There is absolutely no doubt that the Toyota C-HR instantly polarises people. Upon seeing it in a TV commercial, this tester’s offspring dubbed it the ugliest car she had ever seen. When the test version arrived for testing, she was forced to admit it looked better in the metal than on the screen. This car certainly breaks the mould of typical Toyota fare.
Over the last few years, the compact crossover segment has exploded in popularity around the globe. The Nissan Qashqai started the ball rolling a decade ago and now almost every manufacturer is trying to cash in, resulting in a very crowded marketplace. The C-HR is also up against quality opposition like the Renault Kadjar, SEAT Ateca, Peugeot 3008 and Volkswagen Tiguan.
So it may be late to the party, but the C-HR has certainly made a spectacular entrance. According to Toyota, this is a car that illustrates the aim of head man Akio Toyota’s determination to take the shackles off his designers – “to allow greater stylistic freedom and promote creative engineering to deliver eye-catching designs and more driving pleasure.” The nose is dominated by a bold V shape sweeping to the centre point of the grille. The rear is no less distinctive, with a rear screen so raked it is almost horizontal. With its riot of angles and creases, the C-HR certainly makes a head-turning statement.
However, visuals are but one element of a successful model – once we start delving into the practicalities, how does the C-HR stack up against its ever more plentiful opposition? Pretty well, mostly…
Buying and owning a Toyota C-HR
Toyota will have no worries about sliding diesel sales where its new crossover is concerned, because you can’t have a diesel in the C-HR. The choice is between the 1.2-litre turbo petrol engine of 114hp, or the hybrid. This combines a 1.8-litre petrol unit with an electric motor to produce a combined 120hp.
Toyota is, of course, an evangelist for such systems, and the one in the C-HR offers all the advantages of the brand’s many years’ experience with the technology. The battery is more dense in its energy storage, which means it can be reduced in size and will charge faster. The electric motors are smaller but more efficient. Even the petrol engine part of the equation has been significantly re-engineered to work better with the electric motor.
Every C-HR comes with Toyota’s comprehensive ‘Safety Sense’ package of active safety systems. Autonomous emergency braking and pedestrian recognition, Lane Departure Warning, Traffic Sign Recognition and Automatic High Beam headlight operation are all part of the package. Euro NCAP awarded the C-HR five stars earlier this year, with an outstanding set of scores.
The C-HR comes in a choice of three specifications, all of which offer good levels of equipment. The entry-level Icon spec starts at £23,685 for the hybrid model, and includes 17-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone air conditioning, touchscreen multimedia system and rain-sensing wipers.
Mid level is Excel, and the most popular. The seats are part-leather and the front ones are heated. Satnav, keyless entry and parking sensors with parking assistance are included, as are larger alloys and extra safety systems such as a blind-spot monitor and measures to stop one reversing into a passing car. Finally, the Dynamic grade gains metallic paint with a contrasting black roof, LED headlamps and bespoke alloy and upholstery designs, although the price tag is now up over £28,000.
Running costs are also very competitive, largely thanks to the hybrid system. Fuel economy is impressive, and road tax is cheaper than its petrol or diesel rivals. Insurance should be reasonable as well.
Inside the Toyota C-HR
Slip behind the driver’s seat and things are immediately impressive. The design is another new departure for Toyota, dubbed ‘Sensual Tech’, and designed to appeal for its fashionable look as much as its functionality. It feels airy and spacious, thanks to a combination of excellent design and top-notch quality.
The dash fascia sweeps around the driver, the infotainment screen flows vertically out of it, and there are lots of creditable details, from the family look of all the switchgear to the shape of the cupholders.
It also all feels premium – piano black finishes in abundance, soft-touch quality plastics, and on our admittedly top-spec model bespoke fabrics on the upholstery.
Look over your shoulder, however, and you realise that the rear windscreen is an example of form over function. It’s very small in the mirror and visibility out of the back is compromised as a result. Equally, the tiddly rear side windows make sitting in the back an overly cosy experience, although head and legroom are a little more generous than one might expect.
One other area where style has compromised practicality is the boot. The 377 litres, (extending to 1,160 with the rear seats folded) is adequate, but around 100 litres less than major rivals. And this can’t be blamed on the hybrid power system, which doesn’t intrude into the load space like on many other hybrid vehicles.
Driving the Toyota C-HR
The C-HR is the second model – after the Prius – to be constructed on Toyota’s latest modular platform, dubbed TNGA, Toyota New Global Architecture. This won’t mean much to many drivers until they actually take the car onto the road.
The C-HR handles very well indeed, and certainly belies its high-riding crossover stance. Toyota has worked hard to keep the centre of gravity as low as possible, and the result is a planted stance and a well-controlled, upright poise through corners. The steering is well weighted, providing plenty of confidence-inducing feedback, while the ride comfort is exemplary, relaxing on motorways, soaking up the bumps on poor condition surfaces and damping them out of the cabin.
Cruise around town, or gently along the motorway, and the car feels refined and a relaxing drive. Accelerate to overtake that slower car, however, and the petrol engine makes its presence audibly much felt, while the CVT gearbox feeds in loads of revs before changing up. All of which results in the interior ambience becoming thrashy and anything but refined.Not quite so impressive, sadly, is the powertrain. It almost bullies you in driving it as economically as possible, and even then very little of your progress will be in full-electric mode – the engine wakes up very soon after one depresses the accelerator pedal.
The answer is to treat everything gently, not to try to be sporty. In such form, the C-HR is an upmarket companion. The three drive modes include Eco and Sport settings alongside the Normal, but in truth, it’s that middle mode that offers the best balance between propulsion and thrash metal.
One other plus from the gentle touch – one gets the feelgood factor of seeing the impressive fuel economy figures on the infotainment screen. Officially the car returns 72mpg, but hovering close to 60mpg in real-world motoring is still impressive.
The Toyota C-HR has its minus points – some space restrictions and a performance that doesn’t quite match up to the sporty image of its coupé styling.
However, it also achieves the aim of its creators. This is a crossover that exudes style amongst many more ordinary-looking rivals, and it also ticks the boxes of quality and (mostly) practicality. Overall it’s an impressive contender.