Despite Toyota’s mass appeal as a brand, the market for its compact SUV, the C-HR, feels a little more niche – especially when compared to other crowd-pleasing competitors.
With its seriously polarising kerb appeal, the only thing that could possibly make the C-HR more specific would be if it were a hybrid priced toward the top end of its segment. Well...
Enter: the 2020 Toyota C-HR Koba hybrid, a zippy two-wheel-drive that will set you back $36,440 – a full $6900 more than the entry-level petrol variant of the C-HR and $2500 more than the 2WD turbo petrol Koba.
Although Toyota’s given it some slight design updates for the new year, the C-HR remains arguably the most distinctive entrant in its class since it launched in 2017. That, plus the brand’s proven track record with hybrid technology, renders the C-HR an appealing gateway drug for those interested in electrified vehicles, and an interesting proposition for people swept up by compact-SUV hysteria.
But being the quirky kid on the block can be a double-edged sword. So, I set out to uncover whether the Koba hybrid’s unique charms could still serve my everyday driving needs.
Price and competitors
There’s little doubt the C-HR occupies a particularly competitive space in the market, with manufacturers seemingly magicking compact SUVs out of nowhere on an almost weekly basis.
To give you an idea of where the C-HR Koba hybrid sits, its key competitors are the Mazda CX-3 Akari LE at $36,450, Honda HR-V VTi-LX at $34,590 and Hyundai Kona Highlander for $39,500. The Koba hybrid sits neatly with the upper end of the compact-SUV market.
However, if you’re looking for a similar car with electric technology, the somewhat indirect comparison is the electric version of the Hyundai Kona, which makes the Koba hybrid look cheap as chips at a starting price of around $60,000.
As a quick aside: Shouldn’t someone have gotten Hyundai and Toyota in the same room to talk through the logistical nightmare of having two electrified cars named Kona and Koba? I had gotten them confused at least 7000 times as of time of writing.
Under the bonnet
The Koba hybrid is a two-wheel drive with a continuously variable automatic transmission. This is paired with an electric motor – which functions as a generator to charge the battery (no plug-in required) – and a 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine.
(FYI: the non-hybrid Koba offering has a 1.2-litre turbo engine with a seven-speed auto CVT transmission, plus the option of AWD.)
The hybrid combination produces 90kW and a maximum of 142Nm, so it’s no beast, but can handle an overtake or freeway merge no sweat. Thanks to its electric genes, the C-HR is incredibly quick off the mark and responsive to even the slightest push of the pedal.
But after it shifts to the petrol engine, it can sound like it’s struggling slightly at higher speeds, occasionally making a droning noise when asked to push up above 80km/h or so.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a review of the C-HR that doesn’t mention its unique looks, so I won’t dwell on them for too long.
By way of disclaimer, the C-HR’s design is not my usual taste, but after a week I definitely warmed to it, although I’ll never see the distinctive folds around the grille and not be reminded of a pug (a good thing for dog lovers, I guess?).
For the small few who may be concerned it's lacking in X-factor, there's the option of a separate roof colour on the Koba, or you could buy it in ‘Inferno Orange’ – a colour with unnecessarily ominous undertones.
One final design quirk worth mentioning is the placement of the rear door handles – they’re high up and somewhat hidden, meaning they're not exactly kid-friendly.
Behind the wheel
Design preferences aside, one of the main reasons to pay more for the Koba hybrid is that it’s liquid-smooth during any of those stressful manoeuvres that require patience and inner peace over guts and brawn.
Getting it started is a soothing experience – it makes some aurally pleasing bleeps and bloops to let you know it’s alive and then snaps to attention. Helpfully, the electronic parking brake turns itself on and off automatically, meaning you’re ready to go almost immediately after you hit the push-button start. On the flipside, it’s actually quite hard to know whether you’ve turned the car off completely because it’s so quiet.
The Koba's suspension takes tram tracks and potholes with ease, and it’s a comfortable car for longer drives, if a little claustrophobic in the back (more on that later).
Reverse parking is a cinch thanks to multi-angle cameras and the C-HR’s very responsive steering. Reversing out of a driveway with limited visibility is also a breeze, with the car’s rear cross-traffic alert system warning you of any approaching hazards (aka the private school parents who speed down my street in a blind fit of school-pickup fury).
Despite its smaller stature, the C-HR has a relatively high ride height – unfortunately, however, it doesn’t have electric seat controls, so you’ll have to vault yourself up and down in an undignified manner using plastic levers if you're after even further height.
Speaking of ride height, a head-up display feels notably absent. It’s not even an option on the Koba, and glancing at the speedometer feels like quite a significant look down.
The C-HR wins points for comprehensive safety features like all-speed active cruise control, pre-collision safety system with pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring, seven airbags, lane-departure alert, front and rear parking sensors, reverse camera, and auto high beam all standard across the range.
The blind-spot monitoring is particularly necessary given the large C-pillars make rear and side visibility limited. I came to this terrifying realisation on a main road when the car’s merge alert went off, and I realised there was an entire hatchback hidden from my view on the left-hand side.
I was also particularly grateful for the button at the right of the steering wheel, which allows you to see all-angle cameras, including a bird’s-eye view. This was a godsend when trying to ascertain whether I had managed to slot the car into a particularly narrow spot in the Bunnings Warehouse car park. Unfortunately, it’s only available on the Koba models of the C-HR.
Tech is similarly comprehensive, especially after Toyota added Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard across the range in late 2019. An 8.0-inch touchscreen replaces the previous 6.1-inch iteration, and there’s a very capable sat-nav system. Both are intuitive and uncomplicated.
There’s a small handful of absent features, but I hardly noticed them: No wireless phone charger means you’ll just have to have a USB cord handy at all times; only one USB port means your mate can’t charge their phone too; and there’s no digital radio tuning, which I reckon is overrated anyway.
Add a six-speaker audio system, keyless entry and push-button start, and you’re cooking with gas.
Space and comfort
And now let’s talk about the stuff I didn’t like. Size-wise, the Koba really puts the ‘compact’ in compact SUV. Until recently, I actually didn’t cotton on to the fact C-HR stands for ‘coupe high rider’, which went a fair way to explaining how some of its more confusing design decisions were made.
And while the sportier design is plenty cool, it does mean the back seat is what can only be described as a claustrophobic nightmare. There are no rear air vents or USB plugs, the leg room is adequate at best, and the head clearance is cramped. The window frame obscures a third of your typical view, and the sloping roof means that if you’re not a child, you will likely hit your head on the way in.
Really, it’s a great place to put your enemies, not your children (although some parents may argue they’re one and the same).
Conversely, front seat occupants will be living the life with heated seats with electric lumbar support (even if the rest of the seat controls are manual), some fancy Nanoe air-conditioning technology in the Koba variants, and plenty of head room and forward visibility.
The C-HR’s boot has 318L of space available, but with its sloping rear windshield, dogs taller than a spaniel need not apply. It will be fine for your groceries and a couple of suitcases, though, and if you’re desperate for more room, you can take advantage of the 60/40 split-fold rear seats.
Value for money
Fuel economy is where the Koba hybrid should really earn its stripes. Toyota promises consumption figures of 4.3L/100km in the hybrid and 6.4L/100km in the petrol variant.
My week in the hybrid came in at 5.3L/100km, but that was with a two-hour drive to the Mornington Peninsula in frustrating Australia Day traffic. Not quite the promised figure, but certainly not shabby.
Over the space of a few years, the savings in petrol would probably make up for the price discrepancy between the base-level C-HR and the Koba hybrid, and would most definitely make up for the price difference between the regular Koba and the Koba hybrid.
If you buy the C-HR, you’ll score a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty and capped-price servicing, with a 12-month or 15,000km service interval, at just $200 a pop for the first five visits.
If Toyota really wanted to throw buyers a bone, it would offer a hybrid drivetrain in the entry-level C-HR like it does on the Corolla range, but having one available at all is still a win and certainly makes the C-HR stand out in a challenging class.
I wouldn’t call the Koba hybrid a family car nor a crowd pleaser. It’s specifically suited to a single person or young couple whose weekly driving takes place predominantly in the city and suburbs.
The hybrid element, plus the safety and tech offerings, makes the price well worth it, although the interior space and unique aesthetics may rule out some potential buyers.
All in all, it’s a comprehensive urban warrior with a ton of X-factor that’s worthy of your attention despite some shortcomings. And one thing that's great about a car that stands out from the pack is that it sort of makes the decision for you.