Toyota needed a car that excited the South African motorist while offering affordability at its core. It needed a car that was efficient and comfortable. It also had to have enough ground clearance to tackle gravel roads, and an appealing look certainly wouldn't hurt.
The first-generation Toyota Urban Cruiser proved to be a decent compact SUV, gaining popularity soon after its release. Nevertheless, I encountered a few issues with the vehicle, including its underwhelming power and build quality that left much to be desired.
Upon receiving the new second-generation Urban Cruiser, I immediately saw how much more refined it was than the previous iteration.
The Urban Cruiser's exterior style has been revamped, despite the not-so-pleasant brown colour of our test unit. The shape is progressive for the most part, with a larger, more square front end featuring a sleek gloss black upper grille blending into sharp LED headlights.
The profile is fluid at the sides, akin to a scaled-down Fortuner. The tail end, however, falls short on the beauty scales with silver accents on the rear door and a largely unimpressive moulded plastic rear bumper.
The interior has seen some minor improvements. The 7" infotainment screen is easy to use while supporting Apple CarPlay and Android Auto features. However, I found that the user interface design on the preset screens, like the home page and radio or Bluetooth pages, lacked enthusiasm and depth.
The Urban Cruiser offers adequate space, with generous legroom in the front and sufficient legroom in the back to comfortably accommodate a 6-foot individual. The black cloth seats are simple yet practical and will prove particularly advantageous for parents with young children.
Driving the new Urban Cruiser was a pleasantly surprising experience. I hadn't anticipated enjoying it as much as I did. The ride was smooth and comfortable, with minimal road or engine noise intruding into the cabin.
Since this is an SUV, it had a substantial amount of body roll in the corners, clearly sacrificing corner stability for a smoother overall experience. Yet, on the open road, it is quiet and easygoing.
The power unit in the Urban Cruiser now possesses ample strength to effortlessly manage daily commutes. Its 1.5-litre naturally aspirated engine develops 77 kW and 138 Nm of torque. At higher revs, the car does exhibit some shunt, and thanks to its lightweight nature (1,165 kg), it launches off the line with a touch of eagerness.
My biggest gripe with this car is the gear ratios. The model I had on test was the 5-speed manual, and while it's a smooth-shifting gearbox, the engine speed sits at 3,800 r/min at highway speeds.
There are three derivatives of the Urban Cruiser you can choose from. The first is the Urban Cruiser XS, which only comes with a manual transmission and is priced at R329,400. The XS lacks cruise control; it has two speakers instead of four, no curtain airbags, and 17" steel wheels.
The other option is the RX, which comes in two transmission options. The 5-speed manual is the more affordable option at R347,400, while the RX auto with its 4-speed automatic gearbox is priced at R369,900.
All models have a 4-year/60,000 km service plan and a 3-year/100,000 km warranty.
The new Urban Cruiser impressed me, not due to its performance or handling, but rather the comfortable and youthful character that the car embodies. It is fuel-efficient and competitively priced, which value-conscious buyers ultimately seek.
That being said, the Suzuki Grand Vitara, on which the Urban Cruiser is based, directly competes with the Urban Cruiser. It also offers a broader range of variants and includes an all-wheel-drive option which may be an important consideration for many.
I would argue that the Urban Cruiser surpasses the Vitara in looks, however, if you prefer more options like AWD and a HUD or heads-up display, then the Vitara will be more to your taste.