The Toyota Corolla Cross didn’t have to be a Corolla. It could have been any number of all-new crossover or compact SUV models from Toyota that bore little relation to the long-running compact. The Cross would have probably been a popular choice in the U.S. no matter what the badge called it, because crossovers are just that popular.
In Japan, the Corolla Cross gets a big “C” badge up front, shared across the full JDM Corolla lineup and giving the crossover a little more connection to the Corolla family. That badge, along with a couple of unique styling bits we don’t get, makes all the difference. The U.S. will eventually get the same styling on the 2023 Corolla Cross Hybrid, but regular Cross models just don’t look as cool as their JDM counterparts.
For the Japanese market, the changes to the Corolla Cross basically come down to a bigger badge, smaller grill and slightly different lights. Here’s what the current Corolla Cross looks like in Japan:
Compared to how the Corolla Cross looks in the U.S.:
The U.S. market car’s bland appearance belies the spirit of the little crossover. When I drove the car, I got the sense that it’s a great commuter — if a little slow on Texas highways, which are admittedly full of speeders who travel in clumps.
The Corolla Cross was great around town. My main gripe was that it looks uneventful. It’s just another Toyota crossover with no discernible personality. The grille is too big; the bumper has confusing creases; the fog lights are just little dots that look like googly eyes.
The Japanese Corolla Cross, however, undoes all that. The familiar oval Toyota badge is replaced by that weird superhero “C,” and the big grill is lower down so it’s not the main focus. The car appears wider as a result, with the fog lights better placed for a more evenly-proportioned front end. The headlights themselves are a bit sharper, sportier.
Maybe it’s that “C” badge, but the Japanese car looks more distinct than our U.S. version. Volkswagen did something similar with the Jetta in China, but that was about establishing a separate brand abroad. Toyota doesn’t go quite that far in Japan with the Corolla, but the Cross is still identifiable as part of a distinct lineup within the broader Toyota stable — not unlike the Toyota Crown. I’m just shocked at how those little changes add up to make the J-spec Cross feel like a completely different vehicle.