The best that Toyota has to offer, is here: the C-HR.
There is an awful lot to like about the new 2017 Toyota C-HR. Most importantly, that it’s not just another Toyota. It’s so much more, almost like the beginning of a new chapter for a brand that has for so long been lost in the wilderness of monotony.
The Toyota C-HR has character, a sense of style and attention to detail that would’ve been unheard of from the Japanese giant just a few years ago, but it’s also not perfect.
From the outside the C-HR pushes the boundaries of Toyota’s design language to a new level. It has more lines than a zeal of zebras. It’s a very busy design and one that looks fresh and hip for the moment, but may not necessarily stand the test of time (although only time will be the judge of that). It’s instantly recognisable as a Toyota from the front, but the rear is somewhat derivative, with hints of Honda well present.
It's built on Toyota’s new global architecture and as such, it has its engine lower down in the engine bay, allowing for a better centre of gravity and an overall lower vehicle height. This does two things: firstly, it theoretically improves handling and, secondly, it allows a car that measures only 1565mm high, to look more like a hatchback than a small SUV while still offering SUV-levels of practicality and spaciousness.
The exterior is very much at odds with the interior, which whilst not as conservative as some Toyotas (with diamond shape stitching and roof lining really adding a sense of difference) seems to present a near ideal balance of style and practicality.
Firstly, the seats. These are the best seats in any Toyota we’ve sampled. They are not only comfortable, but they look amazing. You would be thrilled to see them in a car with a six-figure price tag, let alone one which we suspect will start in the mid to high $20,000s (pricing will be confirmed early in 2017).
Then there is the clever use of space and good ergonomics, like the built-in door cup holders in the rear, or the infotainment system which faces towards the driver.
In fact, one can be easily surprised by the level of refinement in the C-HR. From the leather dashboard covering to the piano gloss surrounds of the gear level, to the way the buttons feel and respond when pressed. It’s not quite at the level of say, a Lexus NX, but it’s getting pretty darn close and that should really worry Lexus.
The infotainment system is rather good (for a Toyota), although, unfortunately for us, Toyota Australia is getting the smaller six-inch double-din screen rather the very high resolution eight-inch disply in our European-spec test vehicles. Even so, both models miss out on fundamental technologies such as Apple Carplay and Android Auto.
Realistically, the Toyota C-HR is not going to fit five adults, but despite initial appearances of zero headroom in the rear, once we actually got in to the back, we were pleasantly surprised by just how much room was present. The rear seats are positioned rather low and deep into the car, giving a great deal of both head and leg room.
Much like the back seats, the boot appears incredibly small at first, but once you open it up it’s actually rather spacious, at 377 litres, (more than enough for a small pram and the weekly shopping) and far more with the rear seats folded down.
You can indeed fit four tall adults without complaint - well, some may whine as the rear windows are rather small and oddly shaped to accommodate the high and hidden door handles of the back row, which have the downside of making things feel a little claustrophobic in back. Overall, though, it’s a vast improvement on the inside than something like a Corolla.
Powering the Japanese built vehicles destined for Australia is a 1.2-litre four cylinder turbocharged petrol engine that produces a respectable 85kW of power and 185Nm of torque. It can either be had as a front-wheel drive with a six-speed manual or as an all-wheel drive with a continuously variable transmission.
Out on the open roads of Madrid, where we came to test the Turkish-built Toyotas (for the European market), the engine proved gutsy and efficient, but felt constantly let down by a droning and lifeless CVT. It’s not that the C-HR is slow, or gutless - in fact it’s far from that - it’s more that it feels as such.
One must admire the speedometer climbing rapidly to really appreciate how fast the little SUV is going, for the linear acceleration presented by the CVT does absolutely nothing to instil a sense of fast motion. Nor does the accompanying soul-destroying drone.
On the plus side, the C-HR rides beautifully. The new platform allows for far more structural rigidity than previous Toyotas, and as such the suspension doesn’t need to work as hard or be as stiff to provide reasonable dynamics. This has resulted in a softer ride that really glides over bumps and poorly surfaced roads. We will have to wait and see (and hope) that Australian-delivered vehicles share this suspension tune.
As far as dynamics go, this is a car that competed in the gruelling Nurburgring 24-hour endurance race. Its head engineer is a mad sports car fan (he also lends his name to the high-spec Koba variant name) and a great deal of effort has gone into its dynamic capability.
On the plus side, it has been worth it. For the C-HR behaves well and is generally rather decent when punted around some bends. Push it hard, though, and it begins to fall apart. It rolls into bends a little too much and, as much as we want to praise the steering for being perfectly weighted, it has zero feedback. It also isn't helped by its 1460kg kerb weight. This is all mostly irrelevant, however, for it is absolutely fit for its intended purpose.
Being an inherently front-wheel-drive bias car, the grunt of the engine is more often than not only going to the front wheels only, however given the limited 185Nm, there is no sense of torquesteer.
The AWD variants use an electro-magnetic coupling for torque distribution, which depending on road and driver requirements, can vary the front-rear drive force distribution from 100 per cent for the front wheels to 50/50 front and rear. There’s even a little screen in the instrument cluster that let you know where the power is going.
What impresses us the most about the new C-HR, apart from the interior, is the array of standard active safety systems. Everything from pre collision autonomous emergency braking (from 10km/h), smart active cruise control, lane departure warning and automatic high beam assist will be available. Other features include blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert while parking sensors and a reversing camera are also standard. This is a remarkable amount of technology for a mainstream car under $30,000.
Full specifications, features and final pricing will be revealed early next year.
We are very impressed by what the Toyota C-HR has turned out to be. Offering a fantastic interior with a well sorted ride and remarkable number of standard features, if Toyota can get the pricing right, it's on to a winner.
Overall, it’s a bloody good little thing, and if you can learn to love the styling, you certainly won’t regret the ownership experience.