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Toyota Corolla Cross 1.8 V Hybrid: Rock ‘n’ Corolla

THE ONSET of the COVID-19 pandemic was not a sucker punch to humanity; with pervasive media coverage, we actually saw it coming almost in real time. That we couldn’t really stop it and curtail the rapid spread was probably the bigger news.

Having said that, life inexorably had to go on even if at times it seemed like it was impossible to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We had to “shelter in place” and figure out how to survive, be productive, and, well, live cloistered in our own homes.

And figure stuff out we did. Even auto companies, with their physical launches, exhibits, and mall tours scuttled, soon learned to hold Zoom meetings and, eventually, stage online launches. That was a supreme show of confidence and grit, especially since even dealership operations were curtailed and limited at the height of the pandemic.

Truth be told, it was an injustice for vehicles like the Toyota Corolla Cross to have to endure the indignity of an online reveal here in the country. But I digress; it was a middle finger to the virus, while respecting the fact that it was waiting to prey on the unprotected and careless.

Even from behind a laptop or desktop screen, the Corolla Cross had looked good — worthy of the iconic Corolla name; certainly worthy to take the badge into SUV (well, okay, crossover) territory. Platformed on the same TGA-C bones of the Toyota C-HR and the premium Lexus, Toyota positions the Corolla Cross as a “stylish urban vehicle,” melding its signature “QDR” (quality, durability, and reliability) with style and functionality.

But perhaps Toyota didn’t really need to do a lot of marketing speak; people truly gravitated to the new model. Despite a Q3 launch during the pandemic year, 598 units were sold by the end of 2020. In 2021, 1,539 people brought home a Corolla Cross. YTD 2022, that number is around 1,500 units. The compact crossover has clearly won a following. In fact, word has it that units are a little hard to secure these days as Toyota has also been negatively impacted by parts supply issues and the much ballyhooed chip shortage hounding not just itself but all brands to some degree.

For crossover seekers, it’s imperative to include the Corolla Cross in your consideration set. You’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t. To be fair, I’ve realized how it may be a little polarizing with its looks. But if you like it, you’ll love it.

Let’s start with the double trapezoid front grille, which helps to make the vehicle appear wider than it actually is, along with giving it an almost RAV4-like countenance. The hybrid variant is easy to spot as it bears a blue hue on its Toyota logo and even the bi-beam LED headlamps — not to mention the brand on the engine cover itself. Viewed from the side, the crossover is sleek and moderately muscular with just the right amount of crimping. Black plastic cladding on the lower part of its body also serves to visually raise the automobile from the ground.

The most significant thing about this variant is, of course, the fact that it is a hybrid. The price of admission versus the non-hybrid is an additional P362,000 for a P1.665-million tag.

Under the hood of the hybrid is a 1.8-liter engine with Atkinson Cycle (delivering 142Nm at 3,600rpm, and an electric motor to bump up the total system output to 120hp). Three driving modes (Eco, Power, and EV) give drivers their druthers on response and fuel efficiency. The 1.8 G CVT, on the other hand, gets a 16-valve four-cylinder, DOHC chain drive with dual VVT-I serving up 138hp and 172Nm (at 4,000rpm).

Aside from the powertrain differences, the HEV gets 225/50 R18 alloys versus the standard 215/60 R17s on the G CVT. However, you do lose a standard spare tire in favor of a “space saver” one to accommodate the hybrid battery.

By opting for the hybrid trim, you also get, among other niceties, rain-sensing front wipers, LEDs with line guide and bulb in the rear combo lamp, a digital/analog meter cluster, seven-inch TFT multi-information display, and more functions on the steering wheel switch set. The rearview mirror is also auto-dimming, and a cabin lighting system includes illumination for the cupholder, front door trim, and center tray — as well as the basic “room lamp.”

Significantly, Toyota further embraces its hybrid cred — doubling down via a hybrid trim in pursuit of realizing its “vision of sustainable mobility and makes self-charging hybrid technology more accessible to Filipinos,” according to a release. The air-conditioning system for the hybrid is also a dual-zone one. As for the infotainment display, the hybrid gets an eight-inch display versus the 6.9 inches of the exclusively petrol-powered variant.

And when you pony up the premium for a hybrid, Toyota will also throw in its suite of safety features which it calls Toyota Safety Sense. These include a pre-collision system, automatic high beam, lane tracing assist, lane departure alert, and dynamic radar cruise control. The last feature employs cameras to adjust the vehicle speed to keep a preset distance from the automobile in front. These features are added to the standard blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert, SRS air bags, anti-lock brakes, vehicle stability control, and hill start assist.

In a teaser ahead of its 2020 reveal, Toyota called the model “the Corolla we all know and love, now also in a new exhilarating form factor.” The vehicle is certainly that, and delivers elegant, cohesive, and tasteful styling as well. And I think that this vehicle is keenly intended for those who are still on the fence about hybrid electric vehicles, and found the poster child for hybrids (yes, the Prius) a little too funky or intimidating to the palate.

You might be a little perplexed by the left-hand circular gauge on the instrument cluster though. Despite its location and appearance, it’s not a typical rev counter. Rather than give you a real-time revolutions-per-minute report, it shows you how you’re doing in terms of extracting power and charging the hybrid battery. And because it’s a Toyota, an “eco” zone also lets you know when you’re being a conscientious, light-on-the-throttle driver.

There’s nothing bewildering or overwhelming about the Corolla Cross, powertrain-wise, and that’s a good thing. Think of it as a regular internal combustion engine (ICE)-equipped crossover with a very helpful supplemental electric motor which you absolutely won’t have to worry about because the hybrid battery charges as needed and without intervention. The result? Without even half trying, I eked out 17.5kpl from the front-wheel-driven crossover. Whenever possible, the motor engages to take some of the burden from engine.

As for the cabin, it’s a surprisingly spacious, non-descript one — with seats swathed in leather in the hybrid. The second row also provides ample leg and elbow room for occupants therein, A/C vents, and two USB-A charging sockets.

All told, the Corolla name is obviously a hallowed name for Toyota, and it’s easy to see how this engaging, well-mannered incursion into the crossover format earns the right to use that moniker. It’s solid like, you know, a rock.

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