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Toyota Urban Cruiser 2009 Road Test

Sat, 28 Mar 2009

The new Toyota Urban Cruiser is an oddball car. It’s chunky, without absorbing urban ruts, potholes and speed humps as well as a Qashqai on same size tyres.

The diesel comes with four-wheel drive that doesn’t endow it with off-road ability. The petrol engine is very efficient, with stop-start, but isn’t outstandingly fuel efficient or low in CO2. And the collapse of Sterling against the Yen has meant that UK prices are a bit jaw dropping. 

So where can it possibly fit in an economically bankrupt country run by a government hostile to motorists?

Well, the diesel all-wheel-drive just happens to be the lowest emitting four-wheel drive you can buy (lower even than the FIAT Panda Multijet 4x4).

But instead of using power to every wheel to make it an accomplished off-roader, it behaves much like an Audi S3 with a third of the power, and becomes a surprisingly capable on-roader. In any kind of driving that could be considered remotely normal you cannot unstick the front. And that allows safe yet entertaining cornering of the ear-to-ear grin variety.

Obviously with a mere 90PS and 205Nm torque from 1,800rpm it’s no ball of fire. The turbo whistles like One Man and his Dog before it does very much. But the fact that you don’t have to slow down for an impending corner means you can whack along at a very impressive pace for a car that looks more like a Tonka toy than a sports car.

Sure it’s reasonably practical, with adequate room for four and their bags, but I think Toyota might have been wrong to set it up against small 4WDs like the Suzuki SX4, its FIAT Sedici clone, mini MPVs like the Citroen Picasso C3 and style statements like the KIA Soul. The Urban Cruiser diesel AWD is more of a competitor to the MINI Clubman in the sense it’s a car you can have fun driving, yet into which you can also chuck a fair amount of clobber.

I guess the four-wheel-drive with the right tyres might make it good in the snow too. You can lock the centre diff below 40kmh to crawl through the white stuff, and switch off the traction control system below 55kmh.

But it won’t make many friends among the surfing fraternity, as we found when we made complete fools of ourselves pulling onto some sand. It simply dug itself in, started burning its clutch, and required the help of four friendly Portuguese with an L200 and a towrope to get us out. Subsequent jokes about sandwiches for lunch, Sandeman’s Port and Lorimer of Arabia will take a while to live down.

In contrast to the fun we had with the AWD diesel when we weren’t up to our axles in beach, the super-efficient 1.33 front drive petrol Urban Cruiser with stop&start was a disappointment. Sorry, Toyota, but there’s no other word for it.

The steering was lighter, giving less information of what sort of work the tyres were facing. The gearshift was clunkier. The power output was a bit higher, but the torque was a lot lower. The only benefit seemed to be a sliding rear seat and slightly more luggage space from not having a rear diff in the way. It’s hard to see where Toyota expects to park this car. Certainly not on my driveway. I can’t speak for the sort of customer who went for short wheelbase Suzuki Vitaras and the like. But I don’t even know a hairdresser who’d consider one.

I guess its virtues included a reasonably relaxed cruise at 23mph per 1,000rpm in 6th and fuel economy and CO2 much better than something kike a Daihatsu Terios. Actually a lot better than most petrol cars at 51.4mpg combined and 129g/km.

But I’d have to go for the £16,400 Urban Cruiser 1.4 diesel AWD. That’s chunky and fun and a real MINI alternative to anyone who enjoys a bit of fun with their driving.

It’s the kind of car that besides wanting it themselves, quite a lot of women wouldn’t mind their bloke to have.

For prices, specifications, engines, transmissions, dimensions and performance figures, please click the tabs.

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