From £15,6856

The Toyota Urban Cruiser is a slightly odd-looking device that is the unofficial replacement for the three-door RAV4, a rival for pseudo-SUVs such as the Suzuki SX4, a challenger for ultra-practicals like the Kia Soul and Citroën C3 Picasso – or all of the above combined.

The Urban Cruiser is based heavily on the Scion xD, a 'trendy' family runabout sold by Toyota's youth brand, Scion, in the United States. But that, in turn, is based on the Japan-only Toyota Ist, which is, in turn, based on the current Yaris. Are you still with us on this?

Just two models are available in UK: the 1.33-litre petrol variant, which only comes with front-wheel drive, and a 1.4-litre diesel that is only available with Toyota's Active Torque Control four-wheel drive system. Both cars get six-speed manual gearboxes as standard.

On the outside, Toyota has done a reasonable job of hiding the Urban Cruiser's Yaris origins (even its wheelbase is the same). With those tall sides, a shallow glassline and whopping great C-pillars, it's every bit the pseudo-SUV. The diesel 4x4 gets taller ride height, too, adding to the off-road effect.

Inside, though, the car fails to live up to its vaguely funky external styling. You sit high (although the steering wheel remains oddly low), so you do get a relatively lofty view of the road ahead, and there's plenty of practicality. But acres of black plastic on the dash seem a world away from what the chunky exterior promises.

There's room for four adults, although six-footers may find headroom an issue in the rear. And the rear seat not only splits 60/40 but also slides back and forth in pieces.

Around town the Urban Cruiser is relatively accomplished. The 1.33-litre engine is quiet and smooth, and stop-start helps to return an official combined fuel economy figure of 50.4mpg with CO2 emissions of 129g/km. At motorway speeds, the engine revs hard but its note fades away into a distant thrum. Wind noise is reasonably well contained, too.

It doesn't like to be rushed, mind. The engine has less than 100lb ft of torque, so you'll end up thrashing it if you want to maintain steady progress on a B-road. 

The 89bhp 1.4-litre diesel alternative pushes the Urban Cruiser along more comfortably than the 1.33 petrol, and it feels better suited to the car’s vaguely rugged-looking exterior. But it’s not exactly a car that you relish the open road in. The diesel version’s four-wheel-drive system can apportion up to 50 per cent of the power to the rear wheels, though in normal running the Toyota Urban Cruiser 1.4 D4-D is 100 per cent front-wheel drive.

Whichever engine you choose ride and refinement are acceptable but nothing better and there’s little pleasure to be obtained from the steering, either; it's vague around the straight-ahead and the electric power assistance leaves it almost devoid of feel. The four-wheel-drive version feels the more surefooted of the two but even that pushes into understeer earlier than you might hope if you’re in search of a little back road entertainment.

Overall, the Urban Cruiser isn’t a bad car, just not particularly inspiring. However, it should be on your list of candidates if you're looking for a runabout to cope with a couple of children and the rush-hour rat run. But that area of the market already contains worthy candidates such as the C3 Picasso and Skoda Roomster, and the Urban Cruiser looks a little expensive in comparison, without offering an appealing dynamic advantage.

Top 5 Family hatchbacks

  • Seventh generation Volkswagen Golf
    More than 29 million Golfs have been sold since 1974

    Volkswagen Golf

  • The popular Ford Focus in 1.5 TDCi Zetec form
    The standout component of the Ford Focus has always been its handling

    Ford Focus

  • Seat Leon
    Seat offers five engines for the Leon, ranging from a 104bhp 1.2 petrol to a 181bhp 2.0 diesel

    Seat Leon

  • Mazda 3
    The SkyActiv platform used in the 3 features more high and ultra-high-strength steel, offering greater strength and less weight

    Mazda 3

  • Peugeot 308
    The 308 marks the first time a carry-over name has been applied to an all-new Peugeot

    Peugeot 308


First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Explore the Toyota range

Driven this week

  • Audi S5 Sportback
    First Drive
    20 October 2016
    New S5 Sportback is more spacious, better to drive and offers a calmer ride than before, but rivals offer greater involvement
  • Renault Clio RS 220 Trophy
    First Drive
    19 October 2016
    Mildly revised hot hatch is enjoyable on UK roads but continues to play second fiddle to the Ford Fiesta ST
  • 2016 Smart fortwo Brabus cabrio xclusive
    First Drive
    18 October 2016
    Mechanical upgrades make the Smart Fortwo Brabus cabrio better to drive, but it’s too pricey to recommend
  • Citroen C3 1.2 Puretech 82
    First Drive
    14 October 2016
    Not a class leader objectively, but the C3's funky good looks and a swish interior give it subjective appeal. Needs the more powerful petrol, though
  • BMW M140i
    First Drive
    13 October 2016
    Rear-drive balance, a smooth six-pot motor and a beautifully judged eight-speed gearbox: the M140i is as rewarding as the car it replaces