Take a look at the Toyota C-HR and it’s hard to draw the connection between this chunky, low-roofed, SUV-esque fastback and the rest of Toyota’s fairly conservative range. That’s because the C-HR is from the ‘new Toyota’, one that promises to be more passionate, more fun, and more captivating.
So is it? It’s certainly very different to look at. In a market where the frog-faced Nissan Juke and svelte Mazda CX-3 are already demanding buyer attention Toyota could hardly wheel out whitegood on wheels in this crucial market segment.
The styling is only half the story though - under the surface is Toyota’s newest flexible chassis, and a new turbo engine - promising pointers as to what the Toyota of tomorrow might do to regain the hearts and minds of buyers.
Vehicle Style: Small SUV
Price: $35,290 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 85kW/185Nm 1.2-litre 4cyl turbo petrol | CVT Automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 6.5 l/100km | Tested: 8.7 l/100km
Toyota is late to the small SUV party, not because of a lack of interest in the segment, but because so much hinges on getting this model right. Australian’s haven’t had to wait long for the C-HR though, getting it even before the massive North American market.
Locally the range is simple, opening with the C-HR from $26,990 plus on road costs with a manual transmission and front wheel drive, to which an auto or auto and all-wheel drive can be added. The upspec C-HR Koba is auto-only in either front wheel drive or all wheel drive, and in the case of the Koba AWD tested here you’re looking at $35,290 plus on road costs.
Regardless of the model chosen, equipment is quite generous - not only that, but in a most un-Toyota-like way, the C-HR can be ordered in an array of on-trend bright colours, with the option of a contrasting white or black roof.
Toyota has also pulled out all the stops with accessories. The usual side steps and roof racks are available, but it's the decal packs, lurid alloy wheel centre caps and foglight surrounds, and choice of nine alloy wheel designs that are likely to grab the most attention.
- Standard Equipment: Leather-appointed seat trim, heated front sports seats, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, active cruise control, leather-look steering wheel and gear knob, rain-sensing wipers, auto LED headlights, rear privacy glass, 18-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 6.1-inch touchscreen, satellite navigation, six-speaker audio, CD-player, AM/FM radio, USB input, Bluetooth connectivity
- Cargo Volume: 377 litres, expandable via 60:40 folding rear seat
As bold as Toyota has been with the C-HR, there’s still some unfortunate signs of an upper-management corporate chokehold that stopped the designers from getting everything they wanted.
Details in the design, like the diamond-patterned headliner that matches the diamond-surfaced two-tone door trims are cool - even the front interior light has been designed to blend in instead of being taken from another model.
But (and it’s a big but) there’s still a circa 1980’s digital clock in the dash, and the audio head unit, instead of being properly integrated into its upright monolithic surround, is a removable double-DIN headunit with graphics that look like a mid-noughties version of WinAmp - great if you plan on replacing it, but disappointing given the strength of Toyota’s design efforts.
Disappointments aside, the rest of the interior is a good place to be. It’s smart, fairly simple to operate and the high-spec Koba is brimming with nice touches like perforated leather-look seats, front seat heaters, air-purifying and humidifying dual-zone climate control, plus bigger alloy wheels and LED headlights on the outside.
The rear seats - they exist, yes. Would you want to use them often though? Probably not.
The tiny rear door window doesn’t give much of a view out, and the high-set external door handles aren’t easy for kids to access. Think of the rear as a handy ‘just in case’ place to carry two mates in a pinch.
Boot space isn’t too bad at all, particularly given the sloping rear tailgate, with 377 litres of storage but the boot floor is high, and a loading lip impedes access slightly. The glovebox and centre console live up to Toyota’s usual practical standards, but door pockets are slimmed down and innovative storage solutions play second-fiddle to the overall look and feel of the interior.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 1.2-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol, 85kW @5600rpm, 185Nm @1500-4000rpm
- Transmission: CVT automatic, all wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear
- Brakes: 298mm vented front discs, 281mm solid rear discs
- Steering: Electrically assisted power steering
- Towing Capacity: 600kg braked, 600kg unbraked
New, new, new! The story behind the C-HR’s oily-bits is that this represents a fresh start for Toyota.
That’s sort of true, the building blocks of the car come from the Toyota New Global Architecture - it’s already used by the Prius and will soon help create the next Corolla and Camry before going on to underpin most of Toyota’s small and medium cars.
The engine is also a never-before-seen item for Australia - Toyota’s first turbocharged petrol engine since the 1990s. It is just 1.2-litres in size, but with more torque than a 1.8-litre Corolla it is designed to produce moderate outputs and keep fuel consumption low.
Put it all together and the C-HR is a thoroughly decent thing. Tthe weak link in the chain is the CVT automatic; It’s not bad all the time, but has a few weak points that dull an otherwise excellent little car.
At low speeds, like slow moving city or roadworks traffic, it can be hard to maintain a constant speed, with the CVT changing ratios to encourage the car to speed up, and moving from a standstill revs suddenly fall away at about 25-30 km/h causing acceleration to follow suit at anything less than full-throttle.
Those are quirks that can be overcome (but shouldn’t have to be) and away from those small blemishes the C-HR is actually a very nice car to drive.
The engine is quiet and smooth, although outputs aren’t huge (just 85kW and 185Nm) torque speeds from 1500-4000rpm making it very flexible in urban driving situations.
Suspension comfort is top notch, even on the C-HR Kobas big 18-inch wheels, great over speed humps and potholes, but still progressive and accurate enough for tightly-wound country roads.
Even the steering, usually an area Toyota doesn’t place much emphasis on, feels pert and accurate - maybe a touch wooly just off centre, but responsive as lock winds on - and almost as good as the 86 sportscar, which is very impressive for a high-riding SUV.
Unfortunately the C-HR’s form factor does affect is driveability slightly, with a tiny rear window opening and obstructed over-shoulder visibility making lane changes tricky and reversing out of angle carparks a total mystery, prompting a reliance on the blind spot and rear cross traffic systems.
ANCAP Rating: 5/5 Stars - The Toyota C-HR scored the maximum available rating when tested in 2017 using crash data obtained by Euro NCAP.
Safety Features: Seven airbags (dual front, front seat side, full-length curtain, and driver’s knee), electronic stability and traction control, ABs brakes with brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution, lane departure warning with passive steering assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, front and rear park sensors, rear view camera, front seatbelt pretensioners with load limiters, forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km
Servicing: Toyota Service Advantage capped-price servicing covers the C-HR for five years or 75,000km (whichever comes first) with intervals set at 12 month/15,000km priced at $195 each. Terms, conditions, and exclusions apply, you Toyota dealer can provide more information.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
If standout styling matters to you, the Juke’s in-your-face looks are sure to grab your attention, and if the entry 1.2-litre turbo engine isn’t perky enough a more performance-skewed 1.6-litre engine is also available.
So far in 2017 the Mazda CX-3 is leading the small SUV sales chart with a huge range of models, plus petrol and diesel engines amounting to options for almost every budget and circumstance. Great handling and svelte looks help as well.
With a hugely flexible interior thanks to its Magic Seat system, the HR-V leads the small SUV segment for versatility, plus clever connectivity, a plus interior, and pleasant driving manners all hold the HR-V in good stead.
It may not be as new, or as eye-catching, but the dependable Mitsubishi ASX still sells very well, cheap, well featured and quite roomy inside it’s the choice for budget-conscious small SUV shoppers.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Bold looks are fast becoming a hallmark of the small SUV segment, and Toyota has certainly pushed the envelope with the C-HR’s bulging, fastback, wheel-at-each-corner aggression - like it or not, that deserves a degree of admiration.
Toyota could’ve simple made an outrageous looking car and left it at that. But with a sweet small-capacity turbo engine, and handling and steering that set it apart from the rest of the Toyota range and its competitors, the C-HR makes a very positive impression.
Keener drivers might ask for more from the automatic, but the bulk of buyers are sure to find more than enough to love in the well equipped interior, and funky look and feel of the C-HR.
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VISIT THE SHOWROOM: Toyota C-HR - Prices, Features, and Specifications