You know the sword of Damocles? The mythical blade that dangles overhead, held aloft by a single horsehair, as a symbol of imminent doom?
These days that sword looks more like the LED price board outside a petrol station, its glowing numerals forever threatening to slice through household budgets with little warning.
The solution is obvious – the less fuel burned, the less exposed you are to fuel price volatility. EVs can eliminate that stress entirely, but at the cost of a new kind of stress: potential range anxiety. A regular hybrid, then, is a neat compromise, but while the mid-size SUV segment is flush with hybrid options these days, what of the size class below?
We’ve got three petrol-electric small SUVs to compare.
The Subaru Crosstrek (nee, XV) hybrid is a “new” arrival that promises to improve upon Subaru’s lacklustre hybrid efforts of the recent past, while the Haval Jolion hybrid is a high-selling, low-priced offering from China that might actually give its Japanese rivals something to think about.
First up, pricing and features. The Corolla Cross Atmos 2WD is a $46,050 proposition before on-roads, carrying a $2500 premium over its non-hybrid sibling.
It’s the most expensive vehicle here, but the spec levels are healthy: you’ll find niceties like a panoramic glass sunroof, a power-operated tailgate, powered driver’s seat, digital instrument panel, air purifier, built-in sat-nav and a thumping nine-speaker JBL sound system.
At the other end of the price spectrum is the Haval.
Not only is the Jolion Ultra Hybrid the cheapest of the bunch at $40,990 drive-away, but it also manages to pack plenty of nice-to-haves like a panoramic glass sunroof, digi-dash a head-up display, heated front seats and wireless charging.
It’s not all perfect, however, as there’s no baked-in satellite navigation for the 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen, the interface of said screen is far from intuitive, and we found that maintaining a stable connection via Android Auto was rocky at times.
Subaru’s top-spec Crosstrek Hybrid lies in-between with a $45,090 pre-on-roads price tag. It’s worth noting that it packs a critical bit of gear as standard – all-wheel drive – something which the Jolion Hybrid doesn’t have, and a $3000 option on the Corolla Cross. Other highlights include a 10-speaker Harman Kardon audio, sunroof, sat-nav and power driver’s seat.
How comfortable and practical are they?
In terms of space, comfort and practicality?
The Jolion gets nods for its capacious rear seat and fully-flat rear floor, which makes scooching from the left seat to the right an easy task. If you’re looking for an inexpensive chariot for your rideshare side-hustle, it’s probably the pick for this attribute alone.
Balancing that out, however, is an atrocious driving position courtesy of a too-short seat squab with no angle adjust (just height), and a steering column that only adjusts for rake, not reach.
Hard scratchy plastics abound in the Jolion’s interior, though its under-console storage shelf is a useful feature that the others can’t match. At 390 litres, the Jolion Hybrid’s boot space isn’t especially huge, but it nevertheless soundly beats the 315 litres offered by the Subaru.
The Crosstrek fights back with a cabin that’s constructed more solidly (and lovingly) than its Chinese rival, though the manic deployment of textures is far from artful.
Faux carbon adjacent to grey vinyl and fake leathergrain? Not great, but build quality is hard to fault and there’s lots of in-car storage on hand, not to mention two full-sized cupholders up front rather than the Jolion’s weird one-and-a-half cupholder arrangement.
Seat comfort is superb in the Crosstrek, whether in the front or rear. Ample adjustment to seat and steering make the driver’s chair accommodating to a broad spectrum of body shapes and sizes, while the seat cushioning brings plenty of support to the lumbar and under-thigh regions.
Outward vision is excellent as well. Rear legroom is ample – though not as generous as the Haval – and the back seats are sculpted nicely to accommodate two adults, but the absence of rear air vents is a fail.
From the front seats, the Corolla Cross feels a little more hemmed-in than the other two. You sit more upright, with a hip point that’s further from the floor and a substantially slimmer centre console separating the front seats, however the Corolla Cross actually measures a smidge wider than the Crosstrek. Weird.
It’s a similar story in the back seat. The Corolla Cross has the shortest wheelbase in this group, and that manifests in the shorter seat pitch between the first and second rows. Legroom isn’t as abundant as it is in the other two, but headroom is plentiful despite the presence of a panoramic sunroof. Boot space comes in at 414 litres, making the Toyota the most capacious.
So how do they drive?
The Corolla Cross is a typical Toyota SUV – blissfully easy-going around-town and well-suited to cutting through urban traffic with a minimum of fuss or bother.
Its 2.0-litre petrol and electric motor combo provides respectable thrust and response, and the CVT adeptly shuffles its gear ratio to suit.
In stop-start traffic it’s a star, resisting the need to fire up the petrol engine until you head above 30km/h, and quickly reverting back to electric power as soon as acceleration is no longer required. Its suspension is also a good pairing to the rest of the car, with solid comfort and roadholding without feeling too squishy.
Meanwhile, the Jolion impresses with its torque. 375Nm is a handy figure for a small SUV, and that translates into rather perky straight-line performance. It’s just a shame that wiggly lines are the Jolion’s enemy, as its spongy suspension fails to deliver a settled or comfortable ride.
Hyperactive active safety systems also do it no favours, lacking the polish and non-intrusive programming of rival electronics.
On the other hand, the Crosstrek has a superb chassis. It actually supplies enough dynamic verve to engage keener drivers on a fun (preferably gravel) road, however that talent comes undone from the wimpy performance. The engine generates 110kW and 196Nm, with the electric motor contributing only 12.3kW and 66Nm. Next to the other two, the Crosstrek feels sluggish.
They're hybrids, so how efficient are they? Efficiency isn’t just mission-critical to any hybrid, it’s the very reason for their being, and while a car may fall a little flat in areas like fit and finish, infotainment or driving dynamics, buyers who are simply looking to lessen their fuel spend will overlook all of this if the efficiency numbers are right.
A hybrid that’s no good at being frugal is like a soldier who can’t shoot, so does this trio manage to hit the target?
Let’s get the winner out of the way first: the Corolla Cross Hybrid isn’t just efficient, it’s borderline miraculous how little it burns.
The factory claim is 4.3L/100km, but on our 100km fuel economy test loop, which is split between 70 percent urban and 30 percent highway, it returned an average of 3.9L/100km. Not only that, but it’ll happily get by on regular unleaded. We’ll make this simple: if saving fuel is your priority, get the Toyota.
The gap between the Corolla Cross and the second place-getter is vast.
The Jolion lodged a 5.1L/100km average on the test loop, a result that shows Haval’s factory claim of 5.0L/100km is certainly achievable out in the real world. A decent result, but it can’t come close to touching the Corolla Cross.
As for the Crosstrek Hybrid, it delivered 5.8L/100km on the same test as the other two. That’s a 0.7L/100km improvement over the official claimed average of 6.5L/100km, but bear in mind that’s not exactly an impressive number in the world of hybrids.
Blame a hybrid system that is bewilderingly reluctant to hand over duty to the electric motor for this result – the electrical energy generated during braking is woefully under-utilised, and that translates into underwhelming fuel-burn figures.
The finishing order of this trio is directly proportional to their frugality.
The Corolla Cross Hybrid, thanks to its exceptional fuel economy, driveability, stable handling and cabin amenity, finishes first.
Even if you subtract the gear that the Atmos brings and instead look at the more price-conscious $39,250 GXL grade – a model that can fight on a more even keel with the Jolion Ultra – the same fundamental attributes remain.
The Atmos’s glitter is nice to have, but it’s not really what makes the Corolla Cross sparkle in this test.
The Haval has merits beyond just its price. It’s got the roomiest back seat, decent real-world fuel economy and an enticing feature set.
If you can get around its clunky infotainment system, poor driver ergonomics, sub-par chassis dynamics and build quality, it’s a respectable urban conveyance.
The Crosstrek Hybrid would have probably finished further up had we tested the mid-spec L grade, as its $38,590 sticker would have eroded the Haval’s price advantage and allowed the Subaru’s excellent chassis and suspension to play a bigger part in the outcome.
However in a test where saving fuel is the imperative, the Subaru’s advantages were simply not enough to overcome the fact that it was the thirstiest car in the group.
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