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2022 Toyota Corolla Cross first drive review: Only a matter of time

The Corolla Cross exists at the intersection of value and name recognition.

Making a Toyota Corolla crossover is such a simple idea, one might wonder why it took this long. Considering the Corolla sedan has long been known for charting safe, sensible paths for the last half-century, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the 2022 Corolla Cross is cut from the same cloth.

If the diminutive Toyota C-HR was perhaps a bit too quirky, the Corolla Cross should feel much more approachable. Coming in 3 inches longer than the C-HR and 5.3 inches shorter than the RAV4, the Corolla Cross is small without feeling claustrophobic. With more than 8 inches of ground clearance, it offers a suitably SUV-ish look that's more mainstream than the C-HR. It still carries a few fun pieces of flair, like the pronounced body work above the wheel wells, but overall it's pretty normcore.

The Corolla Cross' exterior might be fresh as a daisy, but the interior is pretty much a carbon copy of the Corolla sedan -- and that's not a bad thing at all. The cabin is arranged sensibly, with just the right amount of physical switchgear for the infotainment and climate controls. The dashboard is low, providing for some excellent forward visibility. The touch points on my top-trim XLE tester are soft, but this is a value-oriented car at heart, so there are still plenty of hard plastics. I fear that Toyota may have cheaped out too much on the headliner quality, but as this is a preproduction model, all I can do is hope something nicer shows up when the Corolla Cross lands at dealers in October.

Whether carrying humans or groceries, there's a good amount of space in the Corolla Cross. My 6-foot-tall Gumby body has no issues front or rear, although I probably wouldn't run three grown adults abreast in the back seat for hours at a time. The trunk offers about 26 cubic feet of cargo space, which is about on par with a Chevy Trailblazer and ahead of a Hyundai Kona, but a fair bit behind a Ford Bronco Sport. Cabin storage is ample, with sufficiently deep door pockets, a cubby under the armrest and additional space ahead of the shifter that, on some models, is occupied by a Qi wireless charger.

That brings me to what is perhaps the oddest part of the Toyota Corolla Cross: its charging situation. The base L model has two USB ports in the front, one under the climate controls and one in the center armrest. Moving up to the LE and XLE variants removes that center armrest USB port in favor of a Qi device up front and two USB ports for rear passengers. Considering the speed (or lack thereof) of current in-car wireless chargers, I wish Toyota would've left that extra USB port alone. Combining wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto barely nets a positive charge rate with a Qi pad, but that's not a problem here, as the Corolla Cross only offers wired smartphone mirroring.

Silly USB trim-level stuff aside, the Corolla Cross' interior is pretty darn great.

Toyota

The rest of the Corolla Cross' tech setup is par for Toyota's course. A 7-inch touchscreen is standard on the L and LE trims, while the XLE bumps that up to 8 inches. Both screens run Toyota's tried-and-true Entune infotainment system, which may not look like the flashiest thing on the block, but it's sufficiently responsive and carries most everything its owners will need, from Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to SiriusXM satellite radio and Amazon Alexa connectivity. A nine-speaker JBL sound system is optional, and it's pretty good.

When it comes to safety systems, the Corolla Cross follows in the Corolla's footsteps in that there's a whole bunch of tech standard. Every trim level comes with forward-collision warning, lane-keeping assist, lane-departure warning, full-speed adaptive cruise control and automatic high beams. The midrange LE adds blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, while the XLE takes it a step further with parking sensors and rear automatic braking. It's a solid technological complement that, like every other Toyota, works smoothly and confidently.

If you really must have all-wheel drive, it's available, but a majority of buyers will be more than fine with the more efficient front-drive setup.

Toyota

Smooth is a good word to describe the Toyota Corolla Cross' on-road demeanor. Even on the XLE's 19-inch alloys -- the largest on offer across the range -- this crossover is quite good at soaking up humps and bumps and transmitting little to the cabin. It does get a little stiff on craggy surfaces, but hey, you can't win 'em all, and for the price I'm more than content with how this crossover feels. Burdening the axles with a full family and trunk will probably stiffen it a bit more, while opting for a lower trim with smaller wheels and more sidewall chonk should have the opposite effect.

However, that additional heft will only compound the biggest problem with the Corolla Cross: being underpowered. The Cross is a couple hundred pounds heavier than the Corolla S sedan from which its powertrain is borrowed. Sporting 169 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque from a 2.0-liter naturally aspirated inline-4, the Corolla Cross offers suitable acceleration on a flat plane. However, introduce hills and the experience becomes perilous. Sharp inclines are met with a speedometer that moves like a sundial as the continuously variable transmission ratchets up the revs in order to maintain or, if you're feeling optimistic, gain speed. Ditching the weight of all-wheel drive may help, and it'll save you $1,300 in the process, but a fully loaded XLE AWD with two adults and camera equipment in the trunk makes for a very pokey time.

The Corolla Cross is a breeze to park, especially with parking sensors, since visibility is good and it's not very large.

Toyota

Keep the hills away and the Corolla Cross should return some decent fuel economy. Front-wheel-drive variants will return an EPA-estimated 31 mpg city and 33 mpg highway, while all-wheel-drive models aren't too far behind at 29 mpg city and 32 mpg highway.

The Toyota Corolla has always been a pillar of affordability, and that does not change with the introduction of a crossover. The base 2022 Toyota Corolla Cross L will set you back $23,410 including a $1,215 destination charge, with the middle-child LE coming in at $25,760 and the XLE costing $27,540. Those prices are for front-wheel drive, by the way; if you want all-wheel drive, tack on an extra $1,300 regardless of trim.

While I'm surprised it took Toyota this long to blend the market's love for high-riders with a nameplate that has held steady for half a century, now that the 2022 Toyota Corolla Cross is here, it's clear that Toyota has a good one on its hands. It's a compact crossover that oozes value and offers adults and families the accouterments they need in a daily driver. It won't be long before these things are everywhere -- except maybe in hill country.