No matter who you are or quite frankly where you are in the world, you probably have a story tied to the Toyota Corolla. I know I certainly do, it was our family car of choice growing up in Uganda! Available as a hatch, sedan, wagon or occasionally in a sportier guise, this universal appeal has cemented the Corolla’s status in the automotive world.
However, with SUVs now taking up a large piece of the pie globally and NZ being ahead of the curve on that statistic, something had to be done to expand the Corolla’s reach. So, Toyota New Zealand took us on a journey through Auckland to introduce us to their latest offering, the Corolla Cross.
You join me on a rather cloudy Auckland morning, heading down to a place called ‘The Annex’ for the New Zealand launch of the Toyota Corolla Cross. The discrete location puzzled both the likes of Google Maps and myself but no fear as the chauffeur seemed to know where I was headed!
Greeted by the red Toyota flags and the six Corolla Crosses that were lined up outside, the Annex would host us for presentations about the car itself as well the automotive market. But first, croissants!
After filling up on French pastries and caffeine, it was time for the PowerPoints. First up, Toyota NZ’s GM of Sales, Steve Pragnell who would talk us through the state of the car industry. The key takeaways from this being that New Zealanders are active people and that is certainly reflected in our car buying habits with 52% of the market now belonging to SUVs! Similarly, Kiwis are clearly planet conscious people as well with 80% of Lexus’ sales being electrified cars and Toyota at 36%.
The numbers certainly don’t lie and there was a clear gap in the market for a new electrified Toyota crossover. But where would Corolla Cross sit? Rather neatly between the C-HR and RAV4 actually! The new addition means Toyota SUV buyers are spoilt for choice with Yaris Cross, C-HR, Corolla Cross, RAV4, Highlander, Fortuner, Land Cruiser Prado and Land Cruiser 300 spanning the range!
So, a decision was taken to bring out the Corolla Cross. But what would power such a car? Well, that could only be Toyota’s hybrid powertrains of course! In fact, all variants of the Corolla in New Zealand are now only available with hybrid power. A move that forms a big part of Toyota’s decarbonization journey.
But there’s much more to the Corolla Cross and the platform that underpins it as Sven Tulicic, Product Planning Manager at Toyota NZ was about to tell us. Interestingly, Corolla Cross comes with the latest in Toyota hybrid tech which equates to a battery that is 14% lighter but offers a 14% greater power output over the outgoing version. Similarly, there’s a 13% power increase when recharging the battery. Incredible stuff and proof that hybrid technology is far from over!
The Cross is quite a standout within the range as it is the first Corolla to use the next generation infotainment screen that adds “Hey Toyota” functionality as well as wireless Apple CarPlay and wired Android Auto. Cross also happens to be the only Corolla model that can tow with a 750kg rating!
It’s not just the tech where Toyota have sprinkled some magic, they also took a good long look from the sustainability perspective. Bumpers on the Corolla Cross are now broken up into smaller pieces so if you do have a little bump or receive a shunt, only the affected portion of the bumper needs replacing. It’s different to an older car where the whole bumper would need to be replaced over smaller incidents. The material used is also far easier to recycle compared to bumpers of old. The more you know!
At this point, we had heard plenty about the Corolla Cross so were really itching to get behind the wheel. However, Lisa Saunders, PR, Communications and Product Marketing Manager for Toyota NZ had a little surprise in store for us first!
Seeing as the compact SUV segment is an extremely popular one with the female demographic (about 67% of market share), we would be paired up with some of the leading ladies from New Zealand’s lifestyle and media scene for our drive today! So with drivers sorted and phones paired up, we were off.
The drive would take place over four legs, allowing us to take turns driving as many of the four Corolla Cross variants as we could. GX, GXL, Limited and Limited AWD were all on offer. My drive would begin with the GX and then progress upwards to finish with the Limited AWD.
Similarly, the route planned would allow us to put the Corolla Cross through its paces in both city and back-road type driving environments. All situations that the car would be facing in its daily life.
My co-driver and I both managed to enjoy a fair share of urban as well as rural driving. In the city, the Corolla Cross’ maneuverability was of particular note to me with the 11.2m turning circle making life a breeze. Similarly, the suspension set-up soaked up all of the potholes that Auckland’s roads had to offer, making no fuss in the process.
While on the topic of the city, it’s worth pointing out that Toyota’s LDA or ‘lane departure assist’ was always on hand to help but never too intrusive. A result that can be compared to walking a tightrope!
Quite frankly, the Corolla Cross offered an equally impressive driving experience once the city limits were left behind. On the rougher road surfaces, road noise was at a minimal with both the suspension and tires doing their job well. The improved softer materials on the Limited models made a particularly significant different here with maintaining a quieter cabin. Remember that a significant proportion of New Zealand’s roads are still unsealed but my experience today tells me the Corolla Cross won’t be troubled by that!
Even in the furthest reaches of Auckland, the Limited AWD trim level left me cocooned in luxury with heated seats & steering on offer as well as an 8 speaker JBL audio system which includes a sizable sub!
After working up an appetite, it was time for us to refuel at The Hunting Lodge. Although, our cars could keep going for hours with an estimated range of 700km and up! Lunch at the Lodge was a first for me and I did feel guilty about demolishing the aforementioned antipasto platter. However, any guilt was wiped away with a little sneak peek of Toyota’s latest TV/video ads that left me feeling glad. Not to mention a little trip down memory lane with some Toyota ads that pre-date my existence!
With lunch wolfed down, it was time to hit the road again! For reasons unbeknownst to me, I decided to really test the dynamic ability of the Corolla Cross following a heavy meal. Nothing made its way back up which was positive as was the car’s ride. Balancing the weight distribution with the engine and battery at either ends offers an improved driving experience with the hybrid offering more than enough punch in ‘POWER’ mode.
A nearly coast to coast drive through Auckland would see us finish up at Toyota’s new dealership in Panmure. Reflecting on the day, we got a chance to put the new Corolla Cross to the test in a variety of different scenarios which just like the food, proved to be plentiful for the challenge! Going further, the drive was an all new experience too with lifestyle & motoring perspectives coming together to understand the appeal of the car. One that helped inform my closing statement!
As the Toyota Corolla sub-brand crosses over into a new future, I can confidently say that the magic hasn’t been lost. There’s simply more of it to go around! With the Corolla Cross, SUV buyers can happily keep the familiar nameplate while embracing their ever changing needs. This is a car that’s going places!
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Words and pictures by Matthew D’Souza. Launch experience and cars courtesy of Toyota New Zealand.