Toyota has moved into the growing niche for sub-compact SUVs with the Yaris Cross, a jacked-up, toughed-up version of the Yaris.
This one is chasing customers looking for a cross-city hatchback with some adventure appeal, maybe not for tackling the Birdsville track but a reliable companion to reach a far-off hiking trail or bird-watching hide.
The Yaris Cross, with extra body cladding around wheel arches and door sills so you know it’s a rugged little mite, sits up with 170mm of ground clearance. Go to the all-wheel drive versions and there’s a traction control system to help tackle rough or slippery surfaces.
Among nine variants, there’s the choice of two-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, 1.5 litre petrol motor or hybrid 1.5 with electric motor plus three levels of equipment. Recommended prices – before on-road costs – range from $26,990 to $37,990.
The baby Toyota is a little longer in the wheelbase and a little wider in the track than a standard Yaris, with slightly bigger body and more interior space. It’s okay up front but while headroom is good in the back seat, knee and leg room are a bit squeezy for full-sized adults. Rear cargo space is reasonable, and the back seat can be split three ways to be folded down, which is handy.
It’s a very practical interior, albeit not very plush with a deal of hard plastic surfaces although there’s a fair range of storage spots.
There’s not too much missing from the base GX model. It carries safety and convenience gear from eight airbags to a pre-collision system, lane warnings and an infotainment screen for Bluetooth connectivity and all.
Move to the GXL and you add satellite navigation and blind spot monitoring plus rear cross traffic alert. This last one can be a godsend in a Bunnings car park on Saturday morning.
An all-wheel drive, hybrid GXL version of the Yaris Cross might well be the pick of the litter. It has city-soft steering and understeer but good grip; it runs a Constantly Variable Transmission that can grumble under load but generally well handles the petrol-electric power.
It will sit on a highway, or tackle a gravel road, at reasonable speeds and, with mixed use, still return around 5 litres for 100km.
That version is not cheap at $35,000, but if looking for a compact SUV which will handle a range of needs, in and out of town, Toyota’s Yaris Cross has fair appeal backed by a five-year warranty with seven years for the engine and drivetrain plus up to 10 years for the hybrid battery.
The interior’s not that flash. There’s no spare tyre – just a tin of filler goo – and the 85kW is never overwhelming.
Still, the Yaris Cross has some character in its weekend-tuff-mudder body style plus some dirt-road credibility not always found among today’s tribe of SUVs.
But don’t forget about Toyota’s bigger RAV4. Some versions aren’t far off the Cross on prices and it’s a bigger machine for getting further out of town.