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Car reviews - Toyota - C-HR - Koba 4WD

Our Opinion

We like
Addresses many Toyota tech gripes, genuinely engaging to drive, surprisingly spacious, strong on standard safety and driver aids
Room for improvement
Does not address all Toyota tech gripes, CVT blunts turbo character, disappointing touchscreen

Gallery

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Toyota logo29 Jun 2017

By HAITHAM RAZAGUI

Price and equipment

FORGET the name and looks, this car is quite unlike most Toyotas on the basis of its long standard equipment list.

Headlining this list is a raft of safety and driver assistance technology that is standard from base spec ($26,990 plus on-road costs for the manual front-drive C-HR).

It comprises adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure warning with steering assistance, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, a reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, rain-sensing wipers, trailer sway control and a hill-holder.

Also included is satellite navigation with live SUNA traffic information, hazard alert and unsealed/4WD track routing, accessed via the 6.1-inch touchscreen that also provides Bluetooth and USB connectivity including app-based Toyota Link connectivity services such as a petrol station finder, local business search, weather updates, Pandora Internet radio and more.

Sound is piped through six speakers and there is an AM/FM radio with CD player for non-millennial buyers.

The list goes on with dual-zone climate control with Nano-e air purification and humidification technology, electrically folding door mirrors with C-HR logo projection puddle lights, a self-dimming interior mirror, alloy wheels LED daytime running lights and LED foglights. And we are still talking about the base model.

Our test vehicle was the $35,290 (plus on-road costs) top-spec Koba AWD, named after the model’s global chief engineer, Hiroyuki Koba. We take it he wasn’t the one visiting human resources.

Its automatic transmission and all-wheel-drive system are available as options on the base car for $2000 apiece, while a front-drive Koba is also available for $2000 less than our test car.

Going for the Koba adds leather upholstery, heated front seats with electric lumbar adjustment, 18-inch alloy wheels (up from 17-inch), keyless entry and start, rear privacy glass, illuminated vanity mirrors, ambient lighting, LED headlights and tail-lights.

Koba is also where customers can access custom contrast paint options, with either a white or black roof costing $450 to offset the Electric Teal, Hornet Yellow and Tidal Blue body colours.

Ours was painted in Shadow Platinum (metallic dark grey). Other shades comprise Crystal Pearl (white), Bionic Bronze (brown), Ink (black) and Atomic Rush (red).

Further customisations are available as dealer-fit accessories including grille and foglight surrounds, side steps, wheel centre caps, boot trims, mirror covers and stick-on stripes.

Interior

The CH-R cabin represents a significant step up for Toyota, particularly at this end of the size spectrum. It genuinely feels pretty swish inside, without being so jarringly over-stylised as the angular exterior.

A sense of quality and class is all-pervading, bridging the gap between regular Toyota fare and its upmarket Lexus brand. The vast majority of contact surfaces comprise soft-touch plastics, real leather or convincing imitation leather, interestingly and pleasantly textured finishes or convincing piano black.

Well-chosen colour combinations tie it all together, as do consistent control weights and tactile switchgear.

So, like most other aspects of this car, the interior looks and feels distinctly un-Toyota. Also like those other aspects, it is change for the better, but some of the technology is plagued with glaring oversights that are so typically Toyota that we cringed in despair – especially given the obvious opportunity to improve presented by this all-new car and its next-generation underpinnings.

Rejoice! A Toyota with a digital speedometer! However, even with the stylish new full-colour multi-function display between the instrument dials, the usual Toyota trip computer bugbears remain such as its inability to combine complimentary data types and the fact the display gets hijacked by the adaptive cruise control informing the driver it has detected a car in front.

Had Toyota improved its adaptive cruise control system to prevent the vehicles to which it is fitted from speeding up down hills, this would be less of a problem in speed-intolerant Australia. The system can obviously apply the brakes to match the speed of traffic in front, so why not do the same when the road speed is clearly exceeding that selected by the driver?While whingeing about the trip computer, access to the C-HR’s three driving modes is buried in a sub-menu of this system. It means that if a compelling stretch of twisty road appears on the horizon, it’s safer to pull over and shuffle through the various screens in order to select sport mode. Most Toyotas have a button for this located sensibly near the gear selector, so this is one un-Toyota trait we’d rather live without.

Also, considering the overt youth appeal of this car, the high-set 6.1-inch touchscreen multimedia system is disappointingly small, dated and poorly integrated with its surroundings. We cannot publish what we said out loud upon realising the only USB port in the entire C-HR cabin is behind a flap on the front of this unit. To be polite, this solution is fiddly, unsightly and frankly unacceptable in 2017.

Even a base model Yaris has the USB port more conveniently located and the Corolla has a larger touchscreen better integrated with the dash than that of the C-HR. It is as though Toyota had a change of heart, or decided to cut costs at the last minute. Either way, it’s a serious fail and plain weird considering the otherwise commendable execution of this vehicle.

The news gets better from here, we promise.

Considering the exterior dimensions and the visual impression that style has sacrificed space, the C-HR cabin is roomier than expected.

That is, unless you want to install a rear-facing infant seat in the back, in which case the passenger in front of one of these bulky devices must be no taller than 160cm or they simply will not fit due to the bulging shape of the curvaceous dashboard that feels like an invasion of personal space even without the aforementioned child restraint installed and the front passenger seat positioned further back.

Switching to the driver’s side, even with the front seat positioned for your 188cm tall correspondent there were a couple of centimetres of available knee-room for an equally lofty person sitting in the row behind. The domed ceiling provided ample headroom, too, and we found it quite comfortable to rest our temple against the padded flat sides of he headlining above the doors.

However, this all meant we were peering down at the road surface through the tiny upswept side windows, which combined with the gigantic C-pillars to provide our rear-facing infant passenger with zero view of the outside world.

Similarly, reverse parking would be pure guesswork if Toyota had not fitted the excellent rear camera and sensors.

We get it, though, these are the sacrifices one makes for style and in our week-long experience of the C-HR the sacrifices were minor – provided the only children carried are those who have outgrown rear-facing restraints. On the subject of youngsters, in the C-HR Isofix anchorages are present and correct, as are logically located top tethers.

Seat comfort all round is excellent, save for the central rear position that is really only suitable for short trips. And we can live with that considering the C-HR’s size.

Perfectly sized drinks holders in the centre console borrow from the larger RAV4 in that they can accommodate mug handles. One of them is also adjustable for depth and both could take a 750ml water canteen. The narrow door bins can also hold drinks bottles but are a little obstructive for vessels larger than around 600ml.

Rear passengers only get map pockets as they lack door bins, but the armrests on their doors have built-in drinks holders. A great solution, especially given the lack of a central armrest that in most cars is used to stow cup carriers.

A flush-fitting, almost hidden button releases the damped-action glovebox lid to reveal a reasonably spacious but not massive storage compartment. Beneath the central armrest is another bin of usefully large capacity and tucked beneath the dashboard’s central stack is a tray that will snugly accommodate an iPhone SE, but larger phones would not fit and even the compact SE does not fit properly while its plugged in. That’s a shame, as is the lack of sunglasses holder.

The 377-litre boot is quite shallow but presents a flat, well-shaped load area that is flush with the tailgate opening to ease the insertion of bulky objects.

It also contains a pair of rather flimsy but useful polystyrene wells behind the wheelarches for storing shoes and other small items. Beneath the boot floor is a space-saver spare wheel and some more polystyrene storage boxes.

Folding the 60:40 split rear bench is easy and extends the flat boot floor without creating any steps to hinder the loading of longer pieces of cargo and provide a total space of 1112L. So the C-HR is of similar practicality to a small hatchback such as a Volkswagen Golf that provides 380L of seats-up cargo capacity and 1270L with them folded.

The dual-zone climate control is simple to operate and like the best systems usually found on luxury cars, can be left to its own devices in auto mode without blowing a gale or unexpectedly delivering uncomfortable airflow temperatures.

Addressing the fact air-conditioning can have an unpleasant drying effect on the skin, eyes and hair of occupants by including the ‘nano-e’ air humidification and ionisation system that debuted on Lexus a few years ago is a thoughtful touch.

On the move, we found the C-HR cabin to be pleasantly quiet and we were rarely assaulted by unpleasant road, engine or wind noise. Even on the louder coarse-chip bitumen surfaces of our road-test route that can be the undoing of even some luxury cars, the CH-R’s tyre roar was suppressed enough to not be exhaustingly intrusive.

Despite our technological bugbears, we found the C-HR cabin remarkably easy to live with.

Engine and transmission

A new 1.2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine with direct injection and an air-to-liquid charge-cooler to ensure the force-fed intake air never gets too hot powers all C-HR variants. It requires 95 RON premium unleaded fuel and complies with Euro 6 emissions requirements far stricter than the Euro 5 standard that applies in Australia.

Maximising the efficiency benefits of this engine’s small size is the ability to run on the more efficient Atkinson cycle under light operating loads. Our car was also fitted with the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), designed to keep the engine operating in its efficiency sweet spot. The C-HR, then, is clean and green.

Its modest peak power output of 85kW is developed at 5600rpm, with 185Nm of torque available between 1500 and 4000rpm. For comparison the 1.8-litre non-turbo petrol engine of a Corolla hatch generates 103kW and 173Nm, in a car that weighs just 1310kg in its heaviest form.

Despite weighing significantly more than the Corolla at 1510kg, our top-spec, all-wheel-drive, automatic C-HR rarely felt under-engined or strained with its driveline setup, although care had to be taken to maintain momentum along twisty, hilly roads – a challenge we enjoyed.

Apart from the occasional whoosh and whistle of the turbo, the linearity of the C-HR’s engine meant it rarely felt turbocharged, or indeed characterful. This effect was compounded by the CVT that irons out any lumps in the power delivery.

Seemingly detecting driving style or situation, the CVT either lets engine revs flare or holds a ratio like a traditional stepped automatic (in fact it can simulate seven distinct ratios). In the latter scenario the turbo torque can be felt pulling the car along more acutely but it’s rare.

Manual mode automatically up-changes at high revs and shifts between the seven virtual ratios are rather soft. We also found its insistence of selecting fourth gear around 100km/h despite having revs to spare annoying on our dynamic test route, which consists of twisty roads with a 100km/h speed limit. Keeping it on the boil was a challenge.

Overall, we never felt this transmission was all that well suited to the engine or general personality of the C-HR. Considering the big ‘turbo’ badges on its flanks, we had hoped to feel more of that forced induction surge.

But for non-enthusiasts, the refinement and smoothness of the drivetrain will be what counts most, and Toyota has certainly delivered on that front.

Has it delivered on the efficiency promise too? Well, we didn’t match the official combined-cycle fuel consumption figure of 6.5 litres per 100 kilometres during our week of real-world usage and rigorous road testing.

The C-HR returned 7.6L/100km in these conditions, but we got much closer to the official highway figure of 5.6L/100km during a 90-minute motorway stint, with 5.9L/100km achieved.

All in all, not bad for a brand that hasn’t sold a turbo-petrol production car in Australia since the 1990s. Welcome back to turbo town, Toyota.

Ride and handling

This is where the C-HR impressed us the most, mainly thanks to Toyota’s new TNGA (GA-C) platform, which debuted on the surprisingly agile new Prius last year. More geek speak: It has a double-wishbone rear suspension layout and steel ball joints. That’s performance car stuff, as is the torque vectoring system applied to all-wheel-drive variants such at the one tested here.

Marketing folk at Toyota describe the benefits of all this as providing a “crisp driving experience while maintaining high levels of ride quality”.

Our translation: The C-HR is most definitely a fun driver’s car, but don’t be put off because the ride comfort is of a high standard when you aren’t fanging it.

Compared with other small Toyotas that can feel a bit bouncy or otherwise lacking in suspension sophistication, the C-HR has the deeply engineered feel of a premium car. It is very well set up, meaning it can get away with riding a little firmly because it relays road feel without jarring occupants and absorbs bumps rather than riding over them.

The suspension rarely feels uncomfortably firm but is brilliantly tied down, with excellently tuned damping that does not slam or crash on big hits or get upset by mid-corner bumps, ripples or ridges. These qualities aid comfort by preventing occupants from being thrown around in bends or over poor surfaces.

Of course they also make the C-HR stable, predicable and fun when driving fast, reducing bodyroll and keeping it settled during quick direction changes. This car also happens to brake brilliantly, with rapid deceleration plus excellent feel through a pedal that is cleverly matched with the accelerator for travel and weight.

With its Bridgestone Potenza tyres, our C-HR did a great job of finding grip in the constantly changing conditions of the dynamic test, which consisted of varying quality bitumen that was either dry, scattered with damp patches where tree shade had prevented evaporation from earlier rains, or beneath dense forest where the road was still soaking wet and strewn with leaf pulp.

The steering and chassis provide a lot of feedback and it was possible to feel the torque vectoring working subtly beneath us to keep the CH-R on our chosen cornering line. The steering weight is pleasant, the action responsive and the results accurate. Front-end bite is impressive and there is a playfulness to the chassis in tighter corners that marks something of a revelation, especially from Toyota.

Another area that surprised us was the stability control tuning that was far from Toyota’s usual unsubtle intervention and tendency to over-correct the driver’s own corrective actions.

We did find ourselves leaning hard on the safety systems while encountering a particularly tight, blind downhill corner that unexpectedly went from dry to wet, prompting a sudden four-wheel drift.

The innate chassis balance, predictability and controllability plus impressive finesse from the stability control meant we, and the C-HR, quickly gathered ourselves and avoided what could have resulted in an unstoppable slide toward oncoming traffic.

Later, venturing on to gravel revealed this vehicle’s party piece, as it really was a lot of fun – to the extent that we pondered whether we would soon see a C-HR rally car. The way it drives quickly builds the confidence to explore the limits, which arrive at manageable speeds on low-grip gravel. Of course, the modest engine outputs keep everything manageable as well. Again, the stability control works with the driver rather than against them. How un-Toyota.

As mentioned, selecting the various drive modes required a laborious trek through the trip computer options. Sport mode adds a bit of weight to the steering, a slightly snappier throttle response and a more energetic transmission calibration.

But to us the C-HR felt most natural and at its best in the default normal mode, which is fitting, because the C-HR does feel natural to drive enthusiastically.

Subaru-built 86 coupe notwithstanding, it’s a long time since we could say that about a Toyota.

Safety and servicing

As mentioned in the price and equipment section, the C-HR is loaded with standard safety and driver assistance gear. It also has dual frontal, side chest, side curtain and driver’s knee airbags.

ANCAP delivered a five-star rating for the C-HR based on Euro NCAP crash test data in which the crossover attained an overall score of 33.18 out of 38 in the adult occupant protection test, with 7.62 points out of 8 awarded for its performance in the full-width frontal test and 6.91 out of 8 in the frontal offset test, a maximum 8 in both the side impact and pole tests while the whiplash protection result was 2.65 out of 3.

Another reason the C-HR breaks from the Toyota norm is with 12-month/15,000km service intervals rather than six months and 10,000km.

Under Toyota’s capped-price servicing scheme, the first five scheduled services cost $195 each when carried out within the first five years or 75,000km (correct at time of writing).

Government, rental, fleet and not-for-profit customers are not eligible for capped-price servicing and are instead offered the maximum logbook service price of $230.97 for the first visit, $411.94 for the second, $344.52 for the third, $411.94.94 for the fourth and $244.17 for the fifth.

The C-HR is covered by a three-year, 100,000km warranty.

Verdict

If the C-HR is the shape of Toyotas to come, then count us in.

Some of the brand’s odious half-arsed bean-countery still needs to find its way into the bin, but overall the C-HR is an impressive machine.

From the upmarket interior and high level of standard equipment, to the ride comfort and refinement, to the engaging dynamics and the modest fuel consumption, it continued to surprise and delight until we handed back the keys.

If Toyota applies all it has learnt with the C-HR to the next-generation Corolla, it will have a truly formidable volume-seller on its hands. All those people who abandoned the brand for being boring will come flooding back.

That is, if they haven’t all already bought a C-HR.

Rivals

Mazda CX-3 Akari AWD petrol from $35,490 plus on-road costs
Classy, elegant styling inside and out that might be a bit boring for those considering a C-HR. Lots of standard equipment in this top-spec grade, along with the tidy handling and crisp driveline that is standard range-wide. Only the small boot and tight rear quarters really count against it.

Honda HR-V VTi-L with ADAS from $34,340 plus on-road costs
Still looks striking and a bit of a value champ as well. Being based on the Jazz, the HR-V offers class-leading practicality along with a strong engine, impressive handling, and a polished interior.

Nissan Juke Ti-S AWD automatic from $33,490 plus on-road costs
Gutsy performance, all-wheel-drive traction and lots of equipment, but the interior is cheap, cramped and everything but the engine feels dated. The Juke deserves credit for being the original quirky crossover and the vehicle to which Toyota’s C-HR owes its existence.

Suzuki Vitara S Turbo 4WD from $34,990 plus on-road costs
Like the Juke and C-HR, the Vitara proves Japanese does not have to mean boring, even though it is more conventional than both those cars. It is fun to drive, and has a pleasingly punchy driveline but the low-rent interior and lack of modern safety tech and driver aids let it down.

Citroen C4 Cactus from $26,990 plus on-road costs
Wait for the petrol automatic coming to Australia in the second half of 2017.

Rides well on Australian roads, handles sweetly enough to put a smile on even a cynical road-tester’s face and provides ample space for a couple or young family to travel in comfort. Extremely and exquisitely French.

Fiat 500X Lounge from $37,000 plus on-road costs
This Fiat has questionable interior quality and iffy dynamics plus a nine-speed transmission that annoyed the hell out of us. Avoid.

Renault Captur Dynamique from $30,000 plus on-road costs
Cheap, chic and quirky with a decent – if not class-beating – drivetrain plus customisation options for many tastes. A lack of airbags for rear passengers could put off some buyers and it’s feeling old-tech compared with the Toyota.

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