Slowly but surely, the Toyota Corolla Cross will take over roads in the U.S. Forgive the trite turn of phrase. It’s just that in the case of this new Corolla, there isn’t a better way to get the point across. The emphasis here is on “slowly,” because the Corolla Cross is almost unbearably slow. Despite its lack of speed, I can easily see this thing flying off dealer lots. OK, maybe rolling off lots instead.
To be fair, the car kind of warns you about its limitations up front. It’s a Corolla Cross, after all. I doubt most drivers shopping Corollas are doing so because they’re in the market for a fast, compact sedan or hot hatch. The Corolla hasn’t been interested all that much in these segments, and the Cross isn’t here to change that. Oh, and just in case you’re wondering — like I was — the Corolla Cross is not a crossover, not according to Toyota.
(Full disclosure: Toyota flew me to the Lone Star State’s capitol city, Austin, to meet the newest member of the Corolla family. The carmaker put me up in a nice hotel, fed me while I stayed there and gave me an afternoon to drive some routes in and around the city to see what the Corolla Cross can and can’t do.)
Toyota insists that this new Corolla is an “entry-level SUV.” The carmaker sees the Corolla Cross slotting right in between the C-HR and RAV4. The ride height of the Corolla Cross just happens to be taller than both. The Cross has barely over eight inches of ground clearance, and that height is the first thing you notice when you sit in the car. The second thing is the great interior, but I’ll circle back.
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First, let’s talk specs. The Cross will be available in the usual trims from Toyota, so L, LE and XLE. All trims are available with either front- or all-wheel drive. That’s right; you can finally buy an all-wheel drive Corolla! Whether you opt for FWD or AWD, you’ll get the same 2.0-liter four-cylinder motor that makes 169 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque. Toyota said this is the same engine as that of the Corolla SE and above. The Cross FWD gets 32 miles per gallon combined, while the AWD drops to an estimated 30 MPG combined. That’s only an additional of a fifth of a gallon of gas for every hundred miles you drive.
The Cross has a McPherson strut suspension in the front no matter the drivetrain, while the Cross FWD gets a torsion-beam setup out back. The Cross AWD gets fancier multi-link rear suspension. On top of that, the AWD also gets torque vectoring that delivers up to 50 percent of its power to the rear wheels. Considering that the difference between front- and all-wheel drive isn’t much money, I’m going to say stick with all-wheel. Because even though both the FWD and AWD models make the same power, the latter drives better and feels like it’s moving with just a bit more urgency.
Trust me, you’re gonna want all the urgency you can afford in this Toyota.
The Corolla Cross is slow. It’s so slow I had to adjust my driving. I’m not saying that I can’t “drive 55" or that I tried and failed to hoon a Corolla. I simply like to drive inside the pocket; I like to be in between the little groups of cars that accrete on the road, rather than try and maintain a matching speed to those around me. That means I have to outrun some cars and slow down for others. Slowing down in the Cross is easy; speeding up is not.
The engine in the Cross struggles to move the little crossover ahead at any pace past “leisurely.” Remember, this is the bigger engine from the Corolla sedan lineup, but the heaviest Corolla Cross weighs 175 pounds more than the heaviest sedan. You will feel the difference. Again, I don’t drive fast, but certain moments on the road call for speed. Think of highway on-ramps or red-light right turns where you might have to merge quickly.
One such right turn convinced me that the Cross could use a little more power. A cab-over truck was coming down the road I wanted to turn onto. Me and the Cross sat in front of a red light. The cab-over truck had the green light and was making its way down one of these 55 MPH roads where everyone drives 60. The truck was far enough that in a faster car, I’d have turned without hesitation. Not in the Cross.
Even with the generous distance, the Corolla Cross would’ve probably been unable to outrun the truck from a stand-still. So, I sat there, relaxed and waited to roll right once the light turned. I suspect that the CVT doesn’t like the combination of the engine and the added mass of the Corolla Cross.
I’m not saying the Cross won’t cruise comfortably at speed. It’s pretty comfy on the highway, and after it’s gathered speed, it’s fine. It’s also quieter than it has any right to be as an “entry-level” anything, and the suspension in the AWD model is good. It rides smooth. The Cross soaks up imperfections and uneven lanes, and road noise is exceptionally low. It’s a fine highway car, just not a fast one.
Back in the city, the Corolla Cross is much happier. In fact, it might be happier than its sedan counterpart. Because of its tallish ride height, driving the Cross through tight Austin roads was a breeze. The ground clearance and visibility from the roomy greenhouse help you survey the whole road around you, or keep track of traffic, curbs and pedestrians.
On top of that, the turn radius is damn good. The Corolla Cross is an excellent car for Austin, with its parking garages and hilly, winding roads. And it was just before Labor Day weekend on my drive, so you can bet I hit lots of traffic. The Cross is a good place to spend time stuck in gridlock.
It has a great interior, even in the L trim. When you go up to the XLE, like in the photo above, it’s downright luxe. What the Cross lacks in power, it makes up for in comfort. There’s an 8” touchscreen in the XLE. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on all models. The XLE also gets a wireless charging pad, and even USB-C ports. The driver aids in the Toyota Sense suite are standard across all trims, too. There are also rear A/C vents, which are great for passengers in places prone to ridiculous heat and humidity, like Austin.
I’d say that this is the better-appointed model in the Corolla family, and it doesn’t really lack much comfort even when comparing it to its Lexus counterpart, the UX.
The soft-touch materials in the UX’s cabin are nice, but the difference between the cabin in the Corolla Cross and the UX isn’t huge. If you want the Lexus badge, go ahead and splurge, but a Cross XLE does the job for way less. Toyota figures the Corolla Cross is probably going to go up against cars like the Honda HR-V, Subaru Crosstrek, and Hyundai Kona. I would throw in the Kia Seltos, too, and wouldn’t be shocked if drivers went out looking for a Corolla sedan or hatchback and drove home in a Cross.
I do wonder what the Corolla Cross would be without the Corolla badge to fall back on, though. Toyota could have given it any other nameplate, and it would probably still be a hit for a lot of drivers.
Me, I’d take a Cross L, with AWD, of course, the most important option. The upgrade doesn’t cost too much, running just $1,300. The option I’d really want would be a hybrid drivetrain. If I’m buying a car that drives like the Cross, I better get some gnarly MPGs in return. Toyota neither confirmed nor denied that it’s coming. The carmaker basically said to keep an eye out, but if there’s a hybrid it’ll probably sit at the top of the price range.
That brings us to the best spec of any Corolla, because what is a Corolla if not a cheap, reliable car for drivers who just want to get from here to there? Except that now, drivers can pick between a sedan, a hatch and a crossover.
The Corolla Cross starts at $22,195 in its lowest trim, and goes up to $26,325, not accounting for AWD. The Cross hits dealers in October. And it’s probably going to be all over the place soon after that.