Toyota Yaris Cross hybrid on test: from supermini to super little SUV

David Linklater
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Base price
Boot Capacity
Maximum torque Nm
Towing (Tonnes)
  • Individualistic looks
  • Comfortable and truly practical
  • Staggering fuel economy
  • Hybrid can feel turgid at low speed
  • Only one pure-petrol option (GX)
  • Top Limited costs more than a base RAV4

There’s a lot going on in the world of the Toyota Yaris. It really seems like the time has come for Toyota’s hybrid technology, with keen consumer environmental awareness and the Government even keener to slash the CO2 levels of the Kiwi fleet with the Clean Car Standard.

You could argue the world is simply catching up with Toyota eco-tech, which it pretty much perfected two decades ago. But before we dish out too many compliments, remember that it’s also taken until now for Toyota bring that tech fully into its mainstream small cars and SUVs, where it’s really in demand. Not everybody wants to drive a Prius. 

In fact, it’s taken until now for Toyota to make small cars and SUVs that people really get fizzed up about. When Akio Toyoda (grandson of company founder Kiichiro Toyoda) stepped up as CEO in 2009 he vowed to make the brand cool again and we’re seeing the fruits of that now, with cutting-edge stuff like the latest Yaris.

Including the Yaris Cross, which kind of is and kind of isn’t an SUV version of the Yaris hatch. It’s on the same platform, has the same powertrains and shares much of its interior architecture. But you wouldn’t mistake one for the other because Toyota has played it smart by giving the Cross unique styling to go with its raised ride height.

So it’s larger and more practical than the hatch. It steps over the traditional length limit for supermini-sized vehicles at 4180mm (the Yaris hatch is just under the magic 4m mark), which brings benefits in occupant space/visibility and practicality. The Yaris has a tiny 270-litre boot, whereas the Cross offers 390l.

The Cross hybrid, tested in top-spec $38,990 Limited form, brings the quality and technology of the Yaris hatch into a more comfort-oriented package.

The Cross Limited is more boldly finished than the hatch. The interior of our test car was finished in very brown trim, with tweed-like fabric seat inserts; not to all tastes but certainly not dull. The Limited is also fully loaded: the full suite of driver-assistance stuff, head-up display, surround view cameras.

It also has the weirdest power-seat controls we've ever experienced. Watch the the video above and you'll see how strange the layout is... but you get used to them.

There are some nice storage options, including an under-seat tray on the front passenger’s side and an underfloor knook in the boot.

It’s not as sharp as the hatch in the corners, but the ride is more compliant and yet also more settled, partly because the Cross is also carrying an extra 100kg. That has an effect on the fuel economy, but it remains staggeringly thrifty: a Combined figure of 3.8l/100km (hatch 3.3l) is something we wouldn’t have thought possible just a few years ago. And the car really will do that in the real world. Even commuting with complete disregard for efficiency still returned economy in the low fours.

The CO2 figure of 86g/km is also well under that 105g that we’re all currently talking about. So that’s a good brag to make about your family SUV.

The hybrid system is at its best in city driving. It can’t drive that far on battery power alone (less than 1km with a full charge), but the reality is that it’s doing pure-EV driving in tiny bites for most of the time in heavy traffic and continually regenerating electricity. It’s also a more modern system than that used in the larger RAV4 hybrid, because it employs lithium-ion batteries rather than older-tech nickel-metal hydride.

As with the Yaris hatch hybrid, the Cross isn’t as perky in low-speed driving as we’d like. It seems to want to lean very heavily on the available battery power for maximum efficiency, which makes sense: you don’t buy the hybrid to bury your foot in the floor. But it does feel a bit turgid at times.

That does bring us to another drawback with the Cross. With the Yaris hatch we found that the conventional petrol engine and CVT combo was much more driver-focused, and even wondered whether the extra $3000 asked for the hybrid was a rational choice when it would take you 100,000km to gain that back in the reduced running costs. Because the standard petrol version isn’t exactly profligate. The Cross petrol tows an impressive 1250kg; the hybrid is only rated to haul 400kg.

Following our time in the Yaris Cross Limited, we had a chaser drive of the conventional petrol model. And yes, the standard version was still more fun and still very thrifty. It also tows an impressive (for a small car) 1250kg; the hybrid is only rated to haul 400kg.

But the difference with the Cross is that you can only have the conventional petrol powertrain in basic GX specification; once you step up to the Limited it’s hybrid only.

Okay, then. So much of Toyota NZ’s focus is now on hybrids (60 per cent of sales) and there’s a certain status in having that blue badge on the front of your SUV. It’s beautifully executed technology in a beautifully executed package.

At least two-thirds of the DRIVEN office reckoned the Yaris hatch was the best new car to come along in 2020; it’s also just won European Car of the Year and is currently a World Car of the Year finalist.

Given the same key ingredients are served up in a more on-point compact-SUV with the Yaris Cross, it’s likely this newcomer will be a similarly important benchmark for 2021.

ENGINES: 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol/hybrid models with li-ion battery and electric assistance
POWER: 88kW/145Nm (petrol)/85kW total system/120Nm (hybrid)
GEARBOX: Continuously variable automatic, FWD
ECONOMY: 5.4-3.8l/100km
PRICES: $29,990-$38,990.


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