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  5. Growing the Family: 2022 Toyota Corolla Cross First Drive

 
It's just before 10 a.m. on the first day of September, and I'm standing in the musical mecca of Austin, Texas. The temperature is already pushing 90 degrees, and the humidity is registering a camera-lense fogging 78 percent. Toyota has brought a group of automotive writers to the Lonestar State to drive the 2022 Corolla Cross, and in true Texas style, the air conditioning of the waiting vehicles has been set to stun. 

Given the storied history of the Corolla, it's no overstatement to call the new crossover's namesake an icon. Launched in 1966, the humble compact has been a pillar in Toyota's lineup for over half a century, and it remains a fixture on American roads. Today, the rear-wheel drive AE86 coupes of the 1980s are sought-after collector's items, and though the 1990s saw the model pivot away from the enthusiast market, the introduction of the sporty Corolla hatch in 2018 gave the line an injection of adrenaline. 

 
Toyota recently celebrated the sale of its 50 millionth Corolla, and the astronomical scale of that figure stands as testament to the model's enduring popularity. Now, the Corolla has always been a practical choice, and reliability-wise, it's generally ranked somewhere between the sunrise and a mother's love. So when Toyota wanted to launch a model to bridge the gap from the C-HR to the RAV4, it made perfect sense to co-opt the Corolla nameplate. Because in a segment as crowded as a SXSW showcase, some grade-A name recognition can't hurt.    


2022 Toyota Corolla Cross: How it Looks

 
As with most everything else in Toyota's stable, recent years have seen the Corolla sedan's lines become edgier and more distinctive. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that when it came to the sheet metal of the Corolla Cross, the designers took a similar tack. Up front, there's a large grille with a trick-looking diamond-shaped pattern behind the central Toyota badge, and everything is bordered by a contrasting black surround. In a welcome move, the company has equipped every trim level with LED lighting, and the way the headlights wrap from the front fascia into the fenders give it an upmarket look. 

My personal favorite angle on the Corolla Cross is the profile. When viewed from the side, there's a blunt look to the nose which really works for me, and this perspective also shows off the cool scallop over the front fender. It starts as a crease behind the headlamps, and pulls into a hairpin curve just under the rearview mirror, kind of like an inverted Nike swoosh. This element, along with the character crease over the wheel well and slightly flared hood, provides the front end with a dynamic look that rewards the choice of a brighter color. 

Today, black side skirts and wheel well cladding are common enough that they're almost invisible, and I could honestly take or leave them. Of course, you could say the same thing about the integrated rear spoiler, but it looks great here, and punctuates the lines of the body nicely. Inside the cabin, all the trims felt well appointed. Material quality is good across the board, though predictably, the two-tone cabins look sexier than their solid black counterparts. Even in the bright Texas sun with the sunroof open, the touchscreen at the center of the dash was easy to see, and the interface was straightforward and responded quickly. Along with the touchscreen, there are physical controls for common features like climate control and radio station selection. I particularly liked how the tuning dial allowed me to quickly scroll through all the SiriusXM stations. 

 
Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and SiriusXM are standard for all trims, as is Amazon Alexa. One feature that's unique for the class are the climate vents for rear-seat passengers. During my brief stint riding in the back, I appreciated them, and while my 6'3" frame didn't have acres of space, I didn't feel cramped either. Speaking of the rear seats, they'll fold 60/40 to augment the space available in the rear cargo area. Exactly how much space there is depends on whether you opt for the moon roof, all-wheel drive, or both. With both, expect 24.6 cubic feet with the seats up, and 65 cubic feet with them folded. Opt for neither, and you'll get 26.5 with the seats up, and 66.8 with them dropped. Given that the difference is only a couple of cubic feet in either direction, the distinction seems academic, and nothing some more mindful packing couldn't fix.      

Along with standard fare like white, gray, silver, and black, Toyota has also added a few more vibrant colors to the palate available for the Corolla Cross. Barcelona Red looks good, but the Blue Crush Metallic and Cypress (think British Racing Green) really pop. Though for the record, I should note that the white (Wind Chill Pearl) has a great depth in person. But like all pearl finishes, it doesn't transfer to photographs.    


2022 Toyota Corolla Cross: How it Drives

 
On the freeway outside of Austin's downtown core, the locals take hyper-legal speeds as seriously as they take BBQ. So posted limits are suggestions akin to putting Heinz ketchup on Franklin BBQ's famous brisket. That said, even in such cavalier company, the Corolla Cross performed beautifully. I had the sound system set to a whisper, and both my co-driver and I found the cabin remarkably quiet at highway speeds. There's little wind or tire noise, and the suspension soaked up imperfections in the pavement without complaint.

Though Toyota representatives confirmed a hybrid powertrain will eventually be on the menu, for the initial launch, every Corolla Cross comes with the same power plant. That engine is an all-aluminum 2.0-liter inline-four cylinder good for 169 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque. Peak twist arrives north of the 4,000 rpm mark, and while acceleration is somewhat leisurely, there was plenty of poke to pass on the highway. Overall, the little mill feels refined, with none of the buzzing and straining which can mar a driving experience. 

As you'd expect with a modern Toyota, fuel economy is also impressive, as front-wheel drive models return 31 city and 32 highway. Opting for power at all four corners means efficiency dips only slightly, to 29 city and 30 highway. But more importantly than the vehicle's fuel-sipping nature or its cruising capabilities, I need to say how seriously impressed I was with the CVT transmission. These units have been the bane of enthusiasts since their introduction, and here, Toyota's engineers seem to have cracked the constant-velocity code. How they've done it is something of a mystery, but I'd bet the inclusion of a traditional first gear is key. 

 
My previous trips to Texas have taken me to Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston, areas with all the elevation changes and sweeping corners of a circuit board. Fortunately, fun roads are one of the many things which differentiate Austin from the rest of the state, and I had a blast hurling the Corolla Cross through some twisty stretches outside of town. The all-wheel system can direct up to 50 percent of power to the rear wheels, and that contributes to the driving experience significantly. Barring an apocalyptic event, I'm confident I drove this vehicle harder than any potential buyer ever will, and happily found it to have minimal understeer and surprisingly good feedback through the wheel. 

In a nod to the active lifestyle crowd, every Corolla Cross is capable of towing up to 1,500 pounds. So if you're looking to head for the hills with a teardrop trailer, a kayak, or a pair of dirt bikes, you're good to go.       


2022 Toyota Corolla Cross: Pricing, Trims, and Availability

 
The entry-level trim for the Corolla Cross is the L Grade. Along with all the standard kit  mentioned above, it comes with remote keyless entry, a 7-inch touchscreen, two USB ports, and 17-inch steel wheels. Notably, this is the only trim that actually comes with a physical key, as opposed to push button start. When I asked one of the on-site Toyota folks why that was, they explained that feature is still pricey to include, and it was determined that L customers would appreciate the lower list price. Front-wheel drive models retail for $22,195, and all-wheel drive models come in at $23,495.      

The LE trim is the model that Toyota expects to be its volume seller. This comes with a host of welcome upgrades including an 8-inch touchscreen, wireless charging, 17-inch alloy wheels, roof rails, a leather steering wheel, and three USB ports. This trim also opens up the options for the kicking nine-speaker JBL stereo, and the moonroof package. Front-wheel drive models start at 24,595, and all-wheel drive models at $25,845.

The range-topping trim is the XLE, and comes with virtually everything you can get one the Corolla Cross. That means 18-inch alloys, SofTex "leather"-trimmed seats, a ten-way power driver's seat, heated front seats, LED fog lights, dual-zone climate control, a folding armrest for the rear seats, and a leather shift knob. As with the LE, the moonroof package and the JBL sound system are optional, but a power rear liftgate is also available, as is an adaptive front lighting system with auto leveling. Front-wheel drive models start at $26,325, and adding all wheel drive bumps the price to $27,625. 

 

Safety wise, every trim level of the Corolla Cross comes with Toyota Safety Sense 2.0. This is a robust level of standard safety equipment which includes, Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection, Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist and Road Edge Detection, Lane Tracing Assist, Road Sign Assist, and Automatic High Beams. 


The top two trims also get a couple of additional safety features. The LE is equipped with Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, while the XLE also adds Rear Cross-Traffic Brake, along with Front and Rear Parking Assist With AutoMatic Braking.       

  

Overall, if you're looking for a vehicle that won't break the bank, provides roomy, reliable transportation, and packs some great tech, the new Corolla Cross presents a compelling choice. Expect models to start arriving at your local AutoNation Toyota dealer later next month.  



John Coyle
| Sep 9, 2021

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