AUSTIN, Texas — Toyota swings for the infield with the 2022 Corolla Cross, a subcompact SUV hitting the market this fall with singularly modest aspirations.
Sized between the quirky C-HR and mega-selling RAV4, the Cross’ bid for buyers’ attention seems to rest on the Toyota and Corolla badges’ well-earned familiarity and respect rather than clear leadership in features, performance or technology.
The five-passenger SUV will need every drop of goodwill it can wring from the Toyota and Corolla names to stand out in a segment that includes vehicles like the Chevrolet Trailblazer, Honda HR-V, Hyundai Kona, Kia Seltos, Subaru Crosstrek and VW Taos.
I recently spent a day driving several trim and equipment levels of Corolla Cross in and around Austin, Texas. The Cross is scheduled to go on sale in October. Toyota builds it in a new Huntsville, Alabama, plant the automaker shares with Mazda.
AWD developed for U.S.
The Corolla Cross uses the same TNGA C (for compact) architecture as the Corolla sedan, modified for all-wheel drive, towing and other characteristics associated with SUVs. It’s been on sale in other parts of the world for a year, arriving in the U.S. now because of extra time developing the AWD version, which adds an independent rear suspension as well as the ability to send up to 50% of power to the rear wheels.
The Corolla Cross is Toyota’s second subcompact SUV in the U.S., followingthe smaller C-HR, which was developed to compete with the quirk-forward Nissan Juke. Neither the Juke nor C-HR offered AWD, making them SUVs with an asterisk, in my mind. Nissan has dropped the Juke, but the C-HR remains.
The Corolla Cross’ dashboard design intentionally borrows from the Corolla sedan. Its exterior echoes the RAV4, particularly the grille, front fascia and profile. Blistered fenders, black wheel moldings and sills are the Cross’ most prominent visual flourishes.
While the C-HR’s offbeat looks, smaller size and lack of AWD make it a niche vehicle, Toyota expects the Corolla Cross to become one of its U.S. mainstays. Toyota can build about 150,000 a year in its half of the plant it shares with Mazda. Output probably won’t reach that level until 2023, because of a pandemically cautious production plan.
Mazda will also build a small SUV in Huntsville. Name, features, etc., TBA. Production begins in the first quarter of 2022.