Not a Toyota as we know it.
When venerable Japanese manufacturer Toyota rolled out its C-HR, the world was surprised to say the least. It seemed as if its luxury arm, Lexus, had made a concept car and then Toyota had mistakenly unveiled it. The C-HR’s striking looks, bold colour options and smart turbocharged drivetrain made it an instant hit, with markets around the world demanding that it arrive yesterday.
Now that its been on sale a few months, and the dust has settled, the C-HR is making its mark known in our market, with strong demand leading to not-inconsiderable waiting times for the smart crossover. It’s a latecomer to the market to say the least, with cars like the Nissan Juke, Honda HR-V and Citroen C4 Cactus all making their presence felt far earlier, though you could say that Toyota’s made up for that delay by arriving with a (huge) bang.
Available in our market in 2 trim lines, one engine, and two drivetrain choices, the C-HR has a surprisingly wide appeal that the annual 6,000 allocation (for 2017) isn’t quite enough to satisfy our appetites. So will the C-HR have the competition in a twist?
“This level of X-factor comes with some very vocal critics.” — Motoring
The compact crossover market is very receptive to bold, adventurous designs, and the C-HR’s striking design is likely one of the biggest contributing factors to its success. Even before we knew what was going to be under the bonnet, there was huge demand for the smart crossover here, so much so that the annual allocation for the car from Japan wasn’t nearly enough to satisfy demand.
Looking at the front, you have a face that certainly divides opinion, with some quarters suggesting it looks far to aggressive for its own good, while others feel that its aggression is part of its appeal. the side of the C-HR has such complex surface play that it beggars belief (and it looks best in a metallic finish), while the rear could have you wondering if someone’s put a Honda Civic on stilts.
This car looks dynamic and futuristic even standing still. While there are some parties who think the design could have been done better, we entirely disagree. This is one sharp looking motor.
Engine & Drivetrain
“Under the bonnet is a 1.2-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine and this is the first time we’ve seen this engine used in a Toyota here in Australia.” — Practical Motoring
Standard across the range is the petrol mill up front, a 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol mill, that produces a pretty decent 85kW and 185Nm. While those numbers would sound strong in a smaller hatchback or a microcar, in the rather heavy C-HR, it’s only about adequate. It does still have that great wave of torque that comes in at just 1,500rpm, which the CVT automatic gearbox really capitalises on.
Yes, there’s a CVT automatic for the C-HR, though there’s also a row-your-own 6-speed manual in the base-model 2WD car. And yes, there are options for where you’d like to send the power, as all-wheel drive is available for a small fee. And while all-wheel drive sounds great in theory, it’s a consideration that ought to be weighed up quite a bit, as most will likely be adequately serviced by the front-wheel drive on more affordable models.
“Toyota has targeted European buyers with the C-HR and, inside, it shows. The wedgy exterior styling might divide opinion, with perspectives ranging from funky and cool, to overdesigned and contrived. But surely this beats typical-Toyota vanilla.” — The Motor Report
If you somehow missed the exuberant exterior, the you’ll notice the equally extroverted interior. While certain elements may seem familiar (like the digital clock on the dash that was likely first seen sometime in the 80s), the cabin of the C-HR is a delightfully refreshing experience, with a futuristic design language that we haven’t seen that often outside of a concept car. The interior practically screams Lexus in its exuberance and expression, with soft-touch materials to be found everywhere, as well as interesting diamond-shaped design elements on the roof, and the door trims.
All the controls feel wonderfully damped and well-engineered, as typical of a modern Toyota, and the centre stack is finished in an interesting metallic black hue that complements the overall design language. There’s leather on the steering wheel, adding to that plush sensation, though the small 6.1-inch infotainment screen detracts slightly from the overall experience. It’s reasonably snappy to use, though it’s annoying that there’s no smartphone mirroring available.
The rear of the car is surprisingly spacious, with plenty of room for two adults, but not three. The seats are supportive and comfortable, but design of the C-HR doesn’t do much for outward visibility. We’re not sure if we’ve ever seen a rear three-quarter view so restrictive on a mainstream passenger car before. Thankfully the boot is more accommodating than most hatchbacks, at a full 377-litres with the seats up.
Behind the Wheel
“While it doesn't set the new dynamic benchmark in this class it is a nice compact SUV to drive.” — Drive
The Le— sorry, the Toyota C-HR continues to impress out on the road though, with a touch more dynamism than we’re used to seeing from the Japanese marque. Engineers said that the C-HR was actually designed a decade ago or so, but they waited until the ‘Toyota New Global Architecture’ platform was fully developed as so that the C-HR could enjoy the agility and athleticism expected that the exterior design leads you expect.
To an extent, they’ve delivered on that. The drive is certainly more involving than something like a Honda HR-V, though not quite as focused as the Mazda CX-3. That’s sort of a good thing though, as it has the best of both worlds. Ride quality is great and it feels cosseting to drive (like the Honda), but it offers great body control and positive feedback through the steering wheel (like the Mazda). It’s like Toyota’s managed to take the compromises on either side of the fence and nullify them entirely, which we’re sure will be rather endearing to those who might want the strengths of either car.
Another area where the C-HR excels is in terms of refinement. It’s surprisingly quiet, even at speed, with urban progress settled with little fuss. The only gripe on the open road comes from the CVT gearbox, which is a little bit slow to react, though hardly a deal breaker. Thankfully the characteristic whine you get from belt-transmissions of this kind are almost impossible to hear thanks to loads of sound dampening, further strengthening the C-HR’s appeal as a cruiser.
Safety & Technology
“[The C-HR has] a comprehensive safety package, and you get the whole package no matter which version you choose.” — WhichCar
Some gripe that the C-HR’s base asking price is a little dear, though we think that it justifies its premium with the amount of active safety tea on offer. There are a bevy of airbags scattered around the place (including curtain airbags), as well as plenty of crash-avoidance kit like autonomous emergency braking, forward collision warning, lane-departure alert, rear cross-traffic alert, and blind-spot monitoring. This safety suite contributed greatly to the C-HR’s 5-star ANCAP rating, something that will contribute to general peace of mind when you’re behind the wheel.
Because the C-HR is fairly well specced throughout the range, there aren’t too many options to tack on insofar as tech is concerned. All cars get all-round parking sensors and a reverse camera (a necessity, given the view out the rear), a six-speaker audio system, dual-zone climate control, automatic wipers, high-beam assistance, heated exterior mirrors with lock-fold function, hill-start assist, adaptive cruise control, and an electric parking brake.
When the C-HR first came to light, we were surprised by the way it appealed to both the heart and the mind in equal measure, ensuring that all buyers would find something to like no matter if they focus on practicality or driver involvement. Its ability to cater to both want and need, with only a few compromises in either regard, meant that it won over a ton of fans when it arrived, and will likely continue to do so going forward.
What the C-HR has also done is show Toyota that taking a calculated risk can sometimes lead to enormous rewards, like the demand for the flashy crossover that has rather swiftly outdone market allocation.
Yes, it’s a little pricey, but once again it justifies its premium by offering impressive and comprehensive kit on all variants, from base manual front-wheel drive cars all the way up to the all-wheel drive Koba spec, meaning the steps upward depend entirely on how flashy you want your compact crossover to be.
Admittedly, competitors like the Honda HR-V offer more practicality, and the Mazda CX-3 more driver involvement, but the Toyota C-HR slots itself neatly in between. We have no doubt that all but the most demanding buyers will find great joy with their sharply-styled crossover, no matter where in the range they go.
Motoring – 88/100 – “Don’t be put offside by the wacky design of the Toyota CH-R because this newcomer will win you over with plenty of available customization, a surprisingly good chassis and a comprehensive buffet of technology. Just be sure to let backseat passengers out for air occasionally (it’s cramped in there) and be warned – this level of X-factor comes with some very vocal critics.”
CarAdvice – 8.0/10 – “There's no doubt about it, the C-HR is a very welcome addition to the small crossover class. The looks will polarise, the infotainment is average and the engine is eager but needs a little extra poke, yet the well-equipped, edgy and comfortable Toyota brings a lot to the table we like. Do what we’d do: Buy the base car, choose some nicer alloys, and save a few grand.”
Drive – 7.5/10 – “Beneath the C-HR’s daring exterior lies a true Toyota. It doesn’t excel in any particular area, but scores consistently across the board. It’s well packaged, offers good value, is economical, and genuinely nice to drive. The C-HR has all the ingredients it needs to shake-up the established order in the baby SUV market.”
WhichCar – 4.0/5.0 – “The distinctively styled C-HR is big inside for a small SUV, and you can get it in several bright colours. This new baby SUV – the first from Toyota – is good to drive and comfortable to ride in, and it does not use much fuel. Two-zone air-conditioning, auto cruise-control and auto braking are standard.”
CarsGuide – 7.3/10 – “Sharply styled, engaging to drive and stacked with safety kit, the C-HR will be a tempting proposition for small SUV buyers in Australia. Personally, though, we'd be holding on for a more powerful engine, but if your life is lived in the city, that's unlikely to bother you much.”
The Motor Report – 4.5/5.0 – “Five year ago, Toyota delivered the 86 sports car to global acclaim, but in the context of its small SUV rivals, the C-HR is perhaps an even greater leap forward. It has its priorities sorted more than with any other small SUV. Then comes the masterstroke, because while this vehicle also feels semi-premium inside, comes flush with kit, yet asks no ‘SUV premium’ over its hatch rivals. We cannot recommend the C-HR highly enough.”
Practical Motoring – 4.0/5.0 – “The Toyota C-HR is a funky-looking little crossover that offers good standard safety features and excellent ride and handling. It's not as practical as some of its key competitors, but it's better to drive.”