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By Charl Bosch

Motoring Journalist


New Toyota Urban Cruiser puts less-is-more strategy to good use

Japanese marque's Indian-made tyke has been a runaway sales success, but now faces a different challenge.


The logic surrounding the Toyota Urban Cruiser, on paper, sounded fairly easy from conceptualisation to becoming really.

The success story

Use the newly signed joint venture partnership with Suzuki and it’s smash-hit Vitara Brezza as a base, graft on a nose reminiscent of the Fortuner and revive a name last used in 2016 for a Europeanised version of the Japanese market ist.

ALSO READ: All-new Toyota Urban Cruiser bigger and better than before

The result was a well equipped and even funky looking small SUV become a runaway local market success with sales easily breaking through 1 000 units month after month.

New Toyota Urban Cruiser South Africa road test
Rear facia also a considerable departure from the old models, but bizarrely, lacks a wiper.

Suzuki’s decision to replace the Vitara Brezza with the bigger second generation last year, simply called Brezza, presented Toyota with a dilemma as it eventually opted against prolonging the rebadging exercise as a result of wanting to play a more upmarket game in India.

The shock decision to end the Urban Cruiser followed shortly after, and with no plans to offer the fundamentally similar Japanese market Raize in South Africa as a result of cost, a different and rather radical strategy had to be implemented.

Less means more

The end result laid with the bigger Urban Cruiser Hyryder based on Suzuki’s C-platform and assembled at Toyota’s Bidadi Plant in the state of Bengaluru.

A platform that subsequently led to the revival of the Grand Vitara, the business model eventually decided upon by Toyota South Africa without requiring a direct replacement for old Urban Cruiser, involved less luxuries than the Suzuki, but with the same amount of space and still enough kit to warrant a premium over the model while simultaneously not impacting on sales of the locally produced Corolla Cross.

New Toyota Urban Cruiser South Africa road test
Top-spec XR rides as standard on gloss black 17-inch alloy wheels.

In addition, the hybrid denoting “Hyryder” suffix was also dropped in accordance with the hybrid powertrain, available as an option on the top-spec Grand Vitara GLX, being eschewed.

A controversial but, in Toyota’s view, obvious decision, the cost-cutting approach has done seemingly little to hamper the new Urban Cruiser’s sales as it has already become a familiar site in spite of its starting price being higher than its predecessor.

Much more of a looker

That being said, some of its inherent popularity can be attributed to its styling that appears sleeker and a lot more angular than the Suzuki-derived model.

While always a topic of subjectivity, the overall consensus is that Toyota has been a lot more thorough in differentiating the Urban Cruiser from the Grand Vitara than simply applying light alternations to the front facia.

New Toyota Urban Cruiser South Africa road test
XR again tops the Urban Cruiser range.

Besides the eye-catching Jet Blue paint option, a fair amount of menace also prevails in the gloss black 17-inch alloy wheels that comes standard on the top-spec XR reviewed here.

At the rear, the Urban Cruiser is not as distinguishable from the Suzuki, however, when compared to the old Urban Cruiser, the role is dramatically different, especially as it now sports a mini-Fortuner look.

Interior wins and loses

The biggest telling point of the cost reduction is to be find inside though, where the admittedly neat looking cabin layout has seen an improvement in material quality despite being very much a case of function over style.

Inside Toyota's new Urban Cruiser
Interior is function over form, though quality is good and ambience lifted by the satin silver accents.

Besides the added roominess, a massive uptake in spec over the old Urban Cruiser Xr has been not implemented as evident by the number of blacked-out “buttons” scattered across the interior, the lack of the customary bright work on the gear knob and the surprise omission of satin silver detailing around the air-conditioning vents applied elsewhere.

First road test of new Toyota Urban Cruiser in South Africa
Push-button start remains on the specification sheet.

The flip-side though is that the cabin is easy to navigate and while without the bigger nine-inch infotainment system available on the comparative Starlet Xr, the basic seven-inch display works well and besides looking more modern than before, now comes with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Inside Toyota's new Urban Cruiser
Unlike the Grand Vitara and comparative Starlet XR, the Urban Cruiser eschews the nine-inch infotainment system for the smaller seven-inch.

As for spec itself, the XR is anything but bargain basement as it adds LED headlights, a multi-function steering wheel, a 4.2-inch TFT instrument cluster display, push-button start, rear air-conditioning vents, keyless entry, a four-speaker sound system, cruise control, a cooled glove box, reverse camera, rear parking sensors and six airbags as well as Vehicle Stability Control Hill Assist Control to its resume.

Now, about that space-up…

Of course, the increase in all of the relative dimensions not only applies to those seated in the front, but also the rear where qualms relating to a lack of leg-or-headroom are unlikely to crop up soon.

First road test of new Toyota Urban Cruiser in South Africa
With the rear seats up, the boot can swallow 353-litres of luggage, though is appears visually bigger.

The same applies to the boot that swallows 353-litres and more than likely over a 1 000-litres with the rear seats down – an official figure isn’t provided.

In addition, the change in platform has resulted in a 15 mm increase in ground clearance over the old Urban Cruiser to 210 mm, which lends the newcomer a decent chance on gravel should the road less travelled be taken.

First road test of new Toyota Urban Cruiser in South Africa
While likely to accommodate over 1 000-litres, the boot space isn’t disclosed with the rear seats titled forward.

For the most part though, progress will be limited to tar and in the urban jungle it is named after.

Urban cursing instead of swift progress

As such, Toyota has stuck with the tried-and-proven recipe of the Suzuki-made 1.5 K15B normally aspirated petrol engine hooked, in this case, to a five-speed manual gearbox that can be swapped for a four-speed automatic at an additional cost.

Carried over from the old Urban Cruiser, and therefore producing an unchanged 77kW/138Nm, the engine isn’t fond of being rushed and becomes noisy at the national limit as a result of the five ratios contained in the gearbox.

Inside Toyota's new Urban Cruiser
Cloth covered are comfortable and with enough support for both driver and passenger.

Set-up so as to be slick in town driving, the ‘box exhibits a somewhat notchy sensation when compared to the smooth feel offered in the previous generation and also in the Vitara Brezza.

Despite the Urban Cruiser being no heavyweight at 1 127 kg, the modest outputs will require a fair amount of stirring the ‘box in order to keep momentum up.

The downside is amplified levels of road and engine noise that becomes tiring at the 3 500 rpm mark called ‘home’ at 120 km/h.

Inside Toyota's new Urban Cruiser
Dimensional increase means those seated in the rear are unlikely to complain about a lack of head-or-legroom.

What the Urban Cruiser lacks for in one area of refinement is contrasted in another as the ride dispenses with imperfections, resulting in a compliant feel that reminiscent of more expensive comparative SUVs.

As with the previous Urban Cruiser, fuel consumption remains a standout with a best indicated figure of 6.5 L/100 km after seven-days and 337 km in mixed conditions ranging from the daily commute to spells on the highway.

Conclusion

As widely used as the word “interesting” has been for years, in the case of the new Toyota Urban Cruiser, it certainly doesn’t warrant an explanation as a result of what has been decided upon.

Going against the principle of improving with each generation, the Urban Cruiser, and particularly the XR, can be seen as a step back relative not only to its predecessor, but also its sibling sold in India.

First road test of new Toyota Urban Cruiser in South Africa
Name has become a massive South African favourite.

The other side of the argument is that the deliberate cost-cutting, which even involves the omission of a rear wiper, has allowed Toyota to bring in a higher segment vehicle for a much lower price as the XR’s R347 400 sticker shows.

Combined with increasing living costs, but still a desire to own a new vehicle, the controversy can be interpreted as arguably a masterstroke likely to pay off in the long run against not only prevailing factors, but also the onslaught of cheaper offerings from the north of the border.

NOW READ: Specced and priced: Toyota details new Urban Cruiser

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