2022 Toyota Corolla Cross First Drive: Calling All Twenty-Somethings
For those who thought the SUV market couldn’t get any bigger, think again. Crossover-crazy Toyota Motor Corp. is adding another entry to the mix: the Corolla Cross.
And it’s no surprise the Japanese automaker is launching a crossover with the same nameplate as the sedan that’s sold over 50 million units worldwide. The Corolla is so popular on the international stage, that it runs a close second to Ford’s venerable F-Series pickup in terms of global sales.
Toyota’s will use its proven value-oriented formula to target the same audience that shops the Corolla sedan—”youthful, tech savvy and multicultural.” The new Corolla Cross slots between the subcompact C-HR and the compact RAV4, and while it’s only 5.3 inches shorter than the RAV4, Toyota thinks the smaller size is a winning differentiator.
The 2022 Corolla Cross has on-trend SUV-like styling and a streamlined trim lineup of three models, but its top features are: affordability, fuel efficiency and safety. It also offers a healthy amount of cargo space and a spacious back row. Upgrading from the base Corolla sedan for more versatility and little compromise on fuel economy will cost buyers just under $2,000.
At a Toyota-hosted drive event set in Austin, Texas, the Lone Star state’s eclectic capital city and home to 50,000 college students, I reflected on what my twenty-something self would have wanted in a brand-new crossover. My priorities would have fallen somewhere between gas money, space for my friends and weekend getaways.
That places cloth seats, a conventional car key and a basic audio system in the acceptable category. My younger self also could’ve lived without features I’d yet to experience like leather(ette) seats, a moonroof, push-button start, automatic climate control and wireless smartphone charging.
Also low on the totem pole of concerns would be engine specs or the vehicle’s on-road performance. In this respect, Toyota got it right, so let’s first address the elephant in the room.
Sluggish, Yet Proficient Drive Quality
Austin offers a healthy mix of city and freeway driving, as well as a slew of climbs and twists in the far corners of town. All three models—the base L, mid-grade LE and top XLE—are equipped with the same engine that powers the Corolla sedan and hatchback: a 2.0 liter four-cylinder engine mated to a continuously variable transmission with 150 horsepower and 169 pound-feet of torque. A front-wheel driveline is standard with all-wheel drive (AWD) an optional upgrade on every trim.
In congested city driving, the Corolla Cross does what it’s designed to do between stop lights. It’s responsive and nimble in tight quarters, easy to pard and its higher ride position and expansive view will give timid drivers confidence.
When configured with AWD, however, the Corolla is sluggish off the line. I had trouble getting up to speed on an I-35 onramp, a highway that runs adjacent to the city center. Even with the gas pedal floored, I white knuckled my way into traffic, eventually finding 50 mph. Despite extra weight, drivers who live in regions with heavy rain or snowfall will choose AWD. Sending power to all four wheels allows better traction in slippery conditions.
Opting for front-wheel drive slightly enhances drive quality. From a standstill and with little runway space, I merged into fast-flowing traffic on a three-lane thoroughfare without much trouble. Knowing the engine’s shortcomings I waited for a large enough break between cars before apprehensively popping out into traffic.
On twisty country roads, the Corolla Cross lacks verve but is proficient and planted. But confidence wanes when the curves start to climb. Weekend warriors driving the crossover will want to stick to easily accessible trailheads and campsites.
Toyota claims a 1,500-pound tow rating for the Corolla Cross, the same as a RAV4 that’s not equipped with the Adventure or TRD packaging.
Fuel Economy and Pricing
Fuel economy is a plus. In front-wheel drive form, it’s rated at 31 mph in city driving, 33 mpg on the highway and 32 mpg combined. Adding AWD returns 29 mpg city, 32 mpg highway and 30 mpg combined.
With the national average gas price hovering around $3.20 and nearing $4.40 in populous California, according to AAA, the Corolla Cross offers a clear benefit for younger drivers who care about spending too much on gas money or saving the Earth, or both. And it could get better as Toyota has hinted at a hybrid version.
Another benefit is the crossover’s up-front cost. The top XLE trim, when fully-loaded with AWD and the few available options like a moonroof and power rear liftgate, nine-speaker JBL audio and adaptive front lighting, the Corolla Cross barely crests the $32,000 mark (this includes a $1,215 delivery fee).
Stripped down in its basic form, the Corolla Cross L starts at $23,445, including delivery. That’s the cloth-seats, real-key, basic-audio version, but Toyota sweetens the deal with a 7-inch touchscreen that runs Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa as well as 2 USB ports and a full suite of safety tech that includes adaptive cruise control. Expect buyers to default to their smartphones for navigation as Toyota doesn’t plan an embedded system for the model.
All-wheel drive is the only available upgrade and it adds $1,300. The L might be enough for most first-time car owners who won’t know what they don’t have.
But most will upgrade to the LE, which costs $25,760. It still has cloth seats, but adds a smart key with push-button start, automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a few additional safety features. It also gets a larger 8-inch touchscreen, wireless charging and an extra USB port in the rear. The moonroof and JBL audio upgrades also extend to the LE.
The Corolla Cross also sells big on safety. All trims have Toyota’s TSS 2.0 suite of advanced driver-assistance safety features, which includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian and cyclist detection that will brake automatically if it senses an obstacle ahead and does not detect driver reaction. It also has lane departure alerts with active steering, lane centering assist (Lane Tracing Assist), road sign recognition and (as mentioned) adaptive cruise control (Dynamic Radar Cruise Control).
The LE adds blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alerts, and the XLE trades up for rear cross-traffic braking and gets front and rear parking assist with automatic braking.
Benefits of Upgrading
The XLE offers the essentials for choosier buyers. In addition to the full load of safety features, front seat heaters and a fourth USB port in the rear, the XLE gets the SoftTex (leatherette) upholstery, a must-have for someone disinterested in cloth seats. SoftTex is wipeable and don’t absorb any funky odors.
The larger 8-inch touchscreen (on LE and XLE) makes less of a difference than the smaller driver display in front of the steering wheel (Toyota calls it the Multi-Information display). This feature is much better on the XLE, both in aesthetic and layout; it’s also 7 inches diagonal versus 4.2 inches on the L and LE. The XLE’s climate control system also is better. All trims have physical knobs for settings, but the upgraded center stack offers dual-zone climate control, which forces the buttons that control fan and temperature into a more intuitive layout.
Toyota’s infotainment interface is generally uninspired, but it pairs quickly with a smartphone and operates as expected. The wireless charging pad on the LE and XLE is slow but can connect through a phone case.
The interior layout of the Corolla Cross is smartly designed with enough legroom (32 inches) in the rear for taller riders and hip room (52.4 inches) to seat three across. The front seats offer nearly 43 inches of legroom. That’s more than the RAV4 in the front (41 inches).
Behind the rear seats there is plenty of cargo space for bulky gear, a dog crate, suitcases or a sizable Costco run. Volume varies based on configuration; the optional moonroof and the all-wheel drivetrain affect it only slightly. The front-wheel drive version without the moonroof offers 26.5 cubic-feet of stowage. All-wheel drive with the moonroof is 24.6 cubic-feet. The 60/40-splitting rear seats add more versatility with flexible loading options.
Toyota will build the Corolla Cross at its new Mazda Toyota factory in Huntsville, Alabama. The company said it plans to build 150,000 Corolla Crosses each year, which is a good indicator of expected sales volume. Through August, Toyota has sold almost 187,000 units of its Corolla sedan and hatchback. That means there are a lot of sedan buyers out there that will cross over to the other side for just a few thousand dollars more.
The 2022 Toyota Corolla Cross goes on sale next month.