Not ready to go all electric all the time yet enjoy the perks of a higher mileage vehicle? Toyota, Asia-Pacific’s largest automaker, boasts a cadre of gas-electric hybrid vehicles squeezing extra miles out of every gallon of gas.
Also known has hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), this self-charging technology never needs a nightly wall charge with household AC current, and Toyota’s been the industry leader during the past two decades optimizing this highly successful and popular subculture.
Beginning 25 years ago with Prius, Toyota gleaned valuable insight into HEV workings and expanded these lessons into other vehicles though out its lineup and its Lexus luxury division. Our tester this week, the 2023 diminutive Corolla Cross hybrid, easily rates as one of the more affordable, eye-catching crossover HEVs available.
Corolla itself ranks as a Toyota success story. More than 50 million Corollas have sold worldwide since its 1966 debut, arriving in the U.S. beginning in 1968 as a small rear-wheel-drive two-door. It’s still a strong seller in 2023.
Corolla Cross, debuted in the 2022 model year, adding a popular five-door body style to the popular Corolla sedan platform. Size wise, it squeezes beneath RAV4, taking the place of Toyota’s recently retired Yaris and C-HR subcompacts. The Corolla Cross hybrid version arrives all new in 2023 combining the power of a 2.0-liter four-cylinder internal combustion engine with an electric (traction) motor system for a combined 196 horses.
These 196 horses compare favorably to the conventional all-gas version registering 169 horses and a significant upgrade from the Corolla sedan’s base 1.8-liter, I-4 delivering a quaint 139 horses.
Corolla Cross Hybrid welcomes aboard a fifth generation of Toyota’s Hybrid System (THS). The first generation showed up in the late 1990s inside Prius. The lithium-ion battery pack gets smaller and 40 percent lighter within this fifth generation THS and boasts a more potent electric motor. During the 2023 model year, Corolla Cross represents one of the only HEV opportunities wrapped in a subcompact body style that’s convenient to park and easily garage-able.
The lithium-ion battery pack powering the electric motors stores under second-row seat cushions contributing to a better-balanced weight distribution. Twenty years ago, these batteries got pushed further back into the cargo region. Electronic all-wheel drive is standard, a happy extra for those living in the snow-prone upper Midwest. It’s the first time in 50 years anything branded Corolla donned AWD.
It’s not Toyota’s quietest power platform especially when scaling an incline and pushing the pedal to the metal summoning all the muster, but this transport provides superior acceleration to the ICE version while touting fuel economy gains. According to Toyota, the hybrid version cuts 0.4 seconds off the zero to 60 time when compared to the ICE version.
The engine connects with an electronically-controlled Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) rather than a conventional automatic transmission. A CVT utilizes an infinite gear ratio rather than a set number of forward gears. A majority of gas-electric hybrids opt for smoother-gliding CVTs eliminating gear hunting. From a driver’s perspective, it operates like a conventional automatic. Grab the shift knob between front buckets and vertically glide and slide into the “D” option to drive forward. Nearby, a push-pull tab tweaks between three available drive modes: Eco, Sport and Normal.
While the conventional internal combustion-only Corolla Cross delivers decent fuel numbers (29 miles per gallon city and 32 mpg highway), the hybrid versions bumps up the volume to an impressive 45 mpg city and 38 mpg highway. Regular 87-ocate fuel fills the 10.6-gallon tank, smaller than the size used in the gas-exclusive version.
Those seeking HEV crossovers in larger formats need look no further than the compact Toyota RAV4 hybrid and mid-sized Hylander hybrid.
As with the gas-only Corolla Cross, the chiseled exterior creates an eye-pleasing styling and many visual similarities. A pair of side character lines start out from wrap-around taillight housing, coming to a point and encircling the rear strap-like door handles. Long, eagle-eyed headlight housing stretches from smooth, top-side fenders which effortlessly blend visually support the front corners of the hood.
Curved creases starting at the front of each A-pillar extend towards the top outer edging of the front grille with a unique fill-pattern differing from the gas version. Unlike the Prius of generations past, Corolla Cross never flaunts its hybrid superpower. The only hint of hybrid underpinnings is found on the lower right hatch where ‘hybrid’ stands out. Back in the day, early efforts of Toyota’s Prius went ultra space age.
Black composite materials surround squared wheel wells, trim door bottoms and lower ends of the front and rear bumpers. Our XSE top trim also included an optional contrasting black roof, black A pillars and black spoiler atop the hatch door.
Three hybrid trims include S, SE and aforementioned XSE. All roll off a sparking new assembly line in Huntsville, Alabama with a capacity to produce 150,000 Corolla Crosses annually. Options and packages are minimal with entry S limited to premium exterior colors. Mid-grade SE offers an upgraded sound system, a moonroof and a two-tone roof as options.
Our Acidic Blast colored (think trendy yellow green) XSE tester with a $31,065 starting price included all available options: two-tone roof ($500), adaptive headlights ($615), upgraded JBL stereo ($800), $1,200 convenience package (including a power rear liftgate) and a smattering of dealer add-ons for a $36,337 bottom line with $1,335 destination charge. An S version starts at $27,970. A traditional gasoline-powered Corrolla Cross L starts at $23,610.
The top-level XSE exclusively includes a softer seating surface, LED fog lights, chrome-sized window framing, upgraded digital instrument panel, illuminated glove box, satin-finished interior door handles, second row folding arm rest, dual climate zones up front and 10-way power adjustable driver seat with lumbar support.
All trims include an impressive array of standard safety nuances (part of the Toyota Safety Sense /Smart Safety System) including lane departure assist, full-speed radar cruise control with road sign assist, pre-collision warning with pedestrian detection and electronic brake-force distribution. Not long ago, these were the domain of high-end luxury cars.
Rear doors swing out with a very narrow leg entryways, not unusual within the subcompact genre. Two adults fit with optimal comfort, although three preteens could enjoy the ride. Look closely at row two’s driver’s side seat bottom to find vents providing air flow to the lithium-ion battery back. Backrests fold down with a 60/40 split providing larger cargo carrying opportunities.
The dashboard layout shares familiar themes with other Corolla family favorites. Nothing fancy, but functional and pleasingly intuitive. The all-digital instrument panel is tuned for gas-electric hybrid specifications with the large center orb including a digital speedometer readout while the outer edges feature three zones (eco, power, charging) dependent upon the current engine/battery state.
A flat, multi-function eight-inch screen jets up above the center dash with vertical air vents below. It’s Toyota’s newest Multimedia systems supporting wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth phone connectivity and USB-C ports. Updates may now arrive over-the-air, just like technology found in newer Smartphones. A half-dozen HVAC buttons arranged in vertical fashion get flanked by dials detailing dual zone temperature settings.
As is the case with all Electric Vehicles (EVs) and Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs), gas-electric hybrids like the Corolla Cross version employee regenerative braking, a technology recapturing kinetic energy created during the friction-enhancing braking process. This energy gets restored for reuse into the pack. It’s just one of the marvels contributing to 45 miles-per-gallon around town.
As with all recently introduced Toyota models, ToyotaCare also comes standard, offering two years (or 25,000 miles) of complimentary maintenance covering factory scheduled items (oil changes, tire rotation) along with 24/7 roadside assistance. It’s an added value at no extra cost providing an extra peace of mind.
Price as tested: $36,337
Engine: 2.0-liter four cylinder
Combined Horsepower: 196
Wheelbase: 103.9 inches
Overall Length: 176.8 inches
Overall Width: 71.9 inches
Overall Height: 64.8 inches
Curb Weight: 3,430 pounds
Hybrid-component warranty: 10 years/150,000 miles
Powertrain warranty: 60 months/60,000 miles
Fuel Economy: 45 mpg city/ 38 mpg highway
Assembly: Huntsville, Alabama