Car reviews - Toyota - C-HR - range
Frugal hybrid engine, upgraded infotainment system, solid dynamics, low-down torque from turbo-petrol powertrain
Room for improvement
Hybrid only available on Koba grade, quirky interior already looking dated, limited interior space, thirsty petrol engine
Toyota broadens appeal of C-HR small SUV with addition of hybrid powertrain
6 Dec 2019
TOYOTA was late to the party when it entered the small SUV class in February 2017 with the funky C-HR, which despite a limited variant range has managed to carve out a tidy niche with a 7.7 per cent segment share in 2019.
Nearly three years on, Toyota’s compact crossover has received its first mid-life update which brings hybrid power to the range, making the C-HR the eighth model in Toyota’s line-up to score the frugal self-charging mill.
Toyota Australia says it is not chasing segment heavyweights like the Mitsubishi ASX and Mazda CX-3 for sales volume, but will the addition of the hybrid variant with some other spec updates help the C-HR increase its popularity further?
First drive impressions
While many manufacturers offer a broad range of variants in their small SUV line-ups to capitalise on the burgeoning popularity of the segment, Toyota has instead opted for a simple, streamlined offering with the C-HR, with only two trim levels – base C-HR and flagship Koba – and only two engine choices, consisting of a carryover 1.2-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder across the range and the aforementioned hybrid which is exclusive to the Koba.
Equipping the hybrid, which is available in a front-drive configuration only, commands a $2500 premium over its petrol counterpart, which is not insignificant given the C-HR plays in a value-focused segment.
Whether the extra cost of the hybrid is justified is subjective, however we can say that the new powertrain is the pick of the two, and it is a shame that only the Koba grade is available with the fuel-saving technology.
Using the same engine found in the Corolla small car, the C-HR’s hybrid teams a 1.8-litre Atkinson-cycle petrol four-cylinder engine developing 72kW/142Nm with an electric motor producing 53kW/162Nm for a combined total output of 90kW.
Exclusively driving the front wheels via a continuously variable transmission, the hybrid’s official combined fuel consumption is rated at 4.3 litres per 100km – 0.8L/100km more than the Corolla – with CO2 emissions at 97 grams per kilometre.
Toyota’s self-charging hybrid system works well with the engine and regenerative braking operates smartly in tandem to charge the electric motor, which does the bulk of the work at low speeds and when coasting to help reduce its thirst.
While by no means sharp off the line, the electric motor also provides a welcome dose of torque when travelling at speed that gives the hybrid a sharper throttle response than would be possible with only an aspirated petrol engine.
While great for saving fuel around town, the hybrid is less effective on long, open stretches where the electric motor has less opportunity to regenerate, meaning those living in the country and regularly commuting long distances won’t necessarily see a huge drop in fuel use when purchasing a hybrid.
With a decent chunk of high-speed motorways on our drive route on Melbourne’s outskirts, we recorded a combined fuel consumption of 5.6L/100km, a wider margin on the official figure compared to the Corolla sedan hybrid, which we drove the day prior in more varied road conditions.
The other engine option is the unchanged 1.2-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder mill producing 85kW/185Nm, driving either the front or all four wheels via a CVT.
While not as punchy as the 125kW/200Nm 2.0-litre aspirated engine in the Corolla, the little turbo-petrol is well suited to around-town driving, with the 185Nm on tap from 1500rpm meaning high-revving, thrashy engine noise is rarely a problem.
We are not usually fans of CVTs, particularly when teamed to turbocharged engines, and while we would prefer a traditionally geared auto in the C-HR, its transmission is largely inoffensive and shifts well.
Unsurprisingly, where the petrol clearly loses out to the hybrid is with fuel efficiency, with our recorded figure of around 8.5L/100km falling short of its official figure of 6.4-6.5L/100km, depending on whether front or all-paw traction is on offer.
With this in mind, we would have preferred for Toyota to offer the hybrid on the base C-HR, which would still see it priced below the most affordable Koba.
The C-HR rides on Toyota’s TNGA modular platform shared by other vehicles including the Corolla, Camry and RAV4, which lends itself to a composed and tight on-road feel, good for urban driving conditions.
Having driven the new Corolla sedan the day prior, the C-HR can’t quite match the dynamic ability of the newer small sedan, with its increased ride height leading to a less planted feeling around corners.
Ride comfort is good for a car of its diminutive stature, generally riding well over road imperfections. Noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels could be better, however it is worth remembering the C-HR is one of Toyota’s more affordable models.
The C-HR is one of the smaller offerings in the segment, and stepping into the cabin its limited interior space is evident.
Headroom and legroom for front passengers is comfortable, however full-size rear occupants will struggle to find a comfortable position.
For young families looking at the C-HR, the Corolla sedan is arguably the better option with greater rear legroom and boot space, at 470L versus the C-HR’s 377L stowage.
With more and more manufacturers launching larger SUVs that straddle the small and mid-size categories – Mazda’s forthcoming CX-30 a case in point – there is a gap in Toyota’s comprehensive product portfolio that could be filled.
The new 8.0-inch touchscreen introduced in the update is a huge step up in quality over the old 6.1-inch unit, and Toyota’s latest infotainment system, while not the best in the industry for useability, is still far better than its predecessor for ergonomics and clarity.
As for the rest of the cabin, the C-HR fails to dazzle with plentiful black plastics, cheap-looking and angular air-conditioning cluster and a droopy-looking steering wheel. A light nip-and-tuck for the interior would have been a welcome addition to the updated small SUV.
Toyota hasn’t tried to overhaul the updated C-HR, but rather has improved some areas that needed it. The addition of the new 8.0-inch infotainment brings it up to spec with its main rivals, and the hybrid powertrain gives the range some much-needed engine choice.
Will the updates give the C-HR the ability to contest with the volume leaders in the segment? Probably not, but it should help contribute to the Japanese giant’s continued domination of the Australian new-car sales market overall.
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Model release date: 1 December 2019
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