Small SUV models such as the 2017 Toyota C-HR have long been earmarked to sell up the sort of storm that similarly priced small hatchbacks might struggle to weather.
When the Mazda CX-3 lobbed for a hatch-hammering $19,990 plus on-road costs, Mazda2 and Mazda3 sales dipped. And now we have the Toyota C-HR priced from $26,990 plus on-road costs – yet with even more alluring value.
How could the pricier Japanese small SUV be seen as better value? Because Toyota has loaded its ‘base’ model with equipment usually reserved for high-grade hatches.
Within the lineup of Australia’s top-selling vehicle brand, the question is whether the plucky C-HR might even be good enough to oust the Corolla.
Vehicle Style: Small SUV
Price: $26,990 (plus on-road costs)
Engine/trans: 85kW/185Nm 1.2 4cyl turbo petrol | six-speed manual
Fuel Economy Claimed: 6.3 L/100km | Tested: 8.2 L/100km
Rare is the occasion where a vehicle almost has too much equipment for the money. Standard outside are 17-inch alloy wheels and LED daytime running lights and foglights; but Toyota went a step further with auto high-beam, plus electric-fold door mirrors that shine a ‘Toyota C-HR’ motif onto the ground at night.
Inside there’s only cloth trim. Yet a leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual-zone climate, touchscreen with sat-nav and apps connectivity, colour trip computer screen, auto-dim rear-view mirror and auto on/off headlights and wipers are there too.
And in addition to the expected-these-days autonomous emergency braking (AEB) there is also active cruise control, blind-spot monitor, and lane-keep assistance. All that’s missing is keyless auto-entry.
Toyota hasn’t traditionally been renowned for setting value standards, but the C-HR embarrasses its rivals. And it only asks $1700 more than a Mazda3 Touring hatch, adding several features to its list (lane-keep assist, auto high-beam) and only really lacking leather and a digital radio. The hatch versus small SUV battle is on.
- Standard Equipment: Keyless entry, power windows, power mirrors with electric-fold and puddle illumination, multi-function trip computer, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshifter, active cruise control, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, and automatic headlights and wipers.
- Infotainment: 6.1-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB/Aux/CD inputs, ToyotaLink apps connectivity including Pandora, satellite navigation with live traffic, voice control and six speakers.
- Options Fitted: None.
- Cargo Volume: 377 litres.
Toyota has targeted European buyers with the C-HR and, inside, it shows. The wedgy exterior styling might divide opinion, with perspectives ranging from funky and cool, to overdesigned and contrived. But surely this beats typical-Toyota vanilla.
The first thing that comes to mind is ‘Lexus’. Even the middle part of the dashboard is finished in soft-touch material, while the upper-dash gets equally pleasing stitched padding. Quality is high, all the way to the diamond-textured door trims.
Toggles for the climate controls flick with finely damped precision to match the intuitive steering wheel controls complete with metallic-black – rather than piano-black – finish to complement that on the centre stack.
Even the leather on the steering wheel and gearshifter is high-quality, although the cloth trim is daggy and the 6.1-inch touchscreen looks like an afterthought; and it is, given other markets score an integrated 8.0-inch unit.
At least the touchscreen can, in time, be appreciated for operating really well – with good voice control for nav and phone, and ToyotaLink app connectivity to run music streaming services such as Pandora.
Even so, the C-HR feels Euro-semi-premium inside, right down to the auto up/down functions on all windows.
Although SUV buyers love a high driving position, the C-HR, like its CX-3 arch rival, does not place front passengers in a lofty position. Instead, this is the motoring equivalent of what pumped-up kicks are to regular shoes.
Front seat comfort is excellent, and there are drink cubbies galore, while the centre storage bin is huge. It’s just a shame the USB input isn’t in there – it is on the head unit itself, leaving a cord dangling messily down the dash.
Rear seat comfort is equally impressive, and unsurprisingly small hatchback-esque in terms of space. But although there are bottle holders in the back doors, kids won’t like the Batman batcave-influenced surrounds.
Tiny rear windows restrict visibility, while there are no rear air-vents, no seatback or armrest storage, or even overhead grab handles – which wipes the remaining point off its score in this section.
Boot space might also be more voluminous than that of a Corolla or Mazda3, at 377 litres, but it is only on par with that of a Volkswagen Golf.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 85kW/185Nm 1.2 4cyl turbo petrol
- Transmission: six-speed manual, FWD
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front and independent rear
- Brake: ventilated front and solid rear disc brakes
- Steering: electrically assisted mechanical steering
This small SUV follows the Prius and forthcoming Camry by being based on the new Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA). It was designed under the direction of an engineer who wanted to make Toyotas more fun to drive, and it shows.
The C-HR isn’t as powerful as, say, a Holden Astra RS with a 1.6-litre turbo engine, which anyone who favours performance would pick for similar money. Toyota’s tiny 1.2-litre turbo, with only 185Nm of torque and 85kW of power, also has to contend with a relatively porky 1375kg kerb weight.
Having driven the $2000-optional automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT), this standard six-speed manual is definitely a nicer engine-match.
Yet again, ‘Lexus-like’ comes to mind in the refined yet crisp engine note freed of any CVT whine. The numbers might be modest, but torque is made from just 1500rpm until 4000rpm, and the C-HR always feels more effortless and charming than the non-turbo 1.8-litre Corolla and 2.0-litre Mazda3, if not the Astra (or Golf).
Where many turbo engines miss their economy promises by miles, even heavy traffic failed to produce more than 10.0 litres per 100 kilometres. During urban schlepping it’s easy to see 6.0-6.5L/100km. We achieved 8.2L/100km.
It’s mostly a misconception that most journalists want razor-sharp handling in a small SUV package. Soothing yet controlled ride quality, and effortless yet incisive steering should be the priorities here, with fun a mere bonus. Pleasingly – no, make that stunningly – this Toyota fulfils that exact brief.
With sensible tyres and multi-link rear suspension, the C-HR offers the greatest balance of comfort and control in its class, while taking its talents right to the Golf that is the small hatch benchmark.
It is brilliantly agile, but with depth and precision beyond urban confines, and with engaging dynamics that delight whether turning into a laneway or a rural-road bend.
It also makes the Corolla feel crude by comparison. If this is what TNGA can deliver for future models, however, then rivals should be very concerned.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars – the Toyota C-HR range scored 33.2 out of 38 possible points when tested by ANCAP in 2016.
Safety Features: Dual front, front-side, full-length curtain and driver’s knee airbags, ABS and ESC, forward collision alert with autonomous emergency braking (AEB), blind-spot and lane-departure warnings with lane-keep assistance, front and rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000 kilometres.
Servicing: Toyota Service Advantage includes five services, with annual or 15,000km intervals, at a supremely affordable $195 each.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Both the Trax and ASX are cheap, but they’re old and unpolished. A CX-3 is fun but cramped, while a HR-V or 2008 are the go-to options if young kids will be regularly in the rear seat – although the spirited Peugeot lacks the Toyota’s quality reputation, and the Honda is nowhere near as sweet to drive.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
High-spec Koba and all-wheel drive and CVT versions of the C-HR are solid four-star propositions, but this entry-level version with a manual gearbox shines even brighter.
Five years ago Toyota delivered the 86 sports car to global acclaim, but in the context of its small SUV rivals the C-HR is perhaps an even greater leap forward.
It has its priorities sorted more than with any other small SUV (or perhaps small hatch). It is torquey, refined, supple and easy to drive; yet characterful and engaging.
Then comes the masterstroke, because while this vehicle also feels semi-premium inside, comes flush with kit, and yet asks no ‘SUV premium’ over hatch rivals, like most rivals do. We cannot recommend the Toyota C-HR manual highly enough.
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