With the launch of the Prius almost a quarter century ago, Toyota confidently threw its hat in the ring of the petrol / electric powertrain. So, it’s no surprise the Japanese auto giant, with a similar flourish, is the first to offer a hybrid in the small sports utility vehicle market.

At the same time in 1994, the company’s small-car expertise and rich SUV heritage was setting the standard with the RAV4, which was to become Australia’s and the world’s best-selling SUV.

Now these have come together with the Toyota Yaris Cross hybrid, based on the latest compact Yaris hatchback, while the RAV4 has gone up in size to the medium SUV segment.

The Yaris Cross hybrid system is available in both two-wheel drive and electric all-wheel drive variants in three grades: GX, GXL and Urban, to deliver a city-friendly runabout, or out-of-town soft-road trekker.

On test was a Yaris GXL all-wheel drive hybrid, which at $34,990, plus on-road costs, falls mid-range between the entry-level GX 2WD petrol ($26,990) and Urban AWD hybrid ($37,990).

Yaris Cross is covered by a five-year warranty, seven years for engine and driveline, and up to 10-year warranty on the hybrid battery, with a capped price for the first five services at $205 each.

While sharing distinctive styling with the recently launched Yaris hatch, Toyota’s first entry into the light SUV market carries a sense of robustness and high-riding demeanour favoured by buyers of bigger genuine off-roaders.

A bold face features a split grille with a lower diffuser, flanked by deep-set LED daytime running lights and slimline headlight clusters, while at the rear a squared-off rear hatch suggests a practical purpose. The GXL rides on 16-inch alloys.

Likewise, at the rear, the broad horizontal lines connecting the integrated taillights and squared-off rear hatch suggest a robust and practical attitude.

The test vehicle had a milky light brown exterior finish with the suitably modern moniker Latte. However, to those in the know, this shade does hark back to the ubiquitous workhorse Land Cruiser overcoat of old. Toyota’s little joke, perhaps?

While the platform of the Yaris Cross is only slightly longer and wider than that of the Yaris hatch, it features a substantially longer, wider and taller body to maximise interior space.

Inside, the larger body translates into an airy space for five occupants, but the three in the rear shouldn’t be on large side.

The controls are designed to optimise ergonomics. The quality of materials and finish is high.

There are large front door bins able to hold 1.5-litre bottles, rear door bins that can take 600ml bottles, good sized glovebox, as well as an array of small storage cubbies.

A digital instrument cluster with a 4.2-inch Multi Information Display, while 7-inch touchscreen display crests the centre console offering convenient controls and information for the latest generation multimedia system.

The system has AM/FM/DAB+ radio, full Bluetooth connectivity, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and enhanced voice activation and delivers premium audio through six speakers.

The GXL takes in satellite navigation and single-zone automatic climate control.

The hybrid system for 2WD versions combines a 67 kW / 120 Nm, 1.5-litre three-cylinder, Atkinson Cycle petrol engine and two motor generators putting out a combined 85 kW.

Driving the front wheels through a continuously variable transmission, AWD hybrid models gain a third electric motor to drive the rear wheels in slippery on- or off-road conditions.

Yaris Cross is the first Toyota model which can automatically generate an SOS emergency call to an around-the-clock Toyota call centre and relay the location of the vehicle in the event of a collision that requires intervention, or if an airbag deploys.

The driver is also able to request emergency assistance via an SOS button on the overhead console. If the vehicle is reported stolen this system can help authorities track the location via the Stolen Vehicle Tracking service.

Yaris Cross GXL features front and rear parking sensors, blind spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert, plus a 360-degree vehicle view monitor and automatic parking brake.

Latest generation Toyota Safety Sense technology include a pre-collision safety system with day / night pedestrian and day cyclist detection, emergency steering assist, lane trace assist and lane departure alert with steering assist, daytime Intersection turn assist, auto high beam, road sign recognition and adaptive cruise control.

A rear view camera with guide lines, and eight airbags including first-in-class front centre airbags to help reduce potential injuries caused by contact between the front passenger and driver, are also standard.

There is no solid cover to on the luggage area over rear boot. Constructed of soft fabric, it is flimsy and, I reckon, not up to harsh treatment.

Space and comfort up front is worthy of praise. Pity about the lack of head and leg room in the rear. The luggage area has a capacity of 314 litres with the rear seat backs in place.

While there is a lot going on under the skin, there is little for the driver to be anxious about with reference to power distribution between petrol engine, electric motor and battery charging. The system sees to that.

The direct shift CVT features a mechanical first gear for strong get up and go. A 10-speed sequential shift function that can be operated by the shift lever, or paddle shifters on the steering wheel.

Quiet under EV mode and average accelerator pedal pressure, the petrol engine does chime in with a gruff voice under urging. There’s some wind and road noise let into the cabin at higher speeds also.

As expected, fuel consumption for the GXL hybrid all-wheel is low. Toyota’s claim is 4.0 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined urban / highway cycle. On test, this translated to 5.0 litres per 100 in city and suburbs, and 3.8 litres per 100 kilometres on the motorway.

The AWD includes a switchable Trail Mode, automatically braking any slipping wheel to send torque to the wheels with the most traction.

Ground clearance has been increased by 20 mm to 170 mm, which is a long way from the 210 mm which is generally the figure recognised for a ‘real’ SUV.

Electrically-assisted steering and a small diameter steering wheel make for quick, responsive control. Braking is provided by ventilated front and solid rear discs and certainly didn’t show any sign of fading during spirited driving.

Toyota says the Yaris Cross caters for metro-living, country-exploring, active urban dwellers and delivers the style, advanced technology, safety and a fuel-efficient hybrid drivetrain demanded for the weekly commute. We find this an excellent compromise and Toyota seems sure of big sales numbers Downunder.


Yaris Cross GX 2WD petrol $26,990
Yaris Cross GX 2WD hybrid $28,990
Yaris Cross GX AWD hybrid $31,990
Yaris Cross GXL 2WD petrol $29,990
Yaris Cross GXL 2WD hybrid $31,990
Yaris Cross GXL AWD hybrid $34,990
Yaris Cross Urban 2WD petrol $32,990
Yaris Cross Urban 2WD hybrid $34,990
Yaris Cross Urban AWD hybrid $37,990
Premium paint $500
Two-tone paint $450
Note: These prices do not include government or dealer delivery charges. Contact your local Toyota dealer for drive-away prices.

SPECIFICATIONS (Toyota Yaris Cross GXL hybrid 1.5L 3-cylinder petrol engine, two drivetrain motor generators, plus one power generator, CVT, AWD SUV)

Capacity: 1.490 litres
Configuration: Three cylinders in line
Maximum Power: 67 kW @ 5500 rpm
Maximum Torque: 120 Nm @ 3800-4800 rpm
Electric drivetrain motor generators (front axle): 59 kW / 141 Nm, (rear axle) 3.9 kW / 52 Nm, plus power generator
Fuel Type: Petrol 91 RON
Combined Fuel Cycle (ADR 81/02): 4.0 L/100km
CO2 Emissions: 90 g / km

DRIVELINE: Continuously variable transmission, AWD

Length: 4180 mm
Wheelbase: 2560 mm
Width: 1765 mm
Height: 1590 mm
Turning Circle: 10.6 metres
Kerb Mass: 1265-1305 kg
Fuel Tank Capacity: 36 litres

Front: Ventilated disc
Rear: Solid disc

Five years / unlimited kilometres

About Derek Ogden

On graduating with an honours degree in applied science in London, Derek Ogden worked for the BBC in local radio and several British newspapers as a production journalist and writer. Derek moved to Australia in 1975 and worked as a sub-editor with The Courier Mail and Sunday Mail in Brisbane, moving to the Gold Coast Bulletin in 1980 where he continued as a production journalist. He was the paper's motoring editor for more than 20 years, taking the weekly section from a few pages at the back of the book to a full-colour liftout of up to 36 pages. He left the publication in 2009.
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