolla Cross is best in class, but it gives Toyota a much more competent entrant into the ever popular subcompact crossover segment than the C-HR. There’s also very little to pick apart from it, which tends to suit the Toyota faithful just fine. And for my friend’s Corolla loving parents, the Cross, with its increased ride height and easy step in and all-wheel drive make it a perfect candidate for their newly retired phase of life in Chicago. Really, you could do far worse in life than to go with a Corolla Cross.