There’s a new Toyota Corolla on the block and I’ll bet you want to know what it’s like. 

Fifty million Corollas have been sold over the past 55 years, so even in the unlikely event you’ve never owned one, you’d still be wondering: what could they do next?

The answer is: the world’s biggest brand has turned its best-loved sedan into an SUV.

And it’s not at all what you’d expect.

Would you even recognise this as a Corolla? (Image: Toyota)

There’s a seismic shift between the dinky little Corolla beloved by grannies everywhere and this new high-riding, chunky Cross. It’s debatable that you’d even recognise it as a Corolla.

Long-lost love child

Not as blunt and manly as the ever-popular RAV4, and not as pretty as the tapered C-HR, the Corolla Cross is a compact SUV that looks like neither but could be their long-lost love child.

Its medium size has it marketed as the car for a young family, and this car’s got a lot of things right – but I have reservations.

A big one is going to be styling. It’s never going to be love at first sight, but really, is that why you bought a Toyota? 

This model is Cross in name and cross in nature with a rather sour, downturned grille rather than the smiley front-end most carmakers favour. After all, when you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you.

It offends no one, but it won’t turn heads. It’ll never be your lover, but it could be your new best friend. Here’s why.

What it gets right

I drove the all-wheel-drive LTD version, the Corolla Cross LTD 2.0 AWD, with the highest-spec interior and gizmos. Stepping from my family RAV4 into the Corolla Cross, I felt instantly at home. 

It’s quiet, it’s smooth, it’s easy to drive and easy to park, and you can fit everything in. The model I drove had electric, heated seats and a heated steering wheel so you can smile that secret smile on chilly mornings.

Apple Play finds your phone right away and displays it edge-to-edge on a wide 12.3-inch screen that can be personalised to show you what works for you. Economy? Speed? What your axles are doing? Or all the above.

Inside, it's practical but forgettable. The screen offers Apple Car Play for iOS users. (Image: Toyota)

Best of all, in a year when the cost of fuel is turning into an election issue, the Corolla Cross is a hybrid, saving you thousands at the pump without the lingering range anxiety that self-limits EV owners. 

Toyota has been making self-charging hybrid electric vehicles for quite a few years now and the technology is getting better and better.

Stay glued to the read-out and you can save more fuel by adjusting your driving style, or just forget all about it and drive it like a gas-guzzler.

When you do, there’s a pleasant hum of acceleration as the E-CVT transmission winds up. It’s not the stuff of your dreams but does give you a quiet buzz.

The 2.0-litre I drove had Toyota’s intelligent all-wheel drive (AWD-i), which has been upgraded with a more powerful (40 DIN hp and 84 Nm) rear electric motor. 

But there’s no Trail mode for the more adventurous driver or for those gnarly central North Island roadworks. To be fair, I didn’t try getting its feet dirty to see if I missed it.

Can it tow? Yes, it can. It has a 750kg braked towing capability.

What it gets wrong

Yes, I felt at home, literally at home – just not in a five-star hotel as you’d expect with the leather upholstery and wood trim. Nothing wrong with it; just not the joy of sliding into a truly luxurious experience.

I guess you get what you pay for – $48,990 for this model.

It’s slightly smaller than a RAV4 but the huge wing mirrors are another 3cm wider than that model’s: take care at the car park pay machine or get longer arms.

It’s a bit cumbersome to manoeuvre in a small space but makes up for it with extensive cameras that show you when you’re within range of a wall or a bush.

The rear lights are fairly pedestrian but have fun with the auto tailgate. (Image: Toyota)

The model I drove had an electric tailgate that rises with a swipe of the foot below the bumper – quite a cute device, but vaguely annoying if you spot too late that your jacket sleeve is hanging out and you try to adjust it as the hatch plunges south. Ouch.

Toyota says the all-new Corolla Cross is anything but boring. I’d beg to differ.

If you’re after a love affair, look elsewhere. But this could be your new best friend.