Review: 2022 Toyota Corolla Cross XLE AWD

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Cameron Neveu

Benjamin Franklin, despite his reported propensity for the opposite sex, did have male friends. One was a philosopher with a deformed leg, which had been mangled in an accident. The other leg was, as Franklin records, “remarkably handsome.” Franklin’s buddy used his mismatched appendages to determine who was cool enough to hang. If a stranger regarded the philosopher’s handsome leg first (likely commenting on its muscular nature, perfect skin tone, or appropriate amount of hair), then they had passed the test and were no doubt an optimist. Total friend material. However, if someone commented on the gnarled leg first, the philosopher would show such a diagnosed pessimist the door.

His strategy prompted Franklin to write, “I therefore advise those critical, querulous, discontented, unhappy people, that if they want to be respected and beloved by others, and happy in themselves, they should leave off looking at the ugly leg.”

2022 Toyota Corolla Cross front
Cameron Neveu

Which brings us to the Corolla Cross. I could get down in the mud and decry the death of fun automobiles before a tide of rolling plastic beans with uninspiring powertrains. You could even join me in the comments. The Cross, after all, is an SUV riff on an already uninspiring economy car. It also marks Toyota’s third entry in the often-soulless subcompact segment, joining the RAV-4 and the C-HR. (The latter rides on the same TNGA platform and possesses the exact same wheelbase as the Cross.) Plus, figures like 2.0-liter, 170-horsepower, and $32,000 don’t exactly snap heads. However, these mini-SUVs sell well, so they’re here to stay.

Isn’t it best, then, to focus on the handsome leg?

I embarked with the Corolla Cross on a Michigan mid-winter drive over a myriad of terrain. This particular Cross was an XLE, which has all-wheel-drive ($1300). The options list also included a beefed-up infotainment system (an eight-inch touchscreen and a nine-speaker JBL sound system, $1465), a moonroof and power back door ($1250), and adaptive auto-leveling headlights ($615).

The additional options are worth it, especially the sound system. While JBL stereos won’t generally earn the praise of audiophiles, the Corolla Cross’s setup is infinitely better than the toy speakers recently sampled by yours truly in a rental Camry. Also, in the XLE trim, all occupants are treated to some fine Macadamia-colored Soft-Tex seats, which complements the two-tone hard plastic and leatherette throughout the interior. Snazzy enough, and plenty practical. Ergonomic, too.

The entire cabin, for that matter, is comfortable, well thought-out, with a rather spacious cockpit, considering it’s pretty much a Corolla with a more upright seating position. In fact, the only thing that feels disappointingly small in the Cross’ interior is the center console, which fits the Corolla but appears miniature in the taller SUV version. Sometimes subcompact innards will read as cheap. Not the Cross. Even my girlfriend, who attended fashion school and is often more critical of fabric and comfort than I, proclaimed her love for the Cross’ interior.

Speaking of dating, another way to appear attractive is to surround yourself with hideous friends. For that reason, the Cross is one of the more handsome in its segment. It has far less overbite than a Crosstrek, larger road presence than a EcoSport, and is more serious than a Venue or a Kicks. Much like Chevy’s Trailblazer, the Cross has a few sharp, suit-like creases (most notably in its aggressive haunches), and several burly body lines that approach 90 degrees. Its design is particularly robust aft of the the B-pillar, an area highlighted by a rather vintage-looking piece of (plastic) chrome trim on the rear corners. “Corolla Cross” is debossed in the trim and the taillights: an opulent touch for this economy car. Hands down, the view is best in pursuit.

Other road-goers may rarely see that rear, however, because the Cross is by no means quick. Not that many of these pods are, but, unlike a Kona or a Kicks, the Cross doesn’t even try to appear sporty. Maybe it’s better off not pretending? Rather than lean on a turbo for improved scoot, the Corolla Cross mates its 2.0-liter four-cylinder (the M20A-FKS also found in the Corolla car) to a decent CVT, which uses a physical first gear to maintain efficiency from a dead stop to highway speeds. By employing an additional gear, Toyota was able to decrease the transmission belt angle, which drastically improves shift speed and eliminates the numbness usually present in a continuously variable gearbox. The trade-off is that first gear winds out like Senna on a flyer.

While the Cross is not quick, it is plenty composed. The all-wheel-drive XLE has independent front and rear suspension, an arrangement that succeeds in keeping this tall car under the driver. Under tight cornering you’ll experience a little dip in the nose, and you’ll feel that the rear has punched in to work. The increased ride height also allows the Cross to foray into areas that the standard Corolla, which sits three inches lower, cannot. Muddy, rutted two-tracks it traverses with aplomb. Overall, though, the driving experience is largely uneventful, apart from the rev-happy first gear. No paddles. No modes. I appreciate the honesty in not serving up extraneous switches and toggles, but give me something to do midway through the long haul other than fidget with the seat warmer switch.

Interior gadgetry is pared down. And while the spartan treatment detracts from the driving experience, it does facilitate a clean and easy-to-navigate center stack. The infotainment cluster is simple and properly adorned with physical, well-labeled buttons that also flank the touchscreen. Kia and Hyundai touchscreens—and gauges—have more flair in their presentation, but Toyota’s work just as well.

Toyota calls its new-to-North-America Cross “the bold compact you didn’t know you needed until now.” Need is a strong word, but if I ever needed a subcompact, the Corolla Cross would be a contender, providing I had the extra dough to stretch for a $27,625 MSRP. How does it stack up against its Toyota siblings? The Cross is far more mature than the rough and rugged RAV-4 or the sporty and sleek C-HR. This is an adult’s car. Throw in the associated reliability of the bulletproof Corolla, and it’s only logical that Toyota plans to pump 150,000 of these Crosses out of its new Huntsville, Alabama plant.

You know where else these grown-up Corollas are manufactured? South Africa. December 2021, for the first time ever, South Africa’s best-selling passenger car was an SUV, and it was none other than the Corolla Cross­. It should come as no surprise that South Africa ranks eight points above the global average for optimism amongst its citizens. One nation, observing the handsome leg.

***

2022 Toyota Corolla Cross XLE AWD

Price: $27,625/$32,419 (base/as-tested)

Highs: A handsome and adult subcompact crossover, with tidy handling, luxe materials, and a spacious interior.

Lows: Low on power and excitement, expensive, just another subcompact in the wall.

Summary: If you must purchase a subcompact, the Corolla Cross is worth a test run. It’s more mature than its contemporaries, at the cost of being more vanilla.

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