Corolla Cross A Complete All-Rounder

By Lee Pang Seng

IT MIGHT have taken Toyota a bit longer against rivals to come up with an affordable SUV (sport utility vehicle) in the C-segment, much less expand on the options available. The RAV4 was once the SUV of note but this was more of a B-segment model and then there was the Rush, which was another B-segment option. The chasm to the Fortuner was only filled about three years ago by the C-HR.

Toyota decided to step it up a bit by introducing an alternative to the C-HR in the Corolla Cross. Development on this model started in 2017 and UMW Toyota Motor Sdn Bhd even had a staff working with the Toyota engineers in Japan for two years to give input on customers’ preference in this part of the world.

Production of the Corolla Cross began in Thailand in mid last year as a logical move as vehicle customers in that country have a strong preference for SUVs and pick-ups. And for the moment, UMW Toyota Motor is ‘importing’ the Corolla Cross and plans are afoot to locally assemble this SUV by year end.

Given the recent vehicle launches involving such genre of vehicles – Proton X50 and Perodua Ativa (D55L) – the Malaysian passenger vehicle buyers certainly have the luxury of choice with the Corolla Cross coming into the picture. Honda had it good with its HR-V and BR-V for many years now and indeed, it could do with more competent rivals.

UMW Toyota Motor had a media preview drive from its Shah Alam headquarters to Cyberjaya, via the Ulu Langat-Semenyih route, taking pains to skirt Putrajaya as the SOP being applied then didn’t allow interstate travel from Selangor to Putrajaya. We were a bit surprised to see 20 vehicles being part of the drive, involving about 50 automotive journalists, but it was done based on full SOP observation.

We started our impression of the Corolla Cross 1.8G (all the models provided were the G variant) by being the rear seat passenger – we were paired to a team that had a videographer and journalist. Besides, the first leg of the drive took in mostly highways and we weren’t too interested in getting to know the Corolla Cross driving in a straight line.

On the move, we found the ride comfort from the rear perspective up to mark. There was a firmness on the go while potholes and speedbumps were taken with no jarring effect. It was the sort of firm and comfortable ride balance that was comparable to the German brands. Gone are the days of the soft and wallowy ride with the softer sprung suspension typical in Japanese cars more than 10 years ago.

The seat bench was just about right on thigh support and legroom was as good as expected. Some would like to recline the rear seatrest, by up to six degrees backwards, to grab a snooze on long distance travel. We like the seatrest in its original position as it comfortably accommodated our needs. We also appreciated the cool air coming from the two air vents on the central console, especially since it was a pretty warm morning when we started out on the drive.

It would be great to have a screen curtain for the rear windows to shield us from the sun or enjoy some privacy. But as it were, the Corolla Cross has its fair share of standard features to make driving and travelling in it convenient and comfortable. There is also a foldable armrest with two cupholders for the 60:40 split rear seatrest that came in handy as a brace.

Sound suppression, in particular wind noise, was pretty good. We hardly heard a whisper from the turbulent air generated along the side or top of the roof as we drove along. However, keeping wind noise low has exposed another area of noise intrusion – road roar generated by the tyres and engine/transmission noise. Carmakers, in general, appear to be trying to keep this intrusion to an acceptable decibel band and how good the noise is suppressed would vary between the highs and lows of this ‘sound band’.

The pitch of the road roar varied according to the respective surfaces that we drove on, resonating like a sound wave from low to tolerably loud and at different speeds. The road roar appeared to taper a bit as the Corolla Cross was driven faster on the highways. Engine and transmission roar became more prominent when the vehicle was driven hard to accelerate or gain speed, but it was more of a smooth vibe than a harsh one. As such, it was a temporary nuisance that could be easily overlooked.

When we took over the drive, we could get comfortable quickly with the electric seat adjustments (front passenger gets only manual seat adjustments) as well as that for the steering column. The foot operated brake pedal was a natural for us as it was the same system as that in our Perodua Alza. This frees up space for the centre console to accommodate other items.

We covered a bit of highway and B-road driving before coming to the Ulu Langat-Semenyih stretch. From the driver’s seat, the engine and transmission noise intrusion was a lot less apparent; so was the wind noise. The door mirrors sounded aerodynamically tuned to reduce air rustle significantly.

As we hit the accelerator to pick up speed from the toll gates, we found the engine revving up rather sweetly and the seven-speed CVT (continuously variable transmission) with Sequential Shiftmatic (for manual selection) operated comparatively quiet against such transmission of more than a decade ago. Developments to make its operation quieter were clearly heard although it could still do with a lower noise level.

It was almost sporty in feel as the engine revved up quickly to the 6500rpm redline in first and second gears before upshifting, pushing the speedometer needle quick enough to 100km/h. The 1.8-litre engine might be a normally aspirated unit but it has enough punch to provide decent acceleration and good speed for highway drives.

This is the same power unit in the Corolla sedan; an undersquare 1798cc dual overhead camshaft engine with Dual VVT-i (intelligent variable valve timing) that has 80.5mm bore and 88.3mm stroke. Engine output is good enough at 103kW (139PS) at 6400rpm and 172Nm torque at 4000rpm. Toyota says the Corolla Cross is good for a 185km/h top speed.

The ‘intelligent’ selection of gears to engine performance was better gauged when we took to the winding roads along the Ulu Langat-Semenyih stretch. This was our regular ‘test bench route when we had cars for impression drives, so it was as good as being back on home turf. Except that we haven’t taken a car for a drive along this route for more than a year due to the pandemic.

But as we chalked up the kilometres, the memories of the road came trickling back; such as the varying cambers of some corners and how tight they were. As we normally drove alone, this time we had two passengers. That was added weight and could affect the dynamics of the Corolla Cross a bit.

Still, we could carry pretty quick speeds through as we were confident of the front-wheel drive Corolla Cross’s handling dynamics after the first few corners. Steering feel was pretty precise and we could tell how the front wheels were pointing as we moved from corner to corner, which came in quick succession along some stretches.

Pushing the SUV through the corners, there was only mild understeer and on slight pedal lift-off, we could feel the tail lightening up, which is typical to a front-wheel drive. But it was all within control. We tried to induce understeer by going into a corner a bit deeper and faster but the Corolla Cross held on well to its lines, allowing only a squeak or two from the Bridgestone Alenza 215/60 R17 tyres as a protest.

The well-sorted suspension system – MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear with anti-roll bars front and rear – didn’t only score on ride comfort but also in giving the Corolla Cross good handling dynamics through winding stretches. The anti-roll bars certainly did their job well keeping the SUV as level as possible for the ‘corner attack’ and fast sweepers. It was just as good as driving the equally exciting Yaris through the old Bentong road a couple of years ago.

We had to hold back a bit on the corner speed as my passengers were initially apprehensive about our rather exuberant driving. We had to explain that to feel the potential of the Corolla Cross’s dynamic quality, we had to push the SUV a fair bit through the bends. Nevertheless, we came away fully impressed. Even the brakes worked well, allowing the SUV to decelerate quickly when coming across road works just after a corner that we were carrying fairly rapid speed through.

At the time of the drive, we were left to guess at the price of the Corolla Cross although we believe it would be above RM100k, going by the Corolla sedan pricing. As much as we would love to own one, it was more financially realistic for us to think about owning the Perodua Ativa than the Toyota Corolla Cross. Quite a shame really as it could be the third Corolla I would ever get to own in my lifetime!

Price list link here

Toyota Cross launch link -