The Toyota Yaris Cross launches into an overcrowded market but does offer something new, extending Toyota’s hybrid SUV range and becoming its smallest member, with the result that buyers of small cars can now join the rush to SUVs.
The Yaris Cross is actually a modern successor to a car produced briefly by Toyota between 2009 and 12 – the Urban Cruiser, effectively a small crossover, was not a success but could now arguably be described as ahead of its time. Today everyone wants SUV-style cars and Toyota’s second attempt at extending such choice to the supermini market is a rather better package.
What’s new about the Toyota Yaris Cross?
There is a simple principle behind this car – take the already popular Yaris supermini and repackage all the key bits, including the hybrid drivetrain, into a compact SUV body. Then give this body a distinctive look with major overtones of the larger and long-established Toyota SUV, the RAV4.
Built on the same chassis as the Yaris supermini, the Yaris Cross becomes the smallest member of an expanded Toyota hybrid SUV line-up that ranges right up to the seven-seat Highlander. It’s slightly larger all round than its supermini inspiration though with the same wheelbase, and stands a couple of centimetres higher off the ground.
Toyota also takes the opportunity with this new model to finally do something about its infotainment systems, the new ‘Smart Connect’ unit fitted to the Yaris Cross a major improvement of what the Japanese manufacturer has offered previously, and not a moment before time…
How does it look?
The Yaris Cross is quite distinctive in its visuals, Toyota differentiating it from the standard Yaris with a blunt front and rear-end treatment, vertical and large daytime-running lights and squared-off wheel arches.
The result is a presence which is good on the eye and quite stylish, while not extending to looks that would be divisive. The belt line of the body, which rises towards the rear of the car, does restrict the side view from the rear seats, especially for children.
What’s the spec like?
Toyota offers the Yaris Cross in four main grades dubbed Icon, Design, Excel and Dynamic. Additionally, a limited-edition, top-spec ‘Premiere Edition’ is also currently available. Only Dynamic and Premiere Edition versions can be bought with the all-wheel-drive powertrain.
Even base-level Icon models are well-equipped, including auto wipers and lights, push-button entry and starting, electric windows all round and a rear-view camera. Design versions, as in our test car, add LED lights, 17-inch wheels, privacy glass and a seven-inch driver’s display panel.
The top-level Excel and Dynamic models are pitched respectively as comfort or sporty variants. Heated front seats, dual-zone air conditioning and powered adjustment on the driver’s seat are common to both and they also boast bespoke interior finishes.
You need to choose either of the top models to gain the new Smart Sense multimedia system (a desirable as we will see shortly) – we are able to try it in our Design test car as it’s a £300 option.
Common to all versions of the Yaris Cross is an impressive safety package, grouped under Toyota’s ‘Safety Sense’ banner. It includes a wide selection of active safety aids – autonomous emergency braking is present of course but with a number of extras including a new system dubbed ‘Intersection Turn Assistance’ – this warns of and tries to prevent collisions when turning, either with other traffic or pedestrians.
All this comes as standard on all models but the Excel specification adds a blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert, while parking sensors with auto braking and a 360-degree around-view camera are options.
What’s the Toyota Yaris Cross like inside?
Considering this is a small SUV, the Yaris Cross does offer a reasonable amount of space inside, including for rear-seat passengers – it’s actually larger than the Yaris name suggests it should be.
The boot is impressive in its versatility – as well as the 40:20:20 folding rear seats the boot floor itself splits 60:40, easing the transport of taller items while also providing a hidden space for valuable items.
The car is generally comfortable to travel in, especially sitting in the front seats, while the cabin design is innocuous – there’s nothing particularly memorable about the layout of the dash, though in this market nor does there particularly need to be. The materials are mostly suited to purpose though the use of some hard plastics does jar the overall effect.
One major improvement is in the infotainment system. The Yaris Cross debuts Toyota’s new Smart Connect multimedia platform, based around a nine-inch high-definition touchscreen in the centre console and a long overdue update – it’s a shame that it’s only offered on top-spec versions or as an option.
Most users these days will simply plug their smartphone into it – the system is fully compatible with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay (which the previous Toyota infotainment wasn’t) and with wireless capability. But even if you rely on Toyota electronics the navigation is vastly better than the over-coloured and not exactly user-friendly ‘last generation’ maps still fitted to such recent cars as the Highlander.
What’s under the bonnet?
just one self-charging hybrid powertrain is available for the Toyota Yaris Cross, though it’s offered in two varieties. The front-wheel-drive versions of the car unit combine a 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine with a 59kW electric motor, for a combined output of 116hp.
Dynamic and Premiere Edition versions can also be bought with a second 3.9kW electric motor on the rear axle, providing all-wheel-drive capability which is ‘intelligent’ – the rear-axle motor only cuts in when road conditions require. Whether front or all-wheel-drive all versions drive through an automatic transmission.
Toyota quotes an 11.2-second 0-62mph time for the front-wheel drive Yaris Cross, extended to 11.8 seconds for the all-wheel drive version. Officially, fuel economy ranges from 54.6 to 64.2mpg on the industry test, with corresponding CO2 emissions from 100 to 116g/km.
What’s the Toyota Yaris Cross like to drive?
On the road you have three driving modes to play with, the standard one sandwiched by Eco and Power settings, which do make a noticeable difference to the engine’s responses. The car will spend most of its time in the standard mode, however, defaulting to it each time you restart the engine.
In such mode the Yaris Cross glides away virtually silently from rest with the electric motor doing all the work, the petrol engine cutting in at around 30mph, or if you accelerate very swiftly.
The change is almost seamless – the only obvious indicator is a slight increase in the audio note, unless one watches the oddly addictive display on the centre console showing which bits of the drivetrain are in operation – electric, power or a combination of both with the car’s efficient ECU making all the decisions. This does actually help you to adapt your driving style to make more use of electricity, with running cost savings as a result.
It’s not exactly rapid, but acceleration is as assured as one gets with instant electric torque – it feels more perky from behind the wheel than it actually is. The overall impression on the road is of a relaxed drive with no surprises – it is generally cosseting at lower speeds, only being unsettled by larger bumps, and these in turn smooth out at higher speeds for comfortable progress.
In corners the Yaris Cross is quite surprising for an SUV, – steering response is pretty instant and the car easy to place, holding its pose with little body roll. It’s not quite as sharp as the supermini Yaris, but pretty close and actually reasonably fun to drive.
The Toyota Yaris Cross competes in an increasingly competitive environment with the number of rivals to it steadily growing, prime competitors including the Hyundai Kona Hybrid and Renault Captur E-Tech. And the new Toyota becomes a prime contender in its segment, basically because it follows the mantra of previous Toyota hybrid models – making no grand statements but being an extremely easy car to live with.
With prices starting from £22,515 the car is also good value for money – there are few minus points of any significance and a lot to like about the Toyota Yaris Cross.
Citroën C3 Aircross | Dacia Duster | Fiat 500X | Ford Puma | Honda HR-V | Hyundai Bayon | Hyundai Kona | Kia Stonic | Mazda CX-3 | MG ZS | Mitsubishi ASX | Nissan Juke | Peugeot 2008 | Renault Captur | SEAT Arona | Skoda Kamiq | SsangYong Tivoli | Suzuki Vitara | Vauxhall Crossland | Vauxhall Mokka | Volkswagen T-Cross | Volkswagen T-Roc
Model tested: Toyota Yaris Cross
Price (as tested): £24,140
Engine: 1.5-litre petrol/electric hybrid
Gearbox: CVT automatic
Power: 116 hp
Torque: 141 Nm
Top speed: 106 mph
0-62 mph: 11.2 seconds
Fuel economy (combined): 54.6-62.8 mpg
CO2 emissions: 102 g/km
Euro NCAP safety rating: Five stars (2021)
TCE Expert Rating: 70% (as of Dec 2021)