New Toyota Yaris Cross prototype review

We drive a late prototype version of the new Toyota Yaris Cross to see if it has potential

Verdict

The Toyota Yaris Cross isn’t quite a class leader on practicality or driving fun, but is a very credible entry into the bulging small SUV category nonetheless. Its mix of a hybrid powertrain that delivers strong efficiency, a good-quality cabin, neatly integrated tech and solid build quality should mean that those sold on its funky looks will get a great ownership proposition thrown into the deal.

Toyota likes to argue that, in some ways, it was responsible for the mainstream adoption of ‘off-roaders’, thanks to its original RAV4. And yet the Japanese brand has been slightly slow to join the craze of the smaller, supermini-based SUV. Only now, more than a decade after the launch of the original Nissan Juke, do we have a serious offering in the class from Toyota. And make no mistake, the Yaris Cross is a proper entry indeed.

For starters, the new arrival is based on TNGA, Toyota’s modular (and very impressive) vehicle architecture. We’ve already seen how it has transformed the regular Yaris from an also-ran to a proper Fiesta rival. Now it’s supporting a small SUV - one whose hybrid-only powertrain feels right in tune with buying trends. And it’s even being made available with four-wheel drive, a relatively rare feature in the class.

In mechanical terms, in fact, the transmission is really the only choice to make - and even then, much of this decision will be driven by which trim level you want to go for. All examples of the Yaris Cross feature Toyota’s hybrid system, based on a 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine producing 114bhp, and the usual e-CVT transmission.

The majority of the range will be front-wheel drive, but there’s an additional version of the set-up, badged AWD-i and available on only higher-end trim levels, that has an additional electric motor driving the rear wheels. The total output doesn’t change, but obviously there’s more weight and slightly more for the engine and battery to deal with, so fuel economy drops a little.

This is still an efficient car, mind you, regardless of how many driven wheels you go for. Front-drive editions emit just 103g/km of CO2 (and there’s no plug involved, remember), while AWD-i manages 107g/km, nudging the BIK rate up by just a single percentage point.

There are four basic trim levels, plus a launch special that’s only going to be available for a year. The regular range starts with Icon, which gets 16-inch alloy wheels, a reversing camera, smart entry and keyless start, an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, automatic headlights and wipers, and air-conditioning. It definitely has the basics covered, in other words.

Step up to Design and you’ll get LED headlights and tail-lights, ambient lighting in the cabin, machined 17-inch alloys, a seven-inch digital instrument panel, aluminium roof rails and rear privacy glass.

The top of the range is split in two, between Excel and Dynamic. Both get 18-inch alloys, a nine-inch infotainment set-up with wireless smartphone integration, heated front seats and dual-zone climate control, but while Excel brings a heated steering wheel and a powered tailgate with kick sensor, Dynamic features a two-tone paint finish with a black roof, and gets the option of AWD-i four-wheel drive.

For the first year of the car’s life, the Premiere Edition will offer well-heeled customers black leather upholstery, 18-inch alloys, a JBL sound system and a 10-inch colour head-up display. This version can also be ordered with AWD-i.

The car we’re driving here is a front-wheel-drive late prototype in European ‘Adventure’ trim - a decent equivalent of the UK market’s Dynamic spec. And it doesn’t take long to realise that the solid essentials of the Yaris have transferred nicely to its taller stablemate.

The TNGA underpinnings deliver very respectable body control for a car of this type, the steering has enough heft and is pleasingly direct, and the ride is borderline firm but just about compliant enough in most situations (it’s slightly happier at higher speeds than it is around town on 18-inchers, we’d suggest).

As we’ve reported before, the latest iteration of Toyota’s small hybrid powertrain is more capable than before too - although we’d stop short of saying that it’s up for any real entertainment. So yes, the three-cylinder grumble will appear not too long after you pull away, but once you’re moving the system seems capable of pulling the Yaris Cross along in relative comfort.

Its ceiling is best described as brisk rather than rapid, as a 0-62mph time of 11.2 seconds would suggest, but that’s enough for most everyday use and roughly in the same ballpark as most Renault Capturs.

Just don’t expect to be able to hustle the Toyota; it’s when it’s rushed that the latest e-CVT feels closest to what’s gone before, with rising revs as the transmission tries to ensure there’s enough power in the system to supply your demands.

What it is good at is efficiency. You might notice the engine cutting in now and again, but you’ll do well to be so alert to how much of the time it spends not running at all. During our test route – a good mix of urban, A and B-roads and some motorway – the system reckoned we’d been operating on pure-electric power 66 per cent of the time. If you do most of your motoring in urban areas, we could easily see that ratio moving north of 70 per cent, helping you to get close to the official economy figure of 65.7mpg.

Inside, the feel is slightly more premium than the Yaris’s – thank well-placed strips of fabric for that, since they’re just that bit more tactile than yet more dark-grey plastic – and the layout is generally smart and functional. It feels as well put together as you might expect, too.

Toyota has made respectable gains in in-car entertainment recently, and the Yaris Cross continues that trend. Our car had the larger of the infotainment screens, admittedly, but the display was crisp, bright and easy to use.

The Yaris Cross’ boot looks a fair size, and it is. There are 360 litres of space up to the tonneau cover and 460 if you’re prepared to load items all the way up to the roof. An adjustable floor height allows you to prioritise a flat floor or outright capacity, but on the whole these numbers are very respectable for the class, if not quite up to the level of the Renault Captur, which also offers a sliding rear seat to potentially help cabin space.

That feature would be a useful one here because the Yaris Cross’s compromise in packaging (there’s usually one somewhere) comes in the rear cabin, where anyone approaching six feet tall is likely to complain about leg and kneeroom. In this respect, the car, which has the same wheelbase as a conventional Yaris supermini, appears to have been conceived for young families or couples who want that pseudo-off-roading look, coupled with decent boot space and a higher seating position.

As usual, much will depend on how willing Toyota is to play around with the interest rates on its PCP deals – although the impressive residual values for hybrid cars right now should give dealers some wriggle room. Right now, if you stick down just shy of five grand, a Yaris Cross Design can be yours for £229 per month, which looks competitive against the (non-hybrid) automatic Captur.

Model: Toyota Yaris Dynamic 1.5 VVT-i
Price:£26,465
Engine:1.5-litre, 3cyl petrol hybrid
Power:114bhp
Transmission:CTV auto, front-wheel drive
0-62mph:11.2 seconds
Top speed: 106mph
Economy: 65.7mpg
CO2:103g/km
On sale:Now

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