TESTED: Toyota Urban Cruiser is what SA buyers have been crying out for
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JOHANNESBURG - South Africans have been crying out for an affordable SUV from a highly trusted company such as Toyota and it goes without saying - in these tough times not everyone can part with R472 000 for the cheapest Rav4 or the lofty sum of R583 900 that it takes to get into a Fortuner these days.
Toyota’s Urban Cruiser addresses this need with its starting price of R247 900, stretching up to just R315 700 for the most expensive variant. Following the Starlet hatchback, the Urban Cruiser is the second product of Toyota’s cooperation with Maruti Suzuki of India, and apart from its unique Fortuner-inspired grille and the Toyota badges inside and out, it is practically identical to the Suzuki Vitara Brezza.
So, to the inevitable question that’s going to come up while you’re car shopping - which is the best vehicle to go for?
Interestingly, there are quite a few spec differences between the two so if your brand loyalty or dealership proximity doesn’t sway your decision then this might.
How do they differ in terms of spec?
The Suzuki Vitara Brezza is slightly cheaper and is, for the most part, better equipped than its Toyota counterpart. While both come with a touchscreen infotainment system in base form as well as electric windows and mirrors, the cheapest Suzuki variant also comes with automatic climate control, height adjustable driver’s seat and a reverse camera, although the Toyota does claw back a bit with standard LED headlights and push-button start as standard.
Toyota also offers a mid-spec model Xs model, which gains the aforementioned climate control, seat adjustment and reverse camera perks, while also replacing the 15-inch steel wheels fitted to both base models with a shiny set of 16” alloys.
There aren’t any significant spec differences between the two flagship models (Toyota’s XR and Suzuki’s GLX), with both gaining auto headlights and wipers as well as cruise control, auto-dimming rearview mirror, cooled glovebox, a leather-covered steering wheel and the option of two-tone exterior paint.
It’s worth noting that the Urban Cruiser also gains the Toyota Connect telematics system as standard, which includes on-board Wi-Fi (with 15gb of complimentary data) as well as various e-services.
However, the Toyota falls behind when it comes to warranty and service plan (offering just three-years or 100 000km worth of warranty and a three-service/45 000km plan, versus Suzuki’s promotional five-year/200 000 warranty and four-year/60 000km service plan. That said, Toyota does claw back with its vast 220-strong dealership network, versus Suzuki’s 61, so if you’re living in one of the more rural areas not covered by Suzuki’s network then the Toyota version will make the most sense.
What’s it like to drive?
Mechanically the Toyota is, of course, identical to its Suzuki counterpart, with both powered through the front wheels only by a normally aspirated 1.5-litre petrol engine that produces 77kW and 138Nm.
That’s not a lot of power for an SUV, but then this is not exactly a big vehicle and it’s also relatively light for its size, with a kerb weight of 1130kg.
However, overall performance can only be described as adequate, at best, and only just. It’s perfectly fine, and easily driveable, in everyday urban scenarios and on faster avenues, but you will need to work it a bit on the open road. Do that, and exercise the necessary caution when overtaking, and you should find the Urban Cruiser to be tolerable on rural stretches, but chances are that you will at some point find yourself wishing for a bit more grunt.
We drove the 1.5 XR manual model, which has a five-speed manual gearbox, but if there’s a lot of heavy traffic in your life then there’s also the option of a four-speed auto.
All in all, although the engine needs to be worked hard at times this is otherwise a really easy and painless vehicle to drive and its compact size also makes it easy to park, by SUV standards.
Cabin quality and practicality
The Urban Cruiser should have no trouble meeting the needs of modern families. There’s a decent amount of space in the front and back and the boot swallows 328 litres, which is a little more than you’d get in most compact hatchbacks. That should meet most needs but a family holiday might require some clever boxing.
The cockpit design is functional and straightforward and as mentioned, all models come with a colour touchscreen audio system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity and we found the infotainment unit to be straightforward and easy to use.
We did have a few reservations about the cabin quality, however, as the upper dashboard storage compartment felt slightly loose, to give one example. The plastics are also of the hard and scratchy variety, but we’re happy to forgive this vehicle for its minor cabin quality issues given the affordable price tag.
As we said in the headline, this is the kind of vehicle that South Africans have been crying out for and although there are a few cabin quality quirks and performance is only tolerable at best, this and its Suzuki sibling offer extremely good value for money when all is weighed up. Which one you choose will ultimately be down to brand loyalty and/or the dealership coverage in your area.