Jaggy new Yaris Cross fails to excite like original Toyota RAV4
Seeing the all-new baby SUV from Toyota reminded Iain Robertson of how much Toyota innovated with its first-ever compact and sporty crossover that not only defined a generation of new cars but also accelerated the growth of a new market sector.
On several occasions in the past, I have reflected on various carmakers’ more intriguing new models and attempted to address how some of them either failed abysmally, or alternatively captured the zeitgeist. Were I to fully comprehend the nuances behind making a style statement, or prising open an entirely new sector, rest assured, I would also have become a renowned and exceptionally wealthy automotive consultant, rather than a two-bit motoring scribe surviving on a pittance (to be fair, it is a bit better than that but the thought has occurred beyond passing whimsy).
Of course, formulating new niches may be a fascinating science to some manufacturers, whereas to others it may be little more than curious happenstance and a huge amount of good fortune. In many ways, broadening the application of existing components and technologies is the pluperfect means of enhancing profitability and can be compared to an entrepreneurial path of least resistance, or an easier route to growing a product range. It can also be construed as lazy!
There is a downside, in that sub-dividing model lines can spread manufacturing capabilities a little thin. The sometime small, medium, large and extra-large product ranges becoming plus and minus variants of each, allied to trim denominations, with both power and transmission options, more recently complicated by electrification, either in part, or wholly, also factor in consumer complexity and confusion. Ultimately, unit profits can be dented, as models battle within a brand for supremacy and force subsequent range consolidation.
When Toyota created the original RAV4, its design, marketing and PR teams had almost as much of an idea as to how it would fit within the range, as most motoring hacks. We had NO idea. I recall Autocar magazine pitting an example back-to-back against the contemporary Ford Escort RS2000, which could be regarded as either genius, or, more likely, desperation. In its own way, the editorial decision aided the product’s market development and kickstarted a premise that a pseudo-off-roader could supplant a lukewarm hatch in consumers’ eyes. It should also be highlighted that the RS2000 of 1994 was a watered-down Ford marketing substitute for a former success story; had Autocar pitted a Golf GTi against a RAV4, the outcome might have been markedly different.
In the intervening period, Nissan created the Juke (in essence, a hiked-up version of the Micra, which was not exactly a paragon of ergonomic packaging), which became an overnight sales success and, in its most recent Mark Two form, continues to grab more UK registrations than all of its rivals, although RAV4 remains as world leader. However, the first-generation Juke looked like a dog’s dinner, or perhaps one of those ‘leather bootees’ that most dogs love to chew to within a dribbled inch of non-recognition. It may have sold like Topsy but, by golly, it was as ugly as sin.
More recently, in a now terribly busy market segment, Hyundai has produced the Kona and Kia the Stonic, both very refined alternatives to the Juke. Toyota has also introduced the really excellent C-HR, as its voyage into the avant-garde. It truly seems as though new car buyers want more oddball vehicles in the more compact classes. However, with a new Yaris hitting the market, a prime opportunity is provided to Toyota to create a sporting-utility on the smaller vehicle’s platform. Its influences are blindingly obvious and, for clues, you need look no further than any of the models mentioned in this and the previous paragraphs.
Historically, the Yaris has been produced at the Valenciennes plant in northern France, a clear example of Toyota taking the small car fight to its closest rivals in Europe. Yaris Cross is also being produced there, at a rate of up to 150,000 units annually, following its launch early next year. Hybrid petrol-electric technology features with a new, three-cylinder, 1.5-litre, 114bhp combo that drives either front wheels, or, in electronic AWD-i versions, all wheels. It is a lightweight package better suited to the compact dimensions of Yaris Cross that does not weigh heavily on either fuel consumption, or CO2 emissions.
It is interesting to note that Toyota, one of the world’s largest carmakers, has not sold-out entirely to the BEV/plug-in market. There is no denial of its might and experience in the hybrid scene but I get the impression that it is awaiting both product and fuelling infrastructure of its efforts into hydrogen to be realised, before it makes any further commitments, a factor for which I applaud the car giant.
Yaris Cross has the same 2.56m wheelbase as the new Yaris hatchback, although it is 240mm longer overall, with 60mm added to the front and 180mm to the rear overhangs, with the intention of providing greater interior space, after all, what would be the point of making the car 30mm higher than the donor Yaris, if it were as cramped as a Nissan Juke? Levels of practicality have also been carefully considered, such as featuring a power operated hatchback, useful when hands are full, and a split-level boot floor.
Unsurprisingly, the race among car companies to pump full their latest models with ADAS safety technology and advanced communications has not been resisted for Yaris Cross but these items and devices do add to costs and will be sure to hike-up Yaris Cross prices into the £20k+ territory, where it needs to be careful to remain competitive. Still, in style terms, it relies on a reputation earned by the C-HR model, which has been an exceptionally strong seller for Toyota. There are several interesting angles from which to view the car and it manages its purpose fruitfully.
Conclusion: Toyota has a head start in the SUV sector and applying hybrid technology is a tremendous way to motivate sales, yet, Yaris Cross fails to excite in the way of the original RAV4, perhaps because it is now heading along a well-trammelled route, on which its rivals are also highly adept.