You have to admire former Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda’s attempt to instill excitement into Toyota’s many cars, trucks and SUVs. Yet you can’t help wondering if the command to instill life into its vehicles isn’t working against the brand’s DNA. Toyotas have long been like the decades-old Holiday Inn advertising slogan: The best surprise is no surprise.

Traditionally, Toyotas are well-built, reliable, and economical. They are reasonably, but not outrageously, styled. Personality? Not so much. But the marque’s many fans aren’t looking for that; they are looking for a transportation appliance. And Toyota grew to the top of the heap by building just that, for the most part, and it is masterful at pleasing this constituency. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But lately, many of the models seem to be trying too hard to be exciting, like your aging uncle trying to trend on TikTok.

So it’s a relief to drive the 2023 Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid, a fuel-sipping variant of the Corolla Cross crossover SUV.

Like its conventionally powered sibling, and unlike some other Hybrids in the Toyota lineup, the 2023 Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid is not an object of emotion or passion.

Consider its face. Unlike the belligerent look of other Toyotas, its simple frowning countenance is a relief. There’s an air of modesty to this box. You’ll note a distinct lack of flashiness here, except for a metallic trim piece that starts at the base of the windshield and runs along the side of the vehicle. Opting for the SE or XSE instead of the base S trim brings privacy glass and roof rails. And being a Corolla, it’s 5 inches shorter than the Toyota RAV4, coming in at a city-friendly 176.8 inches long.

As with the Corolla sedan, you’ll find the front seat space satisfactory, but rear seat legroom is more dear and dependent on the kindness of those up front. But cargo space is generous for the vehicle’s size, at 21.5 cubic feet, expanding to 61.8 cubic feet with the rear seats folded.

And yes, there’s lots of durable, hard plastic. But the instrument panel boasts a similar design to its sedan siblings, including an 8-inch touchscreen and all the conveniences you need for your modern tech life, including Toyota’s new easy-to-use multimedia system with wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and USB-C charge ports. And its standard 4G AT&T hotspot can handle up to five devices. For most younger drivers, this is the only performance that matters.

But if you’re concerned about the other kind, you won’t be surprised by the fact that it this performs exactly as you’d expect a Toyota to perform. It doesn’t try to be something it’s not. The gas engine’s noise is subdued until asked for more power. Then it wails forcefully as the transmission unenthusiastically releases more power. Throttle response feels spongy at times.

In other words, it performs like a typical economy car. And it returned a wallet-friendly 39 mpg in mixed driving.

Road and tire noise are audible but not excessive. Cornering causes body lean as you might anticipate, but body motions over bumps are nicely managed, with significant bumps carrying through to the cabin. Although the steering is light with some play on center, there is a touch of road feel.

It’s a practical, economical robust little buggy that’s built to serve. Its lack of glamor is its glamor. That makes it the archetypal Corolla SUV.

2023 Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid

Base price: $27,970

Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and electric motors

Horsepower/Torque: 196/152 pound-feet

EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 45/48 mpg

Observed fuel economy: 39 mpg

Length/Width/Height: 176.8/71.9/64.8 inches

Ground clearance: 8.1 inches

Payload: 1,215 pounds

Cargo capacity: 21.5-61.8 cubic feet

Towing capacity: 1,500 pounds


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