A CAR launched to the world today signals the shape of things to come on two fronts.
It marks the world debut of the new hybrid Yaris Cross compact crossover/SUV from Toyota.
And it surely heralds a major switch to online rollouts of new cars due to the impact of the virus pandemic restrictions on travel and crowds.
We are indeed in ‘crossover’ mode on two fronts.
Ordinarily, hordes of motoring journalists from all over the world would by now have descended on a spacious European arena – in this case the unveiling was planned for the Geneva Motor show in early March.
There, reporters would have been be vying for information and pictures, sitting in and pushing buttons, lifting bonnets, opening doors, talking to experts and generally busying themselves making closer acquaintance with the likes of this major new motor from one of the biggest automakers around.
Instead I am bringing you this report from home as I watch the car being launched online. This is how things will be done for some time. Who knows for how long? The virus changes everything.
The new Yaris Cross hybrid – a mix of SUV and urban hatch - is due here in the second half of next year. It is tempting to speculate on how much our world will have changed by then.
But for now...
Absolute ‘musts’ for potential buyers of these small crossovers are smart design, higher driving position and loads of infotainment and connectivity access. Toyota went to serious lengths to tick those key boxes as they take on the likes of the Nissan Juke and Ford Puma.
Their experience in coming up with the looks for European tastes, for example, highlights the extent of their ‘getting-to-know-you’ research.
The process involved teams from studios in Europe and Japan. Lance Scott is design general manager at Toyota’s EDD studio in Nice. He tells us: “From the very beginnings of the design concept, we had the European customer in mind, but needed to understand more about them. So we went out and interviewed real customers to understand their lifestyle, what they liked, what their daily activities were and how they enjoyed themselves.”
The result is a smartly profiled Yaris Cross crossover. We’ll have to wait to see it in the flesh to be sure to be sure but initial views are promising.
Technically, the new car is based on the firm’s new GA-B compact platform which allows for a roomier interior within compact dimensions.
And it is powered by the brand’s fourth-generation hybrid technology.
There will be a front-wheel-drive and All-Wheel-Drive (AWD) options. The former is more likely to be in keener demand here but mixing AWD with raised ground clearance is seen as strengthening SUV undertones as well as giving better grip and traction on difficult road conditions. The electric all-wheel drive system weighs less than its mechanical counterparts. Normally the system drives the front wheels.
As the smallest SUV in the Toyota range, the Yaris Cross will join the larger C-HR and larger again RAV4. Like the new Yaris hatchback, it is to be built in France. Toyota say the Yaris-badged models are expected to eventually account for one-third of its European sales.
The new SUV is also among the first to benefit from the brand’s latest 1.5 hybrid system which derives from the larger 2-litre and 2.5-litre powertrains in the likes of the Corolla, C-HR, RAV4 and Camry. The new hybrid system develops a total of 116hp.
The 3cyl 1.5 Atkinson-cycle petrol engine is claimed to produce impressive pulling power (torque) at low engine speeds and ‘excellent’ fuel efficiency.
Correlated NEDC figures indicate that the front-wheel drive model has emissions starting below 90g/km with the AWD version under 100g/km.
Those figures change under tougher, and imminent, WLTP test data which put the front-wheel-drive model below 120g/km and from under 135g/km for AWD (these are all provisional figures).
With today’s launch at digital arm’s length we have to take their word for now that it drives as well as it looks.
From a driving point of view, the higher driving position will attract buyers; it is, as I said earlier, the key reason so many people opt for these urban crossovers.
This has the same 2,560 mm wheelbase as the new Yaris hatchback (due here this year) but is 24mm longer overall (to 4,180mm); 60mm has been added to the front overhang and 180mm to the rear to provide that extra interior space. Ground clearance is 30mm higher; the car is 90mm taller and 20mm wider than the hatch.
A few practical elements we can expect. There’s an electric tailgate which opens at the swipe of your foot, an adjustable deck height to give the option of an underfloor compartment or increased boot space for larger loads. You can split the deck board too if you want increased space.
The boot has 390 litres of space (depending on model) but the 40:20:40 rear seats fold to give more if you need it.
The brand’s ‘Safety Sense’ system also comprises a range of driver assistance functions to avert common accident risks.
Toyota Ireland chief executive Steve Tormey says they are looking forward to the arrival of this car in the second half of 2021.
How much will our world have changed and been re-shaped by then?