Proffit at the Wheel: 2023 Toyota CorollaCross Hybrid & RAV4 PHEV Reviews

Let’s face it: very few auto makers are as well versed in the science of hybridization than Toyota and its Lexus division. They’ve been doing this a long, long time—more than 20 years—and have learned how to build hybrid vehicles that are both economical and easy to live with.

In late summer, we had the opportunity to drive two Toyota hybrid SUVs that are so alike and yet so different. While working NHRA’s U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, I drove the 2023 Toyota CorollaCross hybrid (featured photo above) from Chicago down to Indy and then back again. When I got off the plane from Chicago, a 2023 RAV4 PHEV was waiting at Los Angeles’ airport for the next trip (two days later) to Monterey and the IndyCar finale.

2023 RAV4 PHEV

These two unitized body vehicles have so much in common yet are so very different from one another that, rather than reviewing them one at a time, It’s best to compare the two side by side, because that’s what we did over a two-week period. It was easier because both models were XSE versions, having pretty much similar sporting attributes and trims.

2023 Toyota CorollaCross hybrid

The 2023 Toyota Corolla Cross XSE hybrid shares its chassis with the smaller C-HR, while the RAV4 Prime XSE comes to market sharing its underpinnings with the Camry sedan. Both vehicles are dedicated to providing exceptional cabin space and carrying capabilities. While both are four-door hatches and both are equipped with all-wheel-drive, the feel behind the wheel is quite different.

Last year we drove the standard Corolla Cross to this same race and liked it, but weren’t wild for the model. We noted that it would soon be available as a hybrid and jumped at the opportunity to test this compact SUV, whose final assembly point is Huntsville, AL.

2023 Toyota CorollaCross hybrid

For the Corolla Cross’ hybrid power, Toyota chose a trio of electric motors for the Atkinson-cycle 2-liter, four-cylinder horsepower to bump from 169 to 196 horsepower at 6,600 rpm; Toyota cites 151-lb-ft of torque at 4,400 but no redline is quoted. Toyota states the three motors, two up front (111 hp) and a single 40-hp motor on the rear axle, add to the 150-hp fuel-driven engine. A continuously variable automatic transmission is standard.

Toyota fits sport-tuned suspension with struts up front and multiple links at the rear; brakes are ventilated front and solid discs for the back, while electric rack and pinion power steering is standard and quite precise if a wee bit over boosted. Multi-spoke bicolor alloy rims run on 225/55R 18-inch tires that didn’t evince much lean when cornered hard. There is no spare tire under the 21.5-cubic-foot hatch.

2023 Toyota CorollaCross hybrid

The Acidic Blast golden exterior on Jet Black interior 2023 Toyota Corolla Cross hybrid gave us good mileage coming and going, as well as around town. It’s rated at 45/38/42 from its relatively small 10.6-gallon tank. Heading to Indy at otherworldly speeds, the Corolla Cross hybrid gave up 42 mpg, but the ride back wasn’t nearly as good (38mpg) because we were in more traffic and in a big hurry to make our flight back to Los Angeles.

2023 Toyota CorollaCross hybrid

Among the notes we made about the car’s interior, the wireless charger provided for our phone is greatly improved from last year’s model. It must be turned on and off but the phone stays planted on the pad. We also like the power rear hatch with its cover for our gear, operated either through the fob or a button in the cabin, and we liked the look of Toyota’s pronounced front snout. We liked the improved acceleration of this 3,433-pound SUV (around 50 pounds more than the standard Corolla Cross), The steering wheel has info, phone and audio volume to the left and cruise control with audio mode to the right of the hub.

2023 Toyota CorollaCross hybrid

We liked the Corolla Cross hybrid’s latest infotainment system, which has standard wireless phone mirroring, over-the-air updates and, if one is so inclined to pay, cloud-based navigation. There is an 8-inch touchscreen as standard equipment. With Apple CarPlay, that’s exactly what was used for infotainment and directions during our week-long trip.

After the thrash back to Chicago, we relaxed on the plane for five hours (after posting our NHRA story) and then began the rush once more. Toyota introduced the Prime version of the RAV4 hybrid a couple of years ago and its most popular SUV is now offered with the more sporting XSE trim. It has a new, updated touchscreen similar to that in the Corolla Cross but a bit larger at 10.5 inches, running similar software.

2023 RAV4 PHEV

Everything is bigger and feels more substantial on the dual-tone mid-black/wind chill-painted RAV4 Prime. For starters, its triple-motor hybrid system is paired to a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder Atkinson-cycle engine, which makes a combined 302 horsepower at 6,000 rpm; torque is rated at a combined 350-lb-ft at 3,600. Once again a continuously variable transmission is what’s offered on this SUV. The RAV4 Prime, too, has struts up front and multilink suspension in the rear, with vented front and solid rear disc brakes. The electric power steering is, as was the case in the Corolla Cross, quite precise.

2023 RAV4 PHEV

Weighing in at 4,300 pounds, the 2023 Toyota RAV4 Prime tows 2,500 pounds capably. It goes up hills nicely and is even happier going downhill. It has good ground clearance to handle some off-road duties, but since it’s not a body-on-frame vehicle, it’s not suited for extreme conditions. The roads to and from Monterey aren’t in the best condition but the RAV4 Prime handled all with ease. Some of that good ride could be summed up to the 235/55R Yokohama tires riding on five-spoke polished and black 19-inch alloy rims.

2023 RAV4 PHEV

The interior features a panoramic, one-touch moonroof that allows sunlight to stream inside. The rear mirror was tough to get accustomed to because it’s actually an extra-cost digital camera and, when one is unaccustomed to that tech, it takes a little while to adjust. There are 12-volt plugs and USB at the base of the center stack and, once again the adjusted cell charger keeps one’s phone firmly planted and charging. There’s a nice open area at the left lower dash above controls for the auto lights, the wonderful head-up display, heated steering wheel, trip odometer and hatch opener.

2023 RAV4 PHEV

The steering wheel has the same info, phone, sound volume on the left and cruise control to the right. The RAV4 Prime is definitely an up-market SUV with seat heaters for the rear as well as the front, 11 JBL speakers about the cabin with subwoofer and amplifier, a 12.3inch color LCD gauge cluster and the usual safety accommodations.

2023 Toyota CorollaCross hybrid

Pricing is very spread on these two vehicles. The 2023 Toyota Corolla Cross hybrid starts at $32,400 and, with extra charges for a tilt/slide moonroof, power lift gate, JBL premium audio, adaptive headlights with auto-leveling, two-tone exterior paint, carpets and cargo mats, door sill protectors, frameless HomeLink mirror and mudguards, elevated to $36,337.

2023 RAV4 PHEV

The RAV4 Prime starts at $47,545 and has a weather package (heated leather-trimmed steering wheel and rain-sensing wipers with de-icer. special color, a premium package that includes the moonroof, the 10-inch color head-up display unique SofTex trimmed seats with red accents and stitching, front seats that are both heated and ventilated with dual memory functions for the driver, 4-way passenger power seat, smart key activation for all doors, a single 120V/1500W AC power outlet in the 33.5-cubic-foot cargo area, height-adjustable, foot-activated power lift gate with jam protection, front & rear parking assist with automatic braking, digital rearview mirror with Homelink universal garage door opener, all for $2585. Add to that charges for the carpet floor mats and cargo mat, wheel locks, roof rack cross bars and a fog light accent. All of this raises the entry fee to $51,719.

2023 RAV4 PHEV

Because it is a plug-in hybrid, the RAV4 Prime comes with its own charging cord. I charged at a local beach lot before leaving town and didn’t need the cord until I was situated in the Monterey area, where a friend’s house had an extension cord available for charging. I just left the RAV4 plugged in one night (my last one).

2023 Toyota CorollaCross hybrid

For the 2024 selling season, Toyota has announced updates to both SUV models: the Corolla Cross hybrid adds a Nightshade edition that features 18-inch gloss black sport alloy wheels, black and red fabric interior with red accent stitching and black accented head and tail lamps, all based on the lower SE grade edition. The 2024 RAV4 Prime, which is one of the quickest models in the Toyota lineup (0-60 of just 5.5 seconds) that adds to its capability to achieve 42 miles in EV-only mode.

2023 RAV4 PHEV

As an everyday vehicle, we prefer the RAV4 to the Corolla Cross but aren’t certain we’d want to shell out almost $52,000 in order to charge it on a daily basis for commutes. While the standard RAV4 hybrid gets good mileage with its 41 mpg city and 38 mpg highway, the Prime is rated at 94 using electric/gasoline and 38 on fossil fuel only. The $10,000 in showroom savings sure makes up for the city mileage. We’d suggest you test them both and decide for yourself. Toyota’s standard hybrids are the best around; there’s no question about that. It’s a matter of whether the 42 – or thereabouts – miles on electric power alone is worth the extra money for a plug-in hybrid. You make the call.

words and photos by Anne Proffit

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