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Toyota Yaris Cross 2021 review: GX 2WD petrol

The Toyota Yaris Cross small SUV is the brand's most compact high-riding model.

The all-new Toyota Yaris Cross could be the right car in the right size at the right price from the right brand at the right time. 

Yes, there’s a lot right with that situation, but is there anything wrong with the new small SUV from Toyota? One challenge could be the competition, because it competes with the likes of other “light SUVs” such as the Mazda CX-3, Hyundai Venue, Ford Puma, Nissan Juke and Volkswagen T-Cross.

I spent a weekend driving this car from Sydney to Cooma and back - I had to show my mum as she’s in the market for a small SUV like this (dad liked the idea of a Toyota, too), and I wanted to see if it might be right for her. The trip also included a comprehensive back-seat snoozability test from my two dogs, and my partner let me know what she thought as a front-seat passenger. 

This test was of the absolute entry-grade version of the Toyota Yaris Cross - the GX 2WD petrol. Here’s how it went.

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How does it look?

I think it looks pretty good. It has a certain presence about it, with the grille and front bumper seemingly nodding towards an electric-only future, as there’s not a mess of mesh grille plastics for air intakes. To me it looks like an angry little ant, with its blacked-out look beady little headlights giving it some masculine appeal.

The side profile is a little odd. I don’t love that you can see the silver paintwork in the wheel houses and under the body cladding - it gives it that “budget” look.

But I do love the squared off over-fender looking guard extensions and that lower black plastic panel which just has an interesting angle to it.

The side profile is a little odd. The side profile is a little odd.

What doesn’t have quite as appealing an angle to it is the bulbous rear wheel arch - it looks kinda like the Suzuki Ignis in that regard. And the wheelbase looks long to me, too: and it is for the size of the car, because the Yaris Cross measures a tiny 4180mm long and has a 2560mmw wheelbase. It’s also city friendly 1765mm wide and 1590mm tall, meaning it meets the “high riding” stance that many urban-dwellers want, and has “running ground clearance” of 170mm. 

The Yaris Cross stands out from its rivals. The Yaris Cross stands out from its rivals.

The back end design is a bit oddball, too - while Toyota is usually clever at managing the packaging and space in its SUV models (the C-HR is the notable exception), the Yaris Cross could well have been a bit more ‘wagon-like’, I think. Instead it has the tapered bootlid and sharp, sticky-outy tail-lights, though the rear end is quite bluff from the badge down to the ground. 

Overall I like the look, and think it stands out enough from its rivals. Most of all I love that Toyota has gone for a dark-tint look front and rear, which just makes it look a little more sinister.

How spacious is it?

As I mentioned above, Toyota is generally pretty good with space management. The RAV4 and Kluger both stand out in that regard, offering seemingly more interior space than you might expect looking at the size of the car from the outside.

And the same can be said of the Yaris Cross, which is pretty roomy inside considering its exterior dimensions. Remember, this is almost 20cm shorter than a Corolla hatch, yet it has more back seat space and a bigger boot!

That’s right, the boot capacity for luggage is a handy 390 litres (VDA) for the 2WD versions. That drops to 314L (VDA) for the all-wheel drive Hybrid model. The clever boot space is down to a dual floor section that allows you to either alleviate more room for larger cargo, or even hide stuff below a false floor if you need to… presents that the kids might not see, for instance! There’s a flexible cargo cover - but read flexible as a synonym for flimsy, as it’s not a hard tonneau by any stretch of the imagination.

  • Cargo capacity is rated at 390 litres (VDA). Cargo capacity is rated at 390 litres (VDA).
  • The boot is large enough to hold all three CarsGuide suitcases. The boot is large enough to hold all three CarsGuide suitcases.

The even cleverer bit is that all Yaris Cross models come with a space saver spare wheel under the floor of the boot. And there’s also neat 40:20:40 split folding rear seats, allowing the back seat occupants a centre armrest with cupholders, or giving you extra load length space if you’re hauling longer items like skis or scooters.

Under the boot floor is a space saver spare wheel. Under the boot floor is a space saver spare wheel.

The back seat is only just roomy enough for someone my height (182cm / 6’0”) to slide in behind their own driving position.There’s barely enough knee room and shin space for me to sit behind my own driving spot, but there is good toe-room and decent headroom, while three adults across mightn’t be the best idea. Unless you’re using the middle rear seat for a baby seat, it’s best considered an “only in emergencies” spot.

The back seat offers good toe-room and decent headroom. The back seat offers good toe-room and decent headroom.

The rear doors don’t open very wide, so bear that in mind if you have kids and need to load them into child seats. And the seat base is long and the backrest is quite upright to allow the best boot space.

My dogs found the rear seat to clearly be comfortable - they slept the four hours each way on our weekend trip without even really stirring. I took my parents along for a drive and we swapped spots in the car, and it was comfy enough for each of us in the second row, without being exceptional. But for the footprint of this car, the room is pretty good - only the VW T-Cross (which is even smaller, at 4108mm long) betters it, as that car has a sliding second row that allows you to prioritise boot or back seat space.

  • My dogs found the rear seat to be comfortable. My dogs found the rear seat to be comfortable.
  • My dogs slept the four hours each way on our weekend trip. My dogs slept the four hours each way on our weekend trip.
  • My parents were comfy enough in the second row. My parents were comfy enough in the second row.

There are those aforementioned drop-down seat-mounted cupholders, plus there are bottle holders in the back doors - though they won’t fit larger drinks. The rear doors have hard plastic all over, meaning they’ll be easy to wipe down but not over comfortable for non-child-seat occupants. Also, there are no rear grab handles - only coat hooks - and there’s just one map pocket. No charge ports in the second row, either.

Thankfully, and unlike the C-HR, the window line means the view out is pretty good for smaller, lower-slung occupants, and there’s a lighter roof liner, which does make it feel airy.

Rear passengers get drop-down seat-mounted cupholders. Rear passengers get drop-down seat-mounted cupholders.

Up front, things are a mixed bag. 

There is no covered centre console bin between the seats, meaning you’ll be left wanting for somewhere to rest your elbows - but there’s a good reason, because it’s essentially due to the front-centre airbag fitment in Yaris models that there’s no armrest.

It means though, that you must share the centre big bottle holder between all occupants. But there are large bottle holders in the doors, and a pair of open cup holders between the front seats, too. 

Up front, things are a mixed bag.  Up front, things are a mixed bag. 

Now, the doors are an interesting element of consideration here. That’s because they have a strange fabric finish, which in our test car (with less than 3000km on the odometer at collection) was already exhibiting some pilling. You know, like you get on your favourite jumper, where the fabric balls up and peels off. See the interior images.

Plus, that fabric finish marks incredibly easily, meaning unless your elbow moisturising regime is en pointe, you will see white dead skin scuffs on the fabric, or worse, fat stains from your bacon and egg muffin.

I say those things in jest, but really, it’s not good enough for a high-impact area on a brand new car, so I hope Toyota takes the door trim finish back to the drawing board. 

  • The doors have a strange fabric finish. The doors have a strange fabric finish.
  • The fabric finish balls up and peels off. The fabric finish balls up and peels off.

Also, the treatments used in the storage areas - one in front of the gear selector, one above the climate control panel - have no grip, so you’re going to see marks and hear things moving around when you’re driving. It’s frustrating because Toyota has done such a great job in its other SUVs when it comes to these little attention-to-detail points.

Some other issues for particular buyers will include the fact there’s only one vanity mirror on this spec, for the driver, and it doesn’t have a light. The rearview mirror is an old-fashioned flick-to-dim, too.

The driver gets a trio of digital instrument screens, including a digital speedo and a detailed trip computer. The driver gets a trio of digital instrument screens, including a digital speedo and a detailed trip computer.

But there are some things I like about the interior, including the leather-lined steering wheel which is a good shape, has paddle-shifters for every grade of the petrol model, feels nice in the hand and offers good adjustment - as does the driver’s seat, while taller occupants will feel as though they’re sitting too high in the passenger spot.

The driver gets a trio of digital instrument screens, including a digital speedo and a detailed trip computer, and it’s all very neat and easy to learn. More on the tech below.

How does it drive?

I wasn’t necessarily left wanting more - it was actually a case of wanting less. Less engine noise, specifically.

The engine in the Yaris Cross is a 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol unit, and it doesn’t have a turbocharger like most other small-engine rivals. Instead, this raspy little thing has to work hard to get its power out, and because it is paired to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) auto, it means you really hear it in the cabin.

The 1.5-litre three cylinder produces 88kW/145Nm. The 1.5-litre three cylinder produces 88kW/145Nm.

So much so, in fact, that my partner Gemma described it as being “like a lawnmower” from the passenger seat. She also equated it, rather unfairly, to her first car - a 1986 Ford Laser - in how loud it was, when we were set on cruise control and encountered a long hill on our way down to my parents’ house. The wind noise around the mirrors and B-pillars also caught my attention.

It was, indeed, very loud. Annoyingly loud, in fact, and it’s always going to be loud because you’re always going to be pushing it hard to get the most out of it. This engine isn’t Toyota’s best effort. It lacks low-rev urgency and pulling power, and though the CVT - with its clever launch gear (which is essentially a traditional first gear before it switches to the elasticity of CVT behaviour) - is actually okay in level-terrain, slow moving traffic, when you encounter a hill or ask any more than about 60 per cent of it, the noise is frustrating. And even switching the Drive Mode to PWR (power) didn’t alleviate the strain all that much.

The Yaris Cross features eco and power driving modes. The Yaris Cross features eco and power driving modes.

Mum and dad were both amazed that a car that has just launched could be so gruff. And they’ve been in the T-Cross and other small SUVs I’ve had, which really brought the lack of engine refinement to the fore for them.

Otherwise, the Yaris Cross was pretty good. The steering is light and predictable, enjoyable in corners and quick to react when you turn the wheel. 

And the suspension - while a little firm-edged at times on the open road - was great around town and in urban driving situations. The little 16-inch wheels and reasonable Bridgestone Turanza (205/65/16) tyres proved grippy enough - and grippier indeed than the cruddy Bridgestone Ecopia 15s on the Yaris SX I drove recently.

Oh, and the ride was also mostly good on a dirt country road we went for a drive on, too. It didn’t wobble or crunch too much.

The Yaris Cross GX wears 16-inch alloy wheels. The Yaris Cross GX wears 16-inch alloy wheels.

How easy is it to use every day?

The Yaris Cross would be a great choice for those people who want a very compact crossover model - be they living in a small country town like my folks, or in a city environment. And you'll absolutely love the fact it has proximity unlocking for the front doors and boot, and also has push-button start - so you just don't need to worry about digging through your pockets or bag for your keys.

It’s a really easy car to just get in and go, even though I did find myself wishing for a little more urge from the engine. 

But it’s a really simple car to drive and park, and I love the way the electronic park brake applies and disengages without you needing to remember to hit a trigger or press a button.

That said, the GXL adds better stuff like LED headlights instead of the dull, yellowy halogens, not to mention blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, and front parking sensors and surround view camera, which would be high on my “should I spend more” checklist. 

The GX variant misses out on LED headlights. The GX variant misses out on LED headlights.

I did truly appreciate the boot size for the Yaris Cross. We put in our dog beds, a suitcase, and a couple of bags of odds and ends and there was still room to spare in this 2WD model (the AWD’s smaller boot would rule it out for me). I don’t have kids and can’t vouch for the pram-friendliness of the boot, but I know it’s better than a C-HR for cargo space, and would advise anyone cross-shopping the two to do a test-fit. 

How safe is it?

In theory, the Yaris Cross is about as safe a car as you can get, because it’s based on the Yaris, which was labelled the “benchmark for small car safety”. And so, it carries over all the good stuff the Yaris gets. But at the time of writing there is no ANCAP crash test safety score, nor a Euro NCAP score.

That includes an auto emergency braking (AEB) system that includes pedestrian and cyclist detection, which works from 10km/h to 180km/h. 

There is lane departure warning with lane keeping assistance, which works from 50km/h to 180km/h. When the standard-fit adaptive cruise control is active, there’s also lane trace assist, which will keep you in the middle of your lane. 

There is also road sign recognition - it shows up on the dash, and if you’re using cruise control you can adjust your speed to match by simply hitting ‘set’. There is also “Intersection Turn Assist” that will stop you diving through gaps in traffic that are deemed unsafe, and also auto high beam lights.

The airbag coverage is excellent - there are eight airbags comprising dual front, dual front centre, front side, and full-length curtain coverage. 

There are three top-tether child seat anchor points and two ISOFIX points for baby seats.

What’s the tech like?

The media screen is reasonably easy to come to grips with, and it has volume and tuning knobs as well as hard buttons on the sides, and is generally pretty simple to learn. It doesn’t have GPS sat nav in this spec, which apparently rules it out for people like my dad, who doesn’t like the whole smartphone mirroring tech thing.

Funnily enough, I had one or two issues with Apple CarPlay. The volume the system reads out text messages was set to a whisper, and I couldn’t fix it, try as I might.

There’s AM/FM/DAB radio, and voice control as well - so if you are connected to your phone, you can just ask Siri or Google for what you want. No CD player here, though.

Inside is a 7.0-inch touchscreen, featuring Apple Carplay and Android Auto.  Inside is a 7.0-inch touchscreen, featuring Apple Carplay and Android Auto.

Also, you can tell the 7.0-inch screen in that much, much larger bezel is a future-proofing thing for when Toyota eventually ups the game to a larger screen - like a 9.0-inch unit as it’s fitting to other newer models.

We hope that’s the case - for future buyers, anyway - and also that the brand adds a few more USB ports to the base car, because only one plug and no wireless phone charging in 2020/2021 just doesn’t cut it!

Thankfully, the sound system in the Yaris Cross seems to be slightly better than in the regular Yaris. There are six speakers in both, but having driven them back to back, I can tell you the hatchback model’s sound quality is comparatively trash.

How much does it cost to own?

This is the kicker. The base model GX Yaris Cross lists at $26,990 for the petrol 2WD version. Add hybrid for $2000 more in FWD, and add another two grand for AWD.

There’s honestly little reason to get the AWD system, in my opinion, but I don’t think my first choice in the Yaris Cross range would be the petrol-only version. It’d be the hybrid 2WD, and I’d want the GXL trim… which would push the price up considerably, to $31,990. But at that price, it’s the sweet spot in the range.

Even if you don't get the hybrid model, however, you'll be treated to impressive real-world fuel economy. On test, the dashboard was reading 5.7 litres per 100 kilometres, while the claimed combined cycle fuel use is 5.4L/100km. I did the "at the pump" figures, where I calculated the real fuel use over a full tank of fuel (the fuel tank capacity is 42L for petrols, but despite being on fumes according to the gauge, I only managed to put in 34L) - and the figure was actually 5.9L/100km.

When it comes to ownership, Toyota is known for reliability and promising ownership, and the Yaris Cross should, in theory, live up to expectations.

There’s a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty plan, which extends out to seven years/unlimited km if you make sure the car has its logbook servicing up to date - it doesn’t even have to be through a Toyota dealership, either.

There is also a capped price servicing plan with prices pegged at $205 per visit, due every 12 months/15,000km. So why wouldn’t you maintain it through your dealer!

No roadside assist included for free, though. Some other brands throw that in, and offer longer standard warranty periods, too (Kia, MG, Mitsubishi - to name a few).


The Wrap

There is no doubt that the Toyota Yaris Cross offers a level of appeal for family buyers. It would be an ideal member of my family, for instance - with two dogs, two adults and the occasional long-distance trip, this would be a terrific small SUV option.

My mum thought the size and comfort were great - she’s short and could easily set herself to be comfy - but wasn’t overly drawn to the interior finishes and the engine, both its noise and its lack of oomph. 

If I were in the market for a Yaris Cross - and if Mum wanted to consider one more seriously - I’d suggest the hybrid, and one with the good stuff you get in the GXL. That pushes it beyond “budget” trim, but definitely seems to enhance its grading to be “value”, and it would be the right fit for what I'd want out of my Yaris Cross.

Likes

Great size for the city
Great size for the city Good packaging and practicality
Strong value for money in base trim

Dislikes

Not the zestiest engine and it's very noisy
Missing some desirable items in GX trim
Front door trim material is a fail!

Scores

Matt:

4

The Kids:

3.5

$26,990

Based on new car retail price

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

Disclaimer: The pricing information shown in the editorial content (Review Prices) is to be used as a guide only and is based on information provided to Carsguide Autotrader Media Solutions Pty Ltd (Carsguide) both by third party sources and the car manufacturer at the time of publication. The Review Prices were correct at the time of publication.  Carsguide does not warrant or represent that the information is accurate, reliable, complete, current or suitable for any particular purpose. You should not use or rely upon this information without conducting an independent assessment and valuation of the vehicle.