Over time, we have forgotten the meaning of what an SUV is. Look up your average dictionary and it will tell you it’s a "rugged vehicle with a truck-like chassis and four-wheel drive, designed for occasional off-road use".
Now put that description to the likes of the Suzuki Ignis, Mazda CX-3 or Nissan Juke. They are all cars manufacturers call an SUV, but you’ll find these frequenting the city and not tackling dirt roads or creeks.
There’s no mistaking the SUV has changed dramatically since its origins in the late ’80s, and to see just how much, we have compared the 2018 Toyota C-HR with a 1988 Toyota Corolla SR5 4WD Wagon. Although we have a crossover and wagon on offer here, they're effectively considered SUVs, but are both polar opposites.
Its owner said the first owner put many options on it from the dealership, pushing the price up to around $30,000. With inflation, it would cost a staggering $64,000 today.
Interestingly, some of those options included air-conditioning for $1560 and power steering for $700, whereas the C-HR Koba comes standard with front and rear parking sensors, blind spot sensors, reversing camera and satellite navigation. Luckily, air-conditioning and power steering do too.
Powering all four wheels on the C-HR is a 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol engine, while the Corolla features a 1.6-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine with full-time 4WD.
Both cars have distinctive styling. What makes the Corolla special is its glass layout. Not only are the back side windows placed higher than the door windows, but the rear window is lower than all of them.
The boot pull handle is to the right side of the numberplate, which makes the rear of the car appear off-centre. And you’ve got to love the roof spoiler matched with roof racks.
The C-HR, like the Corolla, is polarising. There are so many striking and sharp lines from every angle, and it’s hard not to notice the tail-lights that stick out a mile from the body.
Love or loathe the hidden back door handles, they give it a much cleaner look. There really is nothing like it on the road at the moment.
Surprisingly, the dimensions between the cars are similar, with the C-HR 140mm wider and 110mm longer than the Corolla. And at 1510kg, the C-HR is heavier than the Corolla’s 1165kg.
The biggest ground clearance goes to the Corolla with 215.9mm against the C-HR's 149.8mm.
Taking a look inside the Corolla, the first thing that hits you in the face is the glorious old-car aroma. It smells like my old 1981 Toyota Celica. The blue tweed cloth seats are matched with the dash and carpet – so ’80s.
Over in the C-HR, there’s black everywhere with easier to clean leather seats. Like every Toyota, the cabins in both cars feel sturdy, and the Corolla has stood the test of time very well.
Both cabins are simplistic with separate buttons and dials for the air-conditioning. The most noticeable inclusion in the C-HR is the 6.1-inch touchscreen incorporating the stereo. At some point, the owner of the Corolla did away with the cassette player and opted for a CD player. Clever choice.
Some standout quirks in the Corolla are the electric mirror switches situated between the front seats and ceiling-mounted speakers. Yes, you read right. I’ll touch on those soon.
The C-HR has a diamond design theme in its crossover, with diamond cut-outs on the ceiling and diamond pattern on the door trim, but the plastic feels pretty cheap.
While an ashtray was the norm in the day of the Corolla, it is nowhere to be seen in the C-HR, but both share a 12-volt connection. With the help of a USB adapter, the Corolla charged a phone 30 per cent in half an hour, as opposed to the C-HR charging around 20 per cent via its USB connection.
Storage is almost the same in both, but there’s more choice in the C-HR, with a very deep centre console armrest and roomy door bin storage. The Corolla’s centre storage console is a perfect fit for a phone (perhaps Toyota predicted the future here?) and the doors have less room for a bottle.
There are two cupholders in the Corolla and they flip out. Who wouldn’t love those? The C-HR matches with two as well, but they’re not as cool, being placed in the centre console.
Both seats are manually adjustable, with electronic lumbar support and heated seats for the C-HR, and three manual lumbar settings in the wagon.
Visibility is as good as the Corolla around the front of the C-HR, helped with front quarter windows, but the sweeping C-pillar obstructs the view, with the front passenger seat almost blocking the entire view out of the front left-side window.
In comparison, the Corolla is a glasshouse. At every angle you turn, you can see everything, everywhere. It’s amazing.
You sit much higher in the C-HR and it is easier getting in and out, which is appealing for many who are wanting an SUV. In the Corolla, you sort of fall into the seats.
In the back of the Corolla, there are no headrests, which is bad news for passengers but gives the driver a clear view through the rear-view mirror. Toe room is on par with one another, with more leg room in the Corolla. There is barely any storage for rear passengers in the Corolla, with no map pockets or door storage.
However, the C-HR has two map pockets but nowhere to place drink bottles, apart from one cupholder. For the top-of-the-range Koba, it’s disappointing to see no rear ventilation or connections. The Corolla has an ashtray, and that's about it in terms of luxury!
Now, let’s talk about these ceiling-mounted speakers in the Corolla. They’re placed directly behind the rear seat passengers' ears, so they don’t get hidden down below the doors like the C-HR. Sure, they sound tinny, as you would expect an ’80s car stereo to sound, but it’s still a clever addition.
Beside both speakers is a large flip-down storage compartment that could hold maps or tools. It feels as durable as the day it was made, and it’s a brilliant way of making use of space.
Much like the vision from the front, it’s clear as day for rear seat passengers with large windows all around, but in the C-HR it is dark and almost feels claustrophobic thanks to its sweeping design. Kids wouldn’t enjoy the ride at all. Three people can fit much easier in the back of the Corolla, too.
Both seats fold 60:40, and ironically, the fold-down levers are in the same spot on top of the seats. The Corolla is definitely the more practical one, as the seats fold almost flat, load width is better and load height is lower.
As the owner told us, he has slept in it on more than one occasion. I tried lying completely straight in it, and just fitted diagonally, but the C-HR was much tighter, with legs folded up.
But the Corolla doesn’t win with boot space. With the seats up, you can fit 325L of stuff, and the C-HR, 377L. Funnily enough, the interior boot light is in the exact same spot, and the removable floors are as flimsy as each other.
The Corolla has a full-size spare, which you would need that confidence for off-roading, whereas the C-HR has a space-saver.
The owner has told us the Corolla has all its original running gear, including the clutch, after its relatively low 277,000km. Its 1.6-litre petrol engine produces 76kW of power and 140Nm of torque, and the C-HR’s 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol engine pushes out 85kW and 185Nm.
The 0–100km/h race is actually quite close, with the newer Toyota beating its older cousin with 11.4 seconds compared to 12 seconds.
The Corolla has low-range torque at 1000rpm, but once over 3000rpm in the higher gears, it can start to run out of puff. Over in the C-HR, you can definitely feel that turbo, but it doesn’t have the torque down low like the Corolla.
In its day, the Corolla had a claimed combined fuel reading of 13.3L/100km, and after doing some maths, we got a reading of 8.3L/100km after a freeway run. In the C-HR, Toyota claims 6.5L/100km, just a smidgen lower than what we got, which was 6.9L/100km.
The engine noise in the Corolla at idle is quite loud, and it sounds like the firewall might be a tad on the thin side. Meanwhile, in the C-HR, it is that quiet you would think it has the stop/start function, which it does not.
Taking the cars off-road, and the C-HR’s AWD instills some confidence when tackling gravel tracks, but didn’t cope well with corrugations, with parts of the interior rattling. It also has no off-road driving modes or features, and is most suited to city or highway driving.
By the push of a button, the Corolla's centre locking diff splits the torque 50/50 to front and rear, and with its full-time 4WD, you wouldn’t have an issue getting to that camping spot on top of a hill.
Need we remind you this is a Corolla, not a LandCruiser. Pretty impressive. It did, however, not handle corrugations well, shaking the car to bits. But given its age, it’s no surprise!
The driving position in the C-HR is low, with the infotainment screen sitting high on the dash for easy eye access. Whereas in the Corolla, like most older cars, you sit quite high, but you can see everything around you.
The Corolla has considerable body roll, and this was pointed out even in a 1988 review. The C-HR rides comfortably and remains relatively planted when pushed into corners, in comparison to the wagon. However, the Corolla rides over speed humps smoother.
The Corolla has 13-inch wheels with front vented brakes and rear drum brakes, and stopping the C-HR are four disc brakes with 18-inch wheels.
With the C-HR’s seven-speed CVT, like most CVTs it is smooth at low speeds, keeping the engine revs low. Plant the foot on the throttle and it will take some time to get going. It does have manual mode, but it was less inspiring than the five-speed manual in the Corolla.
The owner explained there is an unknown squeak on the clutch pedal that even WD40 won’t fix, but it’s part of the old-car characteristic. First and second gears have very close ratios, and third sometimes needs to be carefully guided in to avoid crunching. Clutch feel is great and is not too heavy for tackling peak-hour traffic, for example.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t access any local warranty information on the Corolla when it was new in 1988, but we did find in the UK it came with a six-month/unlimited-kilometre warranty. The C-HR is 36 months/100,000km. How times have changed.
It’s quite incredible how the SUV has evolved in 30 years. The Corolla was ahead of its time and was known for its practicality and versatility to go off the beaten track, whereas the C-HR’s highlight is its distinctive styling and day-to-day comfort.
But both have one thing in common – they’re bulletproof Toyotas.
Thanks to Matt for the lend of his classic Corolla. If you have a car that you would like to be considered for the next old v new, click here.