Expert Reviews

2023 Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid First Drive Review and Video

When Toyota introduced the Corolla Cross, it filled a fairly substantial hole in its lineup just beneath the ridiculously popular RAV4.

Reasonably roomy, affordable, and efficient, the Corolla Cross quickly proved itself to be a well-rounded choice in the popular subcompact crossover segment. However, the fly in the ointment from the very start has been poor performance – not that a crossover like this should be blisteringly quick, but even everyday occurrences like merging onto the highway leave it more than a short step behind key competitors. And while the reason this new gas-electric version exists in the first place is enhanced efficiency, the 2023 Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid also adds some much-needed pep in its step.

A Little Extra Kick

Like the Subaru Crosstrek before it, the Corolla Cross was in desperate need of just a little more performance prowess. Where the gas-only version is fairly gutless, the additional output offered by this hybrid, as well as the way it’s delivered, provides the added zip required to pass slower traffic on the highway rather than leave this Toyota toiling in it.

The Corolla Cross Hybrid borrows its powertrain from the redesigned Prius, right down to the separate electric motor in the back that provides on-demand all-wheel drive. The 2.0L gas engine on its own makes 150 hp and 139 lb-ft of torque, which is barely less than the conventional version (169 hp, 151 lb-ft); but with electrical components providing an extra kick, net output jumps to 196 hp.

Paired with an automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT), it sounds just as gruff and unrefined as before, only it no longer struggles to build momentum when it’s asked to. Sure, a turbocharged rival like the Kia Seltos offers a little more urgency when accelerating, but the gulf between the two has shrunk significantly. Give the throttle pedal an enthusiastic poke and this Corolla Cross will scamper away with the confidence its sibling lacks.

A Lot More Efficient

Equally as important to that added performance is how efficient this version of the Corolla Cross is, with a combined consumption rating of just 5.6 L/100 km. That’s better than every other entry in this segment, and by a significant margin. By comparison, the gas-only Corolla Cross with all-wheel drive is rated at 7.8 L/100 km combined (7.3 without), and that turbocharged Seltos checks in at 8.7 – both about average amongst crossovers this size.

More than just an impressive number on paper, it proved entirely achievable during a brief test outside Carlsbad, Calif., with an indicated average of 41.1 mpg – equivalent to 5.7 L/100 km. While the drive itself was relatively short, covering a little less than 100 km in total, those were spread fairly evenly across city, highway, and winding rural roads, providing a proper sample of combined driving conditions.

Slick, Subtle, and Sporty Tweaks

There isn’t much to tell this Corolla Cross Hybrid apart from its gas-only sibling, with subtle changes here and there. It introduces to the lineup two sport-inspired packages to pick from: the SE and XSE, with the latter available in a quartet of contrast paint options paired with a black roof – although it looks a little awkward with the chrome strip that extends along the top of the doors, which should’ve been finished in black to better match the rest of the exterior.

The gaping grille treatment Toyota has bestowed upon its other models’ sport-inspired trims carries over to the Corolla Cross Hybrid, too, although the actual opening here is rather small. Both trims also ride on sport-tuned suspension, with reasonable ride quality that’s aided in no small part by the added weight of the electrical components and enhanced suspension damping that comes with it. It’s not always supple, with broken pavement unsettling the chassis just a bit, but most road imperfections are stopped at the first line of defence.

There’s a strong sense inside that this is an economy crossover, with a noticeable lack of sound-deadening, not to mention the sort of solidness that’s typical of Toyota products; and while steering response is quick, it’s betrayed by an absolute absence of any sort of feel or feedback. However, the road manners of this Corolla Cross are in keeping with the upper crust of this class.

Two Trims to Choose From

The hybrid-only SE and XSE trims are priced at $33,895 and $36,755, respectively. That means there are a handful of gas-only trims to choose from that are cheaper, while the most expensive of them – the XLE – is bookended by these two. Freight, meanwhile, adds another $1,930 to every one of them, and is a non-negotiable addition.

Just like the on-road experience, there’s nothing about the feature set that makes the Corolla Cross Hybrid anything more than an economy crossover. The steering wheel and front seats are heated, while the eight-inch touchscreen runs wireless versions of both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. There’s also a standard set of roof rails that are a pair of crossbars away from mounting a cargo carrier to augment the 609 L of space behind the second row.

The XSE trim adds features like upgraded exterior LED lighting all around, 18-inch alloy wheels, a power tailgate and sunroof, and an upgraded stereo, as well as synthetic leather upholstery and a power-adjustable driver’s seat. On the safety front, both trims get good stuff like forward collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning and keeping assistance, and adaptive cruise control.

Final Thoughts

While it’s a little expensive at the top of the lineup, with the pre-tax price of $38,685 eclipsing that of the cheapest RAV4 Hybrid, there’s no question that the 2023 Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid is the best version of this subcompact crossover, and it’s not even close. The extra output – and corresponding kick that comes with it – is what was missing from the moment this subcompact crossover came out, while its efficiency makes it an easy choice for those looking to reduce their fuel bills.

It may not be the roomiest crossover this size – for that, please see the Volkswagen Taos – nor is it the most refined. But this hybrid powertrain means the Corolla Cross no longer trails the majority of its rivals when it comes to the everyday performance that matters most. Consider this one a big win, not for Toyota but for anyone shopping in this segment for an efficient and fairly spacious crossover with decent driving manners, too.