Bumblebee, we called it, this stunningly yellow example of automotive art that is known as the 2017 Toyota C-HR.
It’s the top-end Koba model – not the all-wheel-drive version as tested by Paul recently, but the front-drive version that we included in our recent small SUV test. And it came out on top.
There are plenty of good reasons for that – and not only because everyone on that test thought it was the coolest car with the most presence, in a market where many have tried and plenty have failed to find the right blend of styling and substance.
That’s the key point with the 2017 Toyota C-HR – it has both style and substance in spades – but in this specification it does come at a cost: the Koba front-wheel-drive model is $33,290 plus on-road costs, making it one of the dearer SUVs of that configuration in the segment.
But it is well kitted out, with a rear-view camera, front and rear parking sensors, climate control, cruise control, push-button start, leather seat trim, heated front seats, automated LED headlights with daytime running lights, LED rear lights, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and auto wipers. It rides on 18-inch wheels.
Infotainment is by way of a small-for-the-segment 6.1-inch touchscreen, which has Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity and a single USB (a bit behind the times for tech-savvy urban buyers), but it also has built-in satellite navigation, which some competitors lack.
It’s missing some stuff that competitors do have, though, like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto extended phone connectivity and digital radio reception. And the Bluetooth – while easy to pair and quick to re-connect – follows Toyota’s silly ‘safety’ focus of not allowing you to choose your saved contacts on the screen when you’re driving, or dial numbers. Instead, you’ve got to use the voice control, which is at times tedious.
The safety focus is strong, though, with its adaptive cruise control operating at all way to standstill, and it has autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and lane-keeping assistance. It scored the maximum five-star ANCAP crash score, and has seven airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain, driver's knee).
You need those electronic aids at times, because the vision from the driver’s seat isn’t terrific. When you’re trying to park you should almost just forget about glancing over your shoulder to get a gauge of your vicinity: it is called the C-HR – Coupe High Rider – for a reason. Forward vision is good, though, and while you sit up reasonably high for that ever-so-desirable ‘command’ position.
The cabin is perhaps the most surprising thing about the C-HR – and that’s saying a lot, given how striking the exterior styling is.
You can tell that the company allowed its designers off the leash in the cabin, with beautifully textured, almost arty finishes on show. Sure, the hard plastics on the doors aren’t soft to the touch, but the quality of the finishes is brilliant, with a gorgeous diamond pattern with raised edges, not to mention soft (brown … ewww!) leather on the dash-top, doors and centre console.
That swooping body doesn’t have too large an impact on rear-seat space: headroom is actually pretty good, and it is one of the roomier small SUVs for legroom. While the back seat comfort is good, on test we found it could feel a little bit closed in because of the black headlining and the way the rear doors are shaped, sharply curving up and away from the occupants. That means that kids mightn’t like it very much, particularly if they’re prone to travel troubles.
On the topic of littlies there are three top-tether attachment points and two ISOFIX child-seat anchors, but no rear air vents. And the boot is big enough for a pram or stroller: at 377 litres it’s about what you’d expect from, say, a small hatchback.
There are some items missing: you don’t get rear grab handles, nor is there a centre armrest between the seats, and there are no rear reading lights. But it is good for loose item storage, including bottle holders in the door-grabs in the rear, big door pockets up front and a smallish centre console bin. The dual-zone climate control features an air purification system that – it has to be said – is better in smoggy traffic-clogged tunnels than lots of competitor vehicles.
Under the bonnet is a 1.2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine with a slim 85kW of power (at 5600rpm) and 185Nm from 1500-4000rpm. The numbers aren’t high by turbo standards, and not even really by class standards when you look at rivals with non-turbo four-cylinders. And it seems even more meagre when you look at the Peugeot 2008, which has a three-cylinder turbo with 81kW but 205Nm.
The engine is adequate with four on board, and only a touch better than that with only a sole occupant. It isn’t a firecracker, but it is very refined and smooth revving engine despite being a little sluggish at low speeds. That mainly comes down to the continuously variable transmission (CVT), which aims to keep the engine working at low revs, and is most noticeable if you’re pulling away from traffic lights or a roundabout and going up a hill.
If the going is flat, it's more convincing in its performance, and makes urban driving feel like a breeze.
The most impressive thing about how it drives is its road manners: the suspension is extremely well sorted, with excellent ride compliance and great body control when you push it in corners.
The ride quality is great over bumps and lumps. Sharp edges pose no concern for the C-HR, which is all the more convincing due to the fact its riding on 18-inch wheels with Bridgestone Potenza 225/50/18 rubber.
The C-HR’s steering is direct and accurate, and while it is not quite as sharp as a Mazda CX-3, it is among the best in class for reactivity and composure.
The suspension – a Macpherson setup up front, and double wishbone at the rear – offers up a really nice blend of comfort and compliance with sure footedness, and the quality of the execution of the chassis arrangement makes it feel composed and more premium than pretty much any other small SUV in the segment.
Despite that premium feel, the Toyota ownership plan isn’t as pricey as you might think. The brand requires the car to be serviced every 12 months or 15,000km, at a cost of $195 per visit, which is cheaper than Mitsubishi, Honda and Mazda, and unlike some other models from the brand, it's covered for five years/75,000km of servicing. Toyota can’t match some of the lengthier warranty plans around, with a three-year/100,000km plan and no included roadside assist.
The Toyota C-HR Koba is a terrific small SUV, one that pushes the boundaries of what we thought Toyota was capable of. Not just because of its stylish design, nor only because of its funky interior – it's both of those things, plus the fact it’s a really good car to drive.
If you’re in the market for a small SUV – or even just a small Toyota – be sure to take a look at one; and you might even be happy with the lower-spec model, which could be the pick of the bunch.
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