Home » I Can’t Believe The $30k Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid Is This Good

I Can’t Believe The $30k Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid Is This Good

Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid Ts
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I’ll be honest with you: Sometimes I ask for review units of cars I’m pretty sure I’m not going to like. The new Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid was definitely one of those cars. I’d seen one on the street and could barely even place it ,and I thought to myself that, in an era where even the worst cars are at least fine, maybe I’d found something I could truly rant about. I was correct. I can rant about the Corolla Cross Hybrid. I can rant about how fundamentally good it is.

This was a shocker to me. I am in shock. A fairly nondescript Toyota crossover hybrid should be a car that I, as a car enthusiast, find despicably boring. I should find it to be yet another offensively average product shuttled out for rental fleets. I shouldn’t have even asked for it but, for some reason, a couple of members of our Discord picked it out of a list of cars that were available to review and I thought to myself: Here comes another in a long line of forgettable crossovers.

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Well, dear reader, here I am with my hat in my hand begging for forgiveness, planning to convince you that this thing is actually good and that the hybrid system here is exactly the right idea for a huge portion of the population. That this only costs around $33,000 in the good trim and in the good color is also almost galling to me. Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid 6 Of 7

Look, electric cars are the answer for many people but, for me, a person who lives in a building and doesn’t have a parking space with charging available I’m pretty much set on getting a hybrid to replace my ICE-powered Subaru. A freakin’ pudgy Corolla hybrid was nowhere near my list of cars I’d consider. Now it’s near the top. What is going on here?

And let me be clear, right off the bat, this is not a perfect car. The pink-hued Porsche 911 Carrera T I’ve got in my parking lot right now? That’s a perfect car. But even a stripper version of that 911 Carrera T is still about $100,000 more expensive than a Corolla Cross Hybrid and the one I have doesn’t even come with a back seat.  For all its little imperfections and annoying bits of design, I’ve come to realize the Corolla Cross Hybrid is a good value for many people and I hope that Toyota uses this layout in more vehicles.

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Good, affordable cars are so hard to come by and this, THIS, is a good car that’s reasonably affordable and offers a ton of value.

This Is The Ideal Hybrid Layout For A Small AWD Crossover

I had a surprising amount of difficulty finding a good illustration of the Corolla Cross Hybrid’s layout. There’s an illustration in the vehicle itself that attempts to show the driver, in a simplified manner, where the power is going (front wheels, rear wheels, generator, all of the above). Though illustrative, the diagram is actually a bit of a fib. Here’s what it looks like:

Diagram of Hybrid AWD system

This shows the 2.0-liter inline-four motor, the battery pack, a front-mounted motor somewhere near the middle of the car, and a motor over the rear axle. That’s almost true. In reality, the Toyota hybrid drive unit for the front wheels utilizes a motor that’s integrated into the eCVT in the front of the car and the very clever system decides if it wants to power those wheels using the gas engine, the motor, or some combination (while also deciding if it wants to generate power for the battery pack). The rear motor is, in fact, over the rear axle.

Here’s a diagram from a guide for Toyota technicians who need to know how to take the car apart to service it. This is more accurate.

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Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid Awd Layout

The packaging here is super smart, and what you end up with is a car that’s front-wheel-drive when it makes sense, all-wheel-drive when it makes sense, and even rear-wheel-drive under certain circumstances.

Here’s another little graphic from that system guide that explains how it decides to use power:

power diagram for Toyota

I was surprised when I first started driving this thing that it utilized only the rear motor for slow acceleration in city driving up to about 20 mph. While the small lithium-ion battery pack  [Update: my corrected math is 4.08 amp hours at 220 volts = about 0.9 kWh – MH], it’s enough to scoot you around town without using much gasoline so long as you put it in EV Mode and you’re willing to stay at Changli speeds. Under fast acceleration or in “sport” mode the gas motor kicks in and you get a combination of electric motor and gas motor for the front wheels and the electric motor on the rear.

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Is the Corolla Cross Hybrid fast? No. The rear-mounted powerplant in the Carrera T is fast, this is merely adequate. But it’s a great kind of adequate you don’t appreciate if you’re not in different cars all the time. The modern CVT transmission is popular because of its theoretical long life and its ability to efficiently keep a car in a desirable/efficient power band. In reality, CVTs are annoying because they are not instantaneous and, unfortunately, keeping a car in its ideal powerband means a lot of engine drone when that power is coming from a small gas motor and not a big honkin’ V8.

Corolla Cros
Photo: Toyota

Here’s where the Corolla Cross Hybrid also excels. Toyota has been building these types of hybrid drive systems since the original Prius, and they’ve gotten very good at it. The eCVT is not really a CVT in the conventional sense like the one found on the non-Hybird Corolla Cross. Instead, it’s the latest version of what Toyota sometimes calls the “synergy drive” that uses, essentially, a planetary gearset to shift power between different modes. This offers something like the capability of a CVT without the most annoying sounds and behaviors of this common transmission setup.

Driving around town I was consistently impressed by how darn smart this system is. Granted, it was mostly dry and my guess is that the rear electric motor doesn’t have enough grunt to replace your WRX as an ice racer, but that’s not with this car is meant to do. I’m sure it’ll get you up your driveway with no issue in the snow and a combined 196 horsepower and 136 lb-ft of torque add up to a 0-60 mph time in the low 8.0-second range, which isn’t bad for an economy car.

Here are the more important numbers: 42/45/38. That’s 42 mpg combined, 45 mpg city, and 38 mpg highway. In my time driving it with the reckless abandon of an automotive journalist I could scarcely get the estimated fuel economy to dip below 40 mpg and, trust me, I tried.

This Is Quite Nice For The Economy Car

Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid 4 Of 7

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I had the loaded-to-the-hilt version of the Corolla Cross Hybrid, which is the XSE trim with the nicer stereo and moonroof, which cost $35,565 with a $1,335 delivery fee. I didn’t think the sound system was all that great and I don’t really care about a moonroof, but I liked the digital gauge cluster that came on the XSE trim.

Out of a concern that maybe I’d buy one, I spec’d my own and it ended up being a little less than $33,000 (I selected the two-tone paint, I’m a sucker for two-tone paint). Damn, that’s actually a good price. An even better price is the sub-$30k Hybrid S, but I think air vents for rear passengers is sort of a must if you have a kid.

This is an economy car more than anything and, yet, it doesn’t really feel like an economy car. In AWD spec the Corolla Cross features independent suspension at all four wheels and the ride is blanket-on-a-blanket soft. It feels almost luxurious. Luxury cars are soft. How does Toyota do this?

Crank the wheel too hard under speed in any direction and it becomes clear that the softly sprung suspension does a great job of absorbing bumps but any twisty backroad is going to be a chore. That is how they do it, but it’s a completely fine choice. If you want a sporty crossover get a Mazda.

It Doesn’t Look Or Feel Cheap

Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid 5 Of 7

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On the inside the Corolla Cross Hybrid is pretty much like the regular Corolla or, well, just about any other Toyota. It’s nice. There are actual buttons and knobs for some of the controls and there’s a large, pleasing screen that will pretty much always show CarPlay and nothing else for most drivers (maybe Android Auto). The seats are well-supported and comfortable, the materials don’t feel that cheap, and the steering wheel buttons are logical in a way so few are these days.

Does it have some piano black in the interior? Yes. Yes it does. Most pianos don’t even have piano black on them. This is a travesty, but I’m willing to overlook it because it’s not everywhere.

You can’t even buy a new Tesla in a good yellow color. For whatever reason, CEO Elon Musk is averse to people having the good colors. The Corolla Cross comes in the good colors. There’s a good red. A good blue. And this good yellow, with a two-tone black top.

I don’t think anyone looking at this car would naturally assume it’s an “economy car” or that the person who purchased it was hoping to save a little money on a subcompact crossover. Other than some shiny black trim, the contrasting colors give the car more presence than the more expensive and bigger Forester.

Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid 3 Of 7

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There are a lot of creases on the exterior, which help define the protruding arches. There’s a little bit of Dan Flashes in the extra shapes (the patterns are so wild!), but I don’t hate it. The rear of the car is so generically Toyota that Jason and I, while walking down the street in Los Angeles, could not figure out which Toyota it was. It’s not bad, it’s just not anything.

This Is A Great Value By Modern Standards

Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid 2 Of 7

This is a subcompact crossover so it’s not particularly large. The rear seat gives you about 32 inches of rear legroom with just shy of 22 cubic feet of storage area in the back with the seats up. If I were to step down from the Subaru Forester I purchased in 2016 for $25,000 I’d be gaining a lot in terms of fuel economy and overall niceness, but I’d be losing a lot of size and storage.

No other automaker in the United States currently uses quite this setup in a small AWD crossover, with a rear-mounted lithium-ion battery and a motor over the rear axle for extra power (the Jeep Renegade 4xe in Europe), but it’s quite clever. I’m still tempted to buy a Ford Maverick, but I wish Ford would consider tossing a motor back there to give me all-wheel-drive.

The novel struggle of modernity is that, with places like Wikipedia at your fingertips, one is constantly reminded of what the past was actually like. Before the internet, you could passively wonder about whatever happened to the dad from Seventh Heaven and move on before looking it up and finding out the awful truth.

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It’s a pretty awful game to play to look at the MSRP for older models and realize that everything has gotten too expensive. There was a time when $33,000 would get you a lot of car. Hell, just ten years ago, a 2013 Toyota Highlander, which is two classes up in size, stickered for about $33,000. Now that same money gets you something significantly more efficient, but also significantly smaller. Americans buy more space than they need and not everyone has two kids and three dogs. But it still hurts.

Still, in this one case, I think Toyota has absolutely nailed it. Whether in S trim or loaded up to XSE, what Toyota has created is a vehicle that’s way more affordable than the average new car, offers no real penalty in terms of style or luxury, and with a powertrain that’s as clever as it is miserly.

It doesn’t set my heart on fire. I will not write poems about it. It’s just a great idea, executed well, at a price point that’s hurting for choice. Actually, you know what, I relent? It’s iambic pentameter-worthy.

 

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Bennett Alston
Bennett Alston
7 months ago

I gotta say, I had no idea these existed until I saw one in my apartment parking lot a few months ago. While it is somewhat undistinctive, I actually find it to be a good-looking car. The emphasized wheel arches and front angle are good, the back is simply nothing special. This car is the correct option for a ton of people who want a small crossover but want something cheap, more efficient, or more economical. Younger single people, for example, or elderly folks who want easier ingress/egress and loading afforded by the higher ride height. I have yet to sit in one, but if you don’t actually need a huge amount of space or to regularly fill your backseats with adults, this is a great size.

I think Toyota has been right from the beginning with the Prius: we don’t all need to jump ship to EVs *right-the-hell-now.* Between the new manufacturing processes, raw resource limitations, and limited charging infrastructure, there are a lot of pending issues with a sudden EV transition. With hybrids, we can get way better efficiency out of our cars, rely on existing gas fueling stations, and have the time to get a better idea of how to make our way to the fully electric future.

Steve Walton
Steve Walton
7 months ago

My 2019 Camry cost $23,000 new and gets 40mpg highway, 38mpg city. And it’s significantly larger than this thing. You can use all of its 208HP anytime, channeled through a solid 8-speed transmission. Why are people willing to spend more for less just to have a tint of EV in their vehicle?

Nick Slater
Nick Slater
7 months ago
Reply to  Steve Walton

2019 Camry is rated for 28 city. This is rated for 45. As for size… some people like driving a smaller car, especially in the city where the hybrid drivetrain shines.

Corolla Cross also has a larger, more flexible cargo area, part of why people prefer SUV’s.

Last edited 7 months ago by Nick Slater
Defenestrator
Defenestrator
7 months ago
Reply to  Steve Walton

It’s not 2019 anymore. The base Camry is now $26,420, Camry hybrid starts at $28,885, and the Corolla Cross Hybrid starts at $27,970.

lastwraith
lastwraith
6 months ago
Reply to  Steve Walton

You’re right on the cusp depending on model year vs actual, but AWD is another biggie.
Also, bigger isn’t necessarily better. Traffic and parking are a thing in many places.

Last edited 6 months ago by lastwraith
ZeGerman
ZeGerman
7 months ago

The big sticking point with the Corolla Cross is/will be the same as with the RAV4: You typically can’t get one without paying a big markup. That markup tilts the scale towards being less of a value. Toyota also doesn’t do factory orders, so the buying process is really annoying. You just have to buy whatever the dealer has on the lot or in transit to them, so it’s difficult to buy one exactly how you want it.

Last edited 7 months ago by ZeGerman
Nycbjr
Nycbjr
7 months ago
Reply to  ZeGerman

This, I ended up with a Kia Niro, they had 4k mark ups!

ZeGerman
ZeGerman
7 months ago
Reply to  Nycbjr

The stories I’ve read on Reddit about what people are paying for RAV4 Primes and the games that Toyota dealers play on buyers are wild. People paying way above sticker for a utilitarian CUV but then having the dealer sell it to someone else who is willing to pay more before it arrives on the lot, thus forcing the original buyer to wait for months longer again. It’s nuts. Going to be the same story for the CorollaCross hybrid, no doubt.

Nycbjr
Nycbjr
7 months ago
Reply to  ZeGerman

stealerships mostly suck, but this is 2x the toyota tax!

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
7 months ago

Seems to me that for @ $5000 less, you can get a Corolla Hybrid sedan and you’d get better mileage out of the same powertrain because lower weight (AWD is not necessary for 90% of us) and smaller frontal surface for lower aero-drag.
Or for @ $10000 less, you could get a non-hybrid Corolla Hatchback – and still get seriously good MPGs, while retaining the same interior space as the jacked-up version, because of all of the above reasons for the Corolla sedan.
So maybe the Corolla Cross Hybrid really isn’t that great a value after all?

Last edited 7 months ago by Urban Runabout
GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
7 months ago
Reply to  Urban Runabout

The Corolla hybrid gets better mileage but uses a different powertrain. I agree on the “need” for AWD, but the AWD-i on hybrids with an electric motor for the rear is not really as involved as the typical AWD system in nonhybrids, and I’d wager a more appropriate AWD system for what people think they need. And even comparing weight across FWD nonhybrid versions of all 3 Corollas, they’re within 100 lbs of each other.

The estimated MPG hit for the AWD-i is pretty negligible at these figures too. AWD Prius takes a “bigger” hit at 3mpg, but get up to Highlanders, Siennas, it’s a 1mpg city difference.

The Corolla hatch has less interior space than even the sedan: 84 cubic feet, vs. sedan’s 88, Cross 94. Mostly behind the front seats as the hatch has ~3″ less rear legroom than the other variants, and nearly that much less headroom vs. the Cross in back. Seats up cargo space is about the same if you skip the spare tire on both hatch and Cross, Toyota hasn’t listed seats down volume for any of them but given the back seat space in the hatch, probably not adding a lot of overall cargo volume like many hatchbacks do.

And – the base price of the Cross hybrid is <$5k over the hatch. Plus every review of the hybrid powertrain in the Cross says it drives better than the nonhybrid, whether spec sheet or just how it feels. So – there are some meaningful differences.

Bassracerx
Bassracerx
7 months ago
Reply to  Urban Runabout

the corolla hybrid sedan uses the last generation prius drivetrain. More efficiency a lot less power. the corolla cross hybrid shares the powertrain with the new prius. and the prius is a little cheaper and gets more efficiency but the corolla cross has more cargo capacity and more ground clearance.

JumboG
JumboG
7 months ago

Too bad they don’t have a hybrid one available (not even listed as pending with delivery in a couple of months) within 500 miles of me. That’s most of the eastern seaboard.

Hgrunt
Hgrunt
7 months ago

CEO Elon Musk is averse to people having the good colors

Funny you mention this, I was reading an article about workplace safety at SpaceX and apparently he doesn’t like yellow safety vests because they’re too bright

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
7 months ago
Reply to  Hgrunt

I hear Elon prefers his people to wear brown shirts….

Andrew Weltlich
Andrew Weltlich
7 months ago

There are other vehicles available in the US that use the same drivetrain layout. Dodge Hornet R/T and Alfa Romeo Tonale come to mind, not sure if there are any others, but those ones for sure.

Strangek
Strangek
7 months ago

Dang it. That’s right about my budget and I hate that that has me shopping for stupid economy cars, but such is life. I’ll add this one to the list as I’m shopping compact SUVs in this price range. I wish it wasn’t called Corolla or Cross, that it’s named both is pretty awful. I suppose I can do some de-badging.

Ben
Ben
7 months ago

Great, another excellent Toyota hybrid…that you won’t be able to buy because they can’t/won’t build them fast enough.

D-dub
D-dub
7 months ago
Reply to  Ben

Can confirm. You can’t get one of these at MSRP. I was cross shopping it against the Kia Seltos this past summer and they all had dealer markups on them.

Alexk98
Alexk98
7 months ago

For reference, 33k in 2013 money is $43,600.48 today according to an inflation calculator, which is the MSRP of a 2024 Highlander XLE, so actually pretty much on par with inflation. Granted Inflation vs actual earning and disposable income on average is a completely different conversation, but inflation adjusted actually not bad.

Goof
Goof
7 months ago

I’m curious how well it accommodates modern rear-facing car seats.

It’d never be a concern for me, but that is the primary deal-breaker for couples. It’s what I find gets people to move up a size class more than anything else.

I have a friend whose wife (front passenger) is 4-foot-10 and even in a larger RAV4 Prime, putting the car seat behind her (as he’s 6-foot-3) is tighter than you’d think.

Tbird
Tbird
7 months ago
Reply to  Goof

Rear facing car seat was what forced me to sell my ’94 SHO in 2006. Modern seats just did not fit and leave enough front passenger room.

Bill Garcia
Bill Garcia
7 months ago
Reply to  Goof

That is actually what I was thinking – we have a Volvo XC60 and a Jeep Wrangler at home and both are a tight fit with the Uppababy infant seat… what happened?! Neither are small cars yet the carseat makes them feel cramped!

Goof
Goof
7 months ago
Reply to  Bill Garcia

I await the day that rear facing car seats are replaced with 3500lb battle trailers you’re supposed to tow behind the vehicle and put the children in.

Nico
Nico
7 months ago

Ok, I drove a Corolla Cross (CC) recently as a loaner and was seriously shocked at how comfortable it was. I though to myself, “this would make an amazing daily driver”. I’m actually considering buying one now. The hybrid apparently offers a much better driving experience than the gas variant due to the extra power and quieter cabin from the less strained engine(s).

P.S. I had to google Modelo Oro because I had not heard of the Oro. I usually drink Corona Premier but now that Modelo has an equal offering, I’m going to give it a try. Came for a car review and leaving with a beer rec, win-win.

Madewithgenuineparts
Madewithgenuineparts
7 months ago
Reply to  Nico

On a manufacturer event we drove both, the Corolla Cross Hybrid got like 35 combined MPG, whereas the gas model got like 18 mpg driven hard and still slowed down the whole caravan. The Hybrid is absolutely the one to get

Nico
Nico
6 months ago

That’s good info. My current decision tree is between a CC Gas XLE with the tan interior and the green exterior color or a CC Hybrid XSE with the black interior and the yellow exterior color. I’m having trouble deciding because I love the color combo on the gas version. I’m not a fan of black interiors and the hybrid only has black interiors. My 4Runner and Taco had black interiors and I absolutely hated them, shows all dirt and hair from the dogs and sunscreen almost stains the seats (almost everyone I drive around is in their 30s and now wear sunscreen every day). My previous vehicles with brown or tan interiors never had that issue because the colors did a good job of hiding the grime mentioned above.

Abraham Smith
Abraham Smith
7 months ago

That engine compartment is INSANE

Ford_Timelord
Ford_Timelord
7 months ago
Reply to  Abraham Smith

I’ll give them marks for honesty and not trying to prissy up engine bay with some plastic fake manifolds

Murph
Murph
7 months ago

The bezels on that infotainment screen are borderline criminal. Looks like a compaq from 1987, and not in the good way. If you’re going to put a screen in, at least make it look modern. This looks like a first gen nav screen from a ’02 luxury car

Utherjorge
Utherjorge
7 months ago
Reply to  Murph

lol okay

VanGuy
VanGuy
7 months ago
Reply to  Murph

The wheel and screen look identical to the 2023 Corolla I just had as a rental. It was perfectly fine and usable–and you can see the tiny volume knob in the front-left corner, a clever addition to appease the “must-have-a-volume-knob” people (of whom I wanted to be one, but there aren’t many aftermarket Android Auto systems with them, let alone any that would’ve fit my 2012 Prius v).

Taargus Taargus
Taargus Taargus
7 months ago

This thing is a compact at this point in my mind. It functions like a Rav4 from 3 generations ago. The current Rav4 is genuinely large.

33k is still pretty steep, but at least you can argue that the low cost of ownership makes it a decent value, especially in low trims. I do wonder how difficult it is to get your hands on one of these as MSRP, as dealers still seem to be either marking up their hybrids, or tacking on piles of stupid accessories to hide markups.

Scott
Scott
7 months ago

The current Toyota Rav4 IS genuinely large for a compact crossover. I went w/a neighbor to help her buy one last week and getting it home, it’s literally almost as big as my ’04 Volvo XC90, which was the BIGGEST SUV available from Volvo at the time (even can be had w/a decent third row). In just two decades, Toyota’s smallest (or second smallest maybe) crossover is now almost as large and imposing as Volvo’s absolute largest SUV was.

Last edited 7 months ago by Scott
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