The Corolla Cross cashes in on the best-selling nameplate in motoring, and it arrives all too late to the small SUV segment, but is Toyota's undeniable brand power enough to help it compete?

What is it?

With the next-generation C-HR going all out on style and the current model being a bit out there anyway, Toyota needed a more straightforward and sensible small SUV in its lineup. Enter, the 2023 Corolla Cross. Cashing in on the most successful nameplate in all of motoring, it’s the sort of SUV you’d always have expected Toyota to make. Take the Corolla’s interior, package it in an inoffensive body, and make it feel solid and practical – it’s a simple recipe.

Three trim levels are on offer in Australia with a choice of 2WD petrol, 2WD hybrid, or AWD hybrid drivetrains. Here, we’re looking at the top-spec Atmos model fitted with the standard petrol engine which comes in at $43,550 before on-road costs.

So far this year, the Corolla Cross is selling well but is up against some even bigger sellers in the Kia Seltos, Hyundai Kona, Haval Jolion, and segment-leading MG ZS. Its stablemate, the C-HR, is also still selling strongly. So, is Toyota’s undeniable brand power enough to make it stand out against this competition?

What’s the 2023 Toyota Corolla Cross like inside?

Where the Corolla Cross will feel most familiar is on the inside, where its dashboard looks to have been lifted almost directly from the Corolla sedan or hatchback. However, there are some worthwhile upgrades to mention.

For instance, the central touchscreen has been increased to 9.0-inches in diameter, with this crisp and clear display running the latest infotainment system used by both Toyota and Lexus which includes integrated sat nav and wireless Apple CarPlay. It also adds dual-zone climate control which is normally only reserved for the raucous GR Corolla. Its 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster is shared with the Corolla ZR, with this display also being particularly crisp as well and offering a good array of customisability when it comes to what information is displayed.

Interior materials are much like you’d expect from a Toyota, with nothing feeling outstanding nor anything feeling unpleasant. In this Atmos variant, you do score leather seat upholstery which bumps it up a touch, while there’s an extensive use of plastic and faux leather elsewhere which feels durable and easy to clean.

This top-spec model does score a few extra highlights in the form of heated front seats and a heated steering wheel, along with a full-size panoramic sunroof. There’s also a solid nine-speaker JBL audio system with an unmissable subwoofer fitted in the boot.

Interior space is good with plenty of headroom and room to stretch your legs for both front and rear passengers, which is important since some small SUVs can overemphasise the small part when it comes to interior space. Boot space sits at 425 litres in this Atmos variant due to the space taken up by the subwoofer, while GX and GXL grades see that grow to 436 litres. The top-spec model does score a hands-free powered boot lid, though.

It’s also worth noting that like many other new cars, Toyota now offers a smartphone app which can connect to the Corolla Cross. Called myToyota Connect, this app allows you to locate your car if you can’t remember where you parked, remotely activate the climate control on a hot day, and even get notifications for if the alarm is triggered for any reason. However, it’s only free to access for the first 12 months, and I do wonder how many would use it enough to want to keep paying the subscription fee beyond that point.

What’s under the bonnet?

In this petrol-only Corolla Cross, you’ll find a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine under the bonnet producing 126kW and 202Nm. Its backed exclusively by a CVT automatic with a fixed launch gear and 10-speed manual mode, while front-wheel drive is the only option for power delivery.

When it comes to this top-spec Atmos variant, the petrol model is actually the slowest in the entire lineup with a claimed 0-100km/h time of just 9.2 seconds. Opting for one of the hybrid variants – both of which offer a combined system output of 146kW – reduces that by at least 1.5 seconds.

What’s the 2023 Toyota Corolla Cross like to drive?

Given its size and positioning in the range, the Corolla Cross is clearly aimed towards city drivers, with it feeling right at home on tight city streets. With light and easy steering, suspension that eats up bumps, and a high seating position with great visibility in all directions, it’s the ideal chariot for going into the battle that is a peak hour commute.

On city streets, the petrol engine is never really pushed too hard and the fixed launch gear does make it feel more conventional than some CVTs can. However, when you take it out of its comfort zone onto country roads some cracks do start to show.

Once you’re beyond the range of the launch gear, it reverts to behaving like a CVT, slurring its way through the rev range. The atmo petrol engine does sound and feel a bit strained at higher speeds as well with its limits easily found. The extra torque of the hybrid variants is well worth considering.

At freeway speeds, the cabin is quite noisy as well – even with some quality tyres on it in the form of the Michelin Primacy 4 – while its suspension can feel a bit less refined over some road imperfections at these higher speeds.

Regardless, the Corolla Cross clearly knows its limits, and for city buyers it serves up an ideal recipe for comfortable, trouble-free motoring. Country buyers may want to step up a size to something like the RAV4, however, which feels just as home on country roads as it does in the hustle and bustle.

How do the numbers add up?

Toyota claims fuel consumption of just 6.0L/100km for petrol-only models, although after 442km of testing I managed a return of 7.6L/100km – still very respectable, although a fair increase over that claim. Do be aware also that petrol models feature a rather small 47-litre fuel tank, while hybrid models see that shrink further to 36 litres for 2WD and 43 litres for AWD models.

As with all Toyota models, the 2023 Corolla Cross is covered by a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty, while if you routinely service it on time, the engine and drivetrain will be covered for an additional two years beyond that.

Speaking of, the Corolla Cross is offered with capped price servicing for the first five visits, each billed at just $230. Servicing is required every 12 months/15,000km.

So, what’s the verdict?

The 2023 Corolla Cross is, quite frankly, everything anyone would want from a Toyota small SUV. It’s easy to drive, economical, practical, well-equipped, and utterly inoffensive. As the name somewhat implies, it’s a bit like a Corolla on stilts, and that’s no bad thing.

Although it’s clearly better suited to city buyers than those regularly driving on country roads, it’s suited to them perfectly. Whether stepping up to this top-spec Atmos variant is worth it will be something to determine on an individual basis, but regardless, this thing sells itself the way most Toyotas do in Australia.

2023 Toyota Corolla Cross Atmos 2WD Petrol List Price: $43,550
  • 7/10
    Performance - 7/10
  • 7.5/10
    Ride & Handling - 7.5/10
  • 8/10
    Tech & Features - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Practicality - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Value for Money - 8/10

Pros: Easy steering and comfortable ride, feels typically well made and spacious, thorough list of features in this top-spec model
Cons: Petrol engine feels strained and the CVT doesn’t help, ride could feel more sophisticated on country roads, cabin could be quieter as well

Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Toyota Australia for one week with all fuel expenses covered.

Patrick Jackson
Share this article: