In what might be the most sensible, practical move ever, the third car in Australia to be given the GR treatment is the C-HR SUV.
More closely related to the regular C-HR in terms of specifications (in this case, the entry-level GXL trim), the GR Sport gets its own styling package, some handling tweaks, and hits the ground with an in-demand hybrid powertrain as the only choice – something not yet offered on the GXL otherwise.
Other brands do it a lot. Mercedes-Benz has AMG-Line cars, BMW offers M Sport, even Hyundai has delved into N-Line. Purists get really bent out of shape about the format, which makes no sense really, because the market has embraced these cars with wide-open arms.
So, to the basics, then. The C-HR GR Sport is priced from $37,665 before on-road costs with a 1.8-litre petrol-electric hybrid engine and two-wheel drive, putting it on price parity with the flagship Koba hybrid, despite an equipment list that more closely matches the entry-level GXL version.
|2020 Toyota C-HR GR Sport|
|Engine||1.8-litre naturally aspirated, four-cylinder, petrol-electric hybrid|
|Power and torque||72kW at 5200rpm, 142Nm at 3600rpm (petrol), 53kW, 163Nm (electric), 90kW total system output|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive|
|Fuel consumption, combined (ADR)||4.3L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||4.7L/100km|
|Boot volume (rear seats up / down)||318L / not provided|
|ANCAP safety rating (year tested)||5 stars (2017)|
|Warranty (years / km)||5 year / unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Mazda CX-30, Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross, Jeep Compass|
On comparison, the petrol-only 2WD GXL starts from $30,915 (or $32,912 with AWD) and the top-spec C-HR Koba at $35,165 for the 2WD petrol, $37,165 for the AWD petrol or $37,665 for the 2WD hybrid version.
All-wheel drive isn’t available for the GR Sport (or the Koba hybrid), though it is for the petrol GXL and Koba. The GR Sport is hybrid only, the GXL is petrol only, and the Koba offers a choice of either.
On the GR side of things, you get a GR-style front bumper and shadow-chrome insert. Tellingly, that insert is too narrow to accept a standard full-width Aussie numberplate and is sized for Japanese plates only. There's also GR side skirts, and a GR rear under-bumper trim at the back, plus a black lip spoiler and black mirror caps.
The 19-inch wheels are a GR exclusive, up on the GXL’s 17s and Koba’s 18s, also finished in a shadow-chrome look. The brakes are GR-spec, too, with white calipers branded with the red and black GR logo.
Refreshingly, Toyota has gone easy on the GR badging, with just four logos mounted externally and only three inside (front seats and starter button). The interior also scored a set of sports pedals, but nothing particularly garish or over the top to signify its intent.
Seat trim is a blend of leather-look and suede-look trims, with some GR-white accents thrown in, and the sporty front seats are super-grippy, hugging the torso and thighs without locking the front occupants in pace.
Toyota’s first-look images from Japan also suggest a set of GR-branded instruments, and a sports steering wheel from the 86 would also be included; however, for Australia that isn’t the case, with regular C-HR items subbed in.
The hybrid system pairs a 1.8-litre naturally aspirated engine, rated at 72kW and 142Nm, with an electric motor putting down its own 53kW and 163Nm. There’s a combined total of 90kW, which is still at the low end of the small-SUV class, and no combined torque output.
If you’re keeping score, the three biggest sellers in the segment, the Mitsubishi ASX, Hyundai Kona and Kia Seltos, all kick off with 2.0-litre four-cylinder engines rated to 110kW, but offer more powerful variants as well. Toyota has more style-driven small SUVs in its sights, though, like the Mazda CX-30 and Jeep Compass.
Be that as it may, the C-HR GR Sport still gets along just fine in traffic, doing the very hybrid thing of starting off on electric power, with enough torque to feel robust from a standing start, and adding in petrol power if you’re particularly aggressive with the accelerator or as speed rises.
As a driver there’s nothing you need to do, the changeover is decided by the car, and it’s usually smooth and quiet enough that it’s hard to notice. It won't ever get your heart racing, though. The performance is fine for commuting, but short for anyone seeking thrills behind the wheel.
Compared to some of Toyota’s other hybrid cars, the C-HR might be a tiny bit more petrol-dependent. That could be the bluff SUV shape or the beefy 19-inch tyres (225/45R19 Yokohama Advan Fleva fitted to our test car), but even then the difference is small.
Refinement in general-duty running is a big plus, with the electric motor able to start the C-HR rolling, and the petrol engine able to start smoothly. When it does run, it's often at lower revs than you might expect thanks to both power sources doing the heavy lifting.
The e-CVT automatic isn’t the same design you’ll find in petrol-powered cars, rather it blends petrol and electric power as required before sending it to the front wheels. As a result, it's not ‘stepped’ the way some CVTs can be to mimic a traditional auto, but also manages to avoid that droning, fixed-RPM sensation of some CVTs, unless you pin the accelerator at full travel for an extended period.
There is some highway road noise from the tyres, but even then it’s hardly a weak point. Less impressive is the low-speed brake performance, where the C-HR GR Sport can become notchy before reaching a complete stop, feeling a little bumbly when parking or slugging through peak-hour shuffles.
A major suspension overhaul was hardly needed, but you can sense that Toyota hasn't gone in too hard on the chassis revisions for the GR Sport. There is a more connected handling feel, shades of driver engagement, but nothing too coarse or unbearable.
The suspension is now slightly stiffer and a little lower (by 15mm). Urban absorption is still decent for surface changes, speed humps and over train lines and manhole covers. Some of those lumps and bumps are more closely followed than they might be in a regular C-HR, but without bouncing or rattling occupants.
The front end is keen and ready to explore on the right roads, but its steering keeps the very assisted feel that makes for light and breezy parking, yet isn’t there for hardened enthusiasts. As an urban-centric SUV that’s probably the right balance.
If you're detail oriented, Toyota has added a centre floor brace, given the steering its own GR tune, and tweaked damping force, coil rates and stabiliser bars (without saying how or what's changed exactly) in an attempt to reduce roll and pitch. Not that the C-HR was particularly bad in those areas previously.
Toyota is, of course, big on safety systems, so all-speed adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-trace assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and seven airbags are included.
The driver-assist systems work harmoniously enough, although the lane-trace assist (Toyota’s name for lane centring) can get a little twitchy at times, and beeps when it loses lane markings, which can get tiresome on rural roads and line markings that face in and out, though it’s quick and easy to switch off.
Safety is rated at five stars by ANCAP based on 2017 test criteria.
Some of the system interfaces are surprisingly old given the very modern look of the C-HR itself. You get a wand to operate the adaptive cruise control, not the newer steering wheel controls of a Corolla or RAV4, and the much fresher wheel of the new Yaris would be a better fit for the GR Sport’s sporting intent instead of the big clunky unit used here.
Otherwise, the interior styling holds up well, if not always the material choices.
The driver-centric dash looks cool, with little climate-control pods, plenty of glossy black plastics, and the 8.0-inch infotainment (with digital radio, navigation, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto packed in) with a skew towards the driver.
There’s a repeated diamond motif throughout the cabin, seen on the roof lining and overhead switches and interior light. It shows Toyota really tried to break out of its comfort zone. Then there are the door cards with their angular patterned inserts that look great, but feel like hollow, anti-premium plastic matched with waxy, uninviting elbow rests on the doors and centre console.
Is it bad? No, not at all. Does it live up to its aspirational positioning? Err, not quite.
You get a reverse camera, front and rear park sensors, and auto lights and wipers, plus push-button start, and proximity entry. You miss out on lumbar support for the front seats – and electric adjustment – illuminated vanity mirrors, surround-view park cameras, rear cross-traffic with auto braking, and front seat heating with leather trim, being reserved for the Koba flagship. Given the two are priced the same, the GR Sport’s bigger wheels and firmer suspension don’t really account for the missing equipment.
The GR Sport does at least borrow its headlight and tail-light design, including scrolling rear indicators, from the Koba and not the more basic GXL. Other carryover spec includes six-speaker audio, a 4.2-inch multifunction instrument display with analogue gauges, a single USB input for the interior, leather steering wheel and gearknob, electric park brake, heated exterior mirrors with power folding and an auto-dimming interior mirror.
Rear seat space is fine for short-trip use, but as the ‘coupe, high rider’ name suggests, the coupe-themed design means if practicality is a priority, this SUV may not be for you. There are no air vents or USB charge points back there either.
Couples and singles, in a pre-family stage of life, are the target for this one.
Outward visibility from the rear, or over the shoulder for the driver, is limited by the slim glasshouse and thick pillars. The blind-spot monitoring is essential before double-checking for cars as you switch lanes. I found myself bobbing and ducking in the driver’s seat, though, to make sure no-one was hiding in the rear blind spot somewhere.
Boot space is slim, at 318L, and literally slim with quite a high floor. There’s a space-saver spare underneath, a pair of bag hooks (though they’re not very useful as most bags can’t hang from them) and four tie-down points, plus 60/40-folding rear seats.
On the fuel front, Toyota claims the C-HR hybrid will use 4.3L/100km in mixed use. Most of my time with this car was spent in an urban environment, including one of the worst traffic snarls I’ve seen for a while.
After 90 minutes for my usually 30-minute trek home, crawling through traffic and depleting electric range, relying on mostly petrol power instead saw the trip meter rise to 5.1L/100km. Add in a couple more days of more typical driving and it levelled out to a decent 4.7L/100km.
Toyota’s ownership package is comprehensive. Private buyers get a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty (commercial use imposes a 160,000km limit), services on time and schedule, an additional two years' powertrain warranty applied, plus with an annual battery health check there's an extra five years' hybrid battery coverage.
Service costs are some of the lowest available, set at $200 per visit for the first five scheduled services at 12-month or 15,000km intervals.
While some performance car fans may take issue with halo branding applied to less than top-tier cars, there’s a place for models like the C-HR GR Sport. As Toyota looks to build the profile of a division that was unknown in Australia just a few years ago, this is undoubtedly the right move.
The basic package already has dramatic styling, strong equipment, and Toyota’s well-resolved hybrid system. This version maintains those positive points.
Without becoming a stiff-riding, unrelenting monster, the C-HR GR Sport feels sporty, looks appropriately bold, and should be enough to get the attention of Australian buyers as the GR label grows.