The Toyota Urban Cruiser is a slightly odd city car that's dull to drive, despite some good engines and a funky exterior
What is it?
This is the Toyota Urban Cruiser, 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 and Daihatsu Terios, a challenger for ultra-practicals like the Kia Soul and Citroen C3 Picasso – or all of them 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 me on this?
Britain, for some reason, will do without the Euro-spec Urban Cruiser's rubber wheel arch cladding. Toyota GB probably thinks that the extra rubber makes the car look tacky, but removing it means that the heavily flanked Urban Cruiser looks a little slab-sided.
We'll get just two models in the UK: the 1.33-litre petrol variant tested here, 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.
What's it like
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).
Inside, though, the car fails to live up to its vaguely funky external styling. You sit high (although the steeing 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 looks promise.
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 excellent fuel economy of 51.4mpg and CO2 emissions of just 129g/km. The ride can feel fidgety, but major potholes don't crash through to the cabin.
At motorway speeds, meanwhile, the engine revs hard but its note fades away into a distant thrum. Wind noise is reasonably well contained, too.
The Urban Cruiser doesn't like to be rushed, mind you. 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. There's next to no 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.
Should I buy one?
The Urban Cruiser 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 ratrun. 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 alternative.