The Toyota Urban Cruiser Hyryder is Toyota's first mid-size hybrid SUV in India
The Toyota Urban Cruiser Hyryder is Toyota's first mid-size hybrid SUV in IndiaShot by Abhishek Benny for evo India

Toyota Urban Cruiser Hyryder: Hybrid SUV first drive review

With the hybrid powertrain can the Toyota Urban Cruiser Hyryder take on the Hyundai Creta, Kia Seltos, VW Taigun, Skoda Kushaq and other mid-size SUVs?

The Toyota Urban Cruiser Hyryder is a super important new car. It marks an important milestone — not only is it the first hybrid in the mid-SUV segment but it’s also the first mass-market hybrid engine in India. Long touted as the bridge between ICE and full EV, it’s only now that hybrids are becoming main stream and Toyota claims 90 per cent localisation, which should finally make the fuel and emission reducing technology cost-efficient. Can the Toyota Urban Cruiser Hyryder, and by extension its sister car, the Maruti Suzuki Grand Vitara, take on the likes of the Hyundai Creta, Kia Seltos, VW Taigun and Skoda Kushaq? But before we attempt to answer that, this is evo India, and the question at the top of our minds is whether the hybrid powertrain can deliver on The Thrill of Driving

1.5-litre Atkinson engine coupled with e-motor delivers great fuel efficiency but performance is adequate
1.5-litre Atkinson engine coupled with e-motor delivers great fuel efficiency but performance is adequateShot by Abhishek Benny for evo India

Performance of Toyota Urban Cruiser Hyryder Hybrid

Straight off we strap on the Racelogic VBOX test gear on the Hyryder to clock its 0-100kmph time. The powertrain uses a brand-new 3-cylinder naturally-aspirated petrol engine running the Atkinson cycle and putting out 91bhp. This 1.5-litre TNGA engine is mated to a single electric motor on the front axle that puts out 79bhp. The total system output is not 91 + 79bhp, that’s not how the system works — the peak output is 114bhp. Torque of the ICE is 122Nm which peaks at a relatively high 4400-4800rpm but of more significance is the 141Nm from the e-motor available instantaneously and stays flat all the way to 3995rpm.

The only gearbox available is the e-CVT and I stick the lever into Drive, there are no paddle shifters. The gearbox also gets a B mode, sort of like the L mode on the old automatic gearboxes, and this will come in handy to hold a lower gear when driving down from Nandi Hills on the outskirts of Bengaluru. For the acceleration test D is better though and on the drive mode selector, a small button behind the gear lever, I engage the Power mode. The battery is showing four bars and that’s enough juice to ensure the full system output of 114bhp is on tap, along with the 141Nm of the e-motor. Brake torque it (left foot on the brake, right on the accelerator) and launch.

The initial acceleration is actually pretty smart as you get all the torque instantaneously. It doesn’t knock your head back into the headrest nor does it get the front tyres to spin up, but it’s not sluggish either. It’s only after you cross 30-40kmph (there’s no tachometer) that you sense a lack of urgency from the powertrain. In terms of pricing the Hyryder will go up against the 1.4- and 1.5-litre turbo-petrols with twin-clutch automatic gearboxes, and it’s only logical that we compare it with those and not the 1.5-litre NA engines in the Creta and Seltos or 1.0 TSI in Taigun and Kushaq. And speaking of T-GDi and TSI motors, once the turbo spools up, they really get going, the turbo-torque shoving you into the seat. On the Hyryder the acceleration is linear and very smooth, no steps in the power delivery, no head tossing back and forth as the boost rises and falls. Refined is top notch but the performance is not super-urgent and 100kmph comes up in 13.83 seconds. This is quite a bit off Toyota’s claimed 12 second time for the 0-100kmph sprint so I try the next run in B mode but the time drops to 14.57 seconds. And now that the batteries are getting depleted my next runs are even slower; 13.83 seconds remains our best time.

The afore-mentioned rivals, the 138bhp 1.4 T-GDi in the Creta and Seltos, and the 148bhp 1.5 TSI in the Taigun and Kushaq, all deliver 0-100kmph in under 10 seconds and brings us to the inescapable conclusion. The hybrid is not going to beat turbo-petrols for The Thrill of Driving.

Fuel efficiency of the Toyota Urban Cruiser Hyryder Hybrid

Where the hybrid engine scores, and scores massively, is fuel efficiency. We’re taking the Hyundai Creta 1.4 turbo-petrol with the DCT gearbox as the main rival and that delivers an ARAI tested fuel efficiency of 16.9kmpl. The VW Taigun 1.5 DSG delivers an even better 17.8kmpl. But none come anywhere close to the Hyryder’s whopping 27.97kmpl on the ARAI test. That’s incredible!

To test out the real world efficiency Toyota had laid out test route for us on the media drives I got a whopping 22.5kmpl — this a simulated city environment along with a bit of highway driving, and I have to mention that I was driving with my eye on getting the best possible economy. But whichever way you cut it this efficiency is mind-boggling, and the characteristics of the motor is such that the gap to the turbo-petrols actually widens in the city where the e-motor cuts in for 60 per cent of the time ensuring zero fuel consumption and zero emissions. After the entire day of testing, even running up and down the Nandi Hills the fuel economy was around 17kmpl and, to give you a sense of perspective, a turbo petrol wouldn’t come anywhere close to double digits on such a run.

Now I don’t believe fuel efficiency is the be-all and end-all for customers these days, especially in this segment, but even for a hardcore petrol head such as myself this sky-high fuel efficiency is impossible to ignore. And then you have all the fuel economy displays and the power delivery graphics which urges you to drive even more efficiently. In fact I had to be reminded to give it some gas and get a move on lest we miss our flight, so engrossed did I get it squeezing out even more fuel efficiency from the Hyryder.

How does the hybrid system of Toyota Urban Cruiser Hyryder work?

You’re never going to drive with your foot planted to the floor 100 per cent of the time. Driven at a slightly sedate speed, speeds you would normally do unless in a tearing hurry, the Hyryder feels adequately quick. It’s here that the smoothness and linearity of the powertrain come to the fore. No matter how aggressive you are with the throttle, neither you nor your passenger’s head are going to be tossed back into the headrest and that means everybody is comfortable and relaxed.

Then there’s the refinement. More often that not you get going in pure EV mode and that means no noise, no vibrations, just absolute silence. You also get moving in EV mode rather smartly, the peak torque available at zero revs means you scurry away from traffic lights quickly enough. In the city this makes for an extremely easy car to drive with the linearity of the power delivery resulting excellent manners.

There’s no figure for the EV-only range because the system dynamically decides where the power is coming from. As the battery charge depletes the ICE chips in, sending power to both the front wheels as well as to the battery to juice it up. Now the Hyryder is no Camry, and you can feel and hear when the engine fires up, but that said it is just about audible. At 60kmph the noise difference between EV and engine mode was only 10 decibels, attesting to the refinement of the powertrain.

Gas it hard through and the decibels shoot up. The e-CVT gearbox holds on to revs with that typical rubber effect of CVT gearboxes and that means the engine whines at the peak of its rev range as you build speed (no tacho so no clue what it’s revving at). It’s here that the engine feels strained and you wish for the punch that we have now gotten used to from turbo-petrol motors.

Get off the accelerator and the power delivery graphic immediately shows that both the engine power and the energy being recovered from deceleration is going to the batteries to charge it up. Soon enough the engine cuts out and as you coast or even brake the system recovers kinetic energy that’s usually lost in braking to charge the batteries. Again all this happens seamlessly and unless you’re looking at the graphic you won’t know what part of the system is working — this is after all a Japanese powertrain and refinement has always been among their biggest calling cards.

As you come to a complete stop more often than not the battery will have enough juice and that means you coast to a stop in EV mode and while idling the batteries keep the air-con running and the engine is switched off. That means at traffic signals you’re in pure EV mode, with zero emissions and zero sound, and you invariably also get moving in pure EV mode.

City driving is where you derive the maximum benefits of the hybrid powertrain and the improvement in fuel efficiency over a regular ICE will be even more noticeable. On the highway, say you’re cruising at 80kmph and you spot a gap you want to overtake into, when you step on it and there’s none of the DCT and turbo-petrol responses. You have to wait a while until the system responds to your demand for more power and then the build up of speed is also rather gradual (and noisy) forcing you to plan your overtakes better.

Handling is good!
Handling is good!Shot by Abhishek Benny for evo India

Ride and handling of the Toyota Urban Cruiser Hyryder

Before that let me talk to you about the steering that is surprisingly good. All Suzukis — and under the skin this is more a Suzuki than a Toyota — have light, vague and imprecise steering. Not this SUV. The steering weight is very nicely judged, a very good balance between ease in the city and delivering a stable and planted feel on the highway. Chuck it into a corner and it does not feel disconnected, there’s a nice response and feedback which gives you a lot of confidence.

And then there’s the chassis that also delivers plenty of confidence. This is based on Suzuki’s Global C platform which is the next generation of the Brezza’s platform and unlike the Baleno and Glanza’s Heartec which has an overwhelming sense of lightness, this feels rather solid. Throw it into corners and the front end delivers good bite and resists understeer rather well. Throw it even harder into tight corners and it also lifts an inside rear wheel, much like the Taigun and Kushaq do, with the 16-inch tyres delivering tenacious grip. The latter two are still the dynamic benchmarks in this category but the Hyryder does come close and delivers surprisingly good handling. In fact the handling is so good the powertrain, with it’s laid-back responses, ends up frustrating you as you keep asking for more power to push the chassis harder.

To give it this dynamic composure the Hyryder has a slightly firmer suspension setup and that means you do get a bit of low speed firmness. But it’s never uncomfortable and you can drive over bad patches of roads in the city with ease and comfort. This has grown-up road manners with very good suspension refinement, and it brings to mind the European setup we’ve praised on the Taigun and Kushaq. Out on the highway the suspension delivers a very planted ride, there’s no float or wallow over undulating highways, while the body control is top notch. This is a Japanese car that runs the Europeans rather close in terms of dynamic polish and that’s saying something.

Styling and interiors of the Toyota Urban Cruiser Hyryder

On the road the Toyota does cut a handsome shape. It looks grow up and unmistakable without resorting to extensive use of chrome and over-the-top details; a mature design as befitting a Toyota. Styling though is a personal subject and you can draw your own conclusions, so I won’t waste your time here.

The Hyryder is the longest SUV in this category and that translates into a spacious cabin. With the driver’s seat adjusted to my driving position I still had plenty of free knee room at the back. The rear seats are comfortably padded with good under thigh support, it reclines, there’s enough headroom, and there’s plenty of space under the front seats to tuck in your feet. However three abreast is still a squeeze and the transmission tunnel is also prominent (remember there is all-wheel-drive available, but only with the Suzuki K-Series 1.5 engine).

Up front the seats are comfortable, well bolstered and also have ventilation. The driver’s seat is (manually) height adjustable while the steering adjusts for reach as well as rake making for a good driving position. The design of the dash is mature and restrained, though it won’t make you go wow like the first time you sat in a Creta or Seltos. You also notice plenty of Maruti Suzuki components. The 9-inch infotainment is the same as the Brezza and Baleno (and by extension the Glanza) and gets the same 360-degree camera and head up display. The steering wheel too is borrowed from other Suzukis as is the gear lever and all the stalks, but the overall dash design is unique to this SUV. You get a 7-inch digital cockpit which is of a high quality and shows a whole bunch of things including multiple graphs for fuel efficiency — wherever you look there’s a subtle nudge to drive more efficiently!

The Hyryder also gets connected car features, wireless CarPlay and Android Auto, and that all important panoramic sunroof and here even the rear glass slides back to make for a wider aperture when the sunroof is open. However it gets a fabric cover which is not completely opaque and cannot cut the sun completely — that can give you a headache when driving it in the mid-afternoon sun. In terms of perceived quality this does not set any new benchmarks, the doors shut with a typical Suzuki lightness and the plastic feel is average, but it all feels very well put together. The boot space at 300 litres is the smallest in this class and that’s because the batteries are under the boot — but the gain in fuel efficiency is well worth the compromise.

This is a genuinely handsome SUV
This is a genuinely handsome SUVShot by Abhishek Benny for evo India

Verdict on the Toyota Urban Cruiser Hyryder

The Hyryder is the first real fruit of the Toyota - Suzuki global alliance that was inked in 2017, wedding Toyota’s technology particularly in electrified powertrains to Suzuki’s low-cost manufacturing prowess. And I love the fact that, after very long we have a genuinely interesting powertrain option in this class. The hybrid does not deliver particularly thrilling acceleration but the fuel efficiency is massively impressive, as is the refinement and ease of driving. And the way the Hyryder rides and handles is another plus point, right up there with the class benchmarks.

Ultimately though it all depends on pricing and if the City Hybrid can be under Rs 20 lakh, there’s no reason why the Hyryder with its 90 per cent localisation shouldn’t top out at Rs 18 lakh matching the Creta turbo-petrol’s. We even hear the starting price will be around Rs 10 lakh and if Toyota can maintain an aggressive price point then you can be sure of seeing plenty of these Hyryders, and by extension the Grand Vitara, on the road very soon.

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