Car reviews - Toyota - C-HR - 2WD
Striking design inside and out, planted chassis, space, packaging, efficiency, safety, handling, refinement, ride, generous equipment levels
Room for improvement
Dark back seat area, rear-vision impeding C pillars, some road noise, dated touchscreen, no base model, limited warranty
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13 Sep 2017
TOYOTA is renowned for being a cautious entity, but you wouldn’t necessarily surmise that from the C-HR’s bold styling.
Larger than the original RAV4 that kicked off the whole compact SUV craze back in the mid-‘90s, the company’s small SUV offering pushes brand barriers in other areas too, which it has to if consumers who are spoilt for choice with rivals such as the Mazda CX-3 and Honda HR-V are to take notice.
Here we assess the cheapest variant – which also happens to be the most fun.
Price and equipment
There have been scores of wilfully dull and infuriatingly mediocre Toyotas over time.
But the bold and barrier-busting ones have truly been exceptional. 1967 Corolla. 1985 Celica. 1990 Tarago. 1993 Supra. 1994 RAV4. 1997 Prius. 2015 Mirai. To this list we can now add C-HR.
Launched early this year as the company’s late-to-the-party rival to the high-flying Mazda CX-3 and popular Mitsubishi ASX, this is new-from-the-ground-up design and engineering based on a next-generation architecture that will underpin virtually every future Toyota from here-on in.
And don’t ignore the nomenclature. The ‘C’ in C-HR could refer to the C-segment size of the chassis, meaning that it is in fact a Corolla rather than Yaris-sized small SUV or, in other words, larger than the Mazda2 (rather than Mazda3) derived CX-3 – a key difference that helps justify the premium that this new entrant commands.
Here we look at the least expensive variant, simply called ‘C-HR’, employing a turbocharged 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol engine (another Toyota first for Australia), driving the front wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox. That’s $26,990 as tested. Auto and all-wheel drive add $2000 apiece. So we’re talking mid-range CX-3 money here, but the Toyota retaliates with an impressive level of safety spec across the board including autonomous emergency braking (currently only standard as well in the Mazda amongst its rivals), radar-guided active cruise control, lane-departure warning with steering assistance, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, a trailer sway control for towing, a hill holder, reversing camera, front and rear parking radar, seven airbags, auto on/off headlights and rain-sensing wipers.
The base car also boasts satellite navigation, climate control air-con, central touchscreen with Bluetooth telephony, audio streaming (but no Apple CarPlay/Android Auto as yet – that’s coming) and Toyota Link connectivity, folding exterior mirrors, electric park brake, and 17-inch alloy wheels. The spare is of a space-saver variety.
A contrasting roof adds another $450 to the price.
The fact of the matter is the C-HR’s cabin is larger than its upsweeping glasshouse and swoopy roofline suggest. How? A longer-than-class-usual wheelbase (2640mm versus the CX-3’s 2570mm), wide tracks (around 1550mm compared to the latter’s 1525mm) and a low floor all conspire to do so.
The upshot means four adults should easily fit, or five if the rear-middle occupant isn’t a bear. In comfort too, thanks to a nicely raked backrest and well-padded cushions for the outboard folk.
However, while there’s room aplenty for scalps, shoulders, knees and shins, fat front seatbacks, an intrusively wide C-pillar (that sacrifice vision at the alter of style) and black trim make the Toyota’s second row a bit like sitting in a black hole, reinforcing the almost coupe-like themes that the slick exterior styling suggests.
Kids and pets preferring to peer out might hate it, so try before you buy.
Strangely for a small SUV, this is better suited to taller passengers who should have better visibility.
Literally and metaphorically, it’s a much merrier outlook up front.
Really comfy front seats that hold you in good and tight, ahead of what is probably Toyota’s best contemporary dashboard, make this a pleasant and inviting place to be.
All the basics are sorted – ample forward vision, sufficient ventilation (featuring excellent premium-feeling switchgear), a lovely steering wheel (with tilt and telescopic column), clear and concise instrumentation and lots of storage reflect the company’s experience in making functional and practical interiors.
Except for the unnecessarily fiddly central touchscreen with low-fi graphics that would disgrace a HiAce van, the solid, beautifully crafted ambience suggests nothing less than a Lexus.
Yet what isn’t instantly ascertainable from photographs is just how low-slung and sporty the driving position is combined with that coupe-like roofline, you could be deluded in thinking the C-HR is a modern-day Celica on stilts. That there is all that space shows how cleverly packaged this small SUV is.
About the only area where the Toyota trails its boxier competitors such as the Suzuki Vitara and Honda HR-V is in cargo capacity – 377 litres worth, which is somewhat less than what the aforementioned offer (but 113L better than the CX-3’s).
The boot floor is flat and aided by split/fold backrests, of course, but also shallow as well.
Engine and transmission
Toyota’s first modern mainstream petrol-turbo application for Australia, the 85kW/185Nm 1.2-litre direct-injection variable valve timing four-cylinder engine seems a bit on the weedy side compared to the gutsy 109kW/192Nm 2.0-litre atmo engine in the (100kg-plus lighter) CX-3, but it isn’t really lacking on the road.
Using an Atkinson rather than Otto combustion cycle (where the intake valves are held open for a portion of the compression stroke) for improved low-load performance, the C-HR needs a fair amount of throttle, but the turbo kicks in early and seamlessly, while the gearing is well-matched for fairly spirited off-the-line acceleration.
If you’re in a rush, and keep that right foot planted, there’s a decent amount of mid-range punch also on offer, with the motor seeming to thrive on revs to keep things moving along quickly as speeds rise.
For the type of driving that most compact SUVs encounter, there’s enough oomph available, surprisingly enough.
Matched to the six-speed manual gearbox is no burden either, since the shift quality is both swift and slick, adding to the sweet, smooth and sporty nature of the Toyota’s powertrain.
We’ve driven several continuously-variable transmission (CVT) auto versions as well, and while the latter is one of the better varieties, the three-pedal C-HR is the pick.
It’s also commendably economical, returning under 7.5 litres per 100km in our wide-ranging testing conditions, vindicating the company’s decision to downsize some of its powertrains.
This combination certainly works in the spirited and lively C-HR.
Ride and handling
The sporty feel continues in the C-HR’s dynamic make-up, thanks in part to a low centre of gravity, with the engine slung slightly behind the front axle, as well as a double wishbone rear suspension set-up, which is a change from the normal torsion beam arrangement.
Armed with an unexpectedly quick yet weighty steering tune, Toyota’s smallest SUV is also the brand’s most involving and interactive, offering agile and secure handling as well as a welcome level of feedback across a wide variety of situations.
Despite being a jacked-up front-drive crossover, the base C-HR’s ability to string together corners quickly and confidently reveals just how driver-orientated the boffins who developed it are. What a revelation!Planted roadholding, impressive bump absorption, contained body control and strong brakes further underline a sophistication that we simply weren’t prepared for in such a style-driven machine, further endearing this particular Toyota to us.
The engineers have clearly modulated the suspension and the seats to optimise occupant comfort. If only the existing RAV4 displayed such dynamic prowess! About our only complaint are the occasionally obtrusive levels of road and/or tyre noise evident out on the open highway, particularly obvious over our coarse-chip bitumen. However, and again, it isn’t as bad as some (hello CX-3).
For a change, and to paraphrase a risible ‘80s Hollywood blockbuster, the C-HR’s chassis is cashing in cheques that the design is writing!Safety and servicing
The C-HR scored a five-star ANCAP crash-test rating in March 2017, partly due to its range-wide driver-assist safety systems such as AEB specified as standard equipment.
Toyota’s three-year/100,000km warranty is now out of step with most of its similarly priced competitors, though the brand’s products are acknowledged as among the world’s best for reliability.
The C-HR is offered with a five-year published-price servicing regime on all regular maintenance items, capped to $195 each.
Intervals are at every 12 months or 15,000km – longer than the company’s regular fare.
Who’d have guessed that Toyota’s most interesting car in years – after the brilliant 86 that remains a minor masterpiece – is a small SUV.
After generations of increasingly mediocre RAV4s, that’s astonishing.
Yes, the C-HR isn’t perfect, with limited vision and hefty entry pricing, but the compact crossover from Japan remains excellent value, with the looks, driveability and packaging to place amongst the segment leaders.
It deserves to be a smash hit.
Peugeot 2008 Active from $25,490 before on-roadsHugely underrated, the light, agile and efficient 2008 from France is a brilliant small SUV, offering leading space, versatility, comfort and refinement. The recent facelift’s 1.2-litre three-pot turbo/six-speed auto combo has also transformed the driving is a belter.
Mazda CX-3 sTouring from $26,990 before on-roadsThe CX-3’s popularity is based on sassy design inside and out, a sporty chassis and plenty of grunt. Rear legroom and cargo space are tight, and there’s road noise aplenty, but the Mazda represents compelling value anyway.
Renault Captur Expression from $23,500 before on-roadsAnother unfairly ignored Frenchy, the Clio-based Captur deserves a bigger audience due to its great design, comfy ride, entertaining dynamics, revvy 1.0-litre turbo triple/manual combo, versatile interior and long warranty. A bit more power would be appreciated though.
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