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Toyota C-HR 2017 review

EXPERT RATING
8
Jack Pyefinch road test and reviews the new Toyota C-HR small SUV with price, fuel consumption and verdict at its international launch in Spain.

Jack Pyefinch road test and reviews the new Toyota C-HR small SUV with price, fuel consumption and verdict at its international launch in Spain.

The Toyota C-HR is the visual equivalent of Michael Buble releasing a profanity-riddled rap album. We all know what Toyota represents; family values, cars that sit safely in the Middle Of The Road, design that's about as edgy as a Happy 70th Birthday balloon.

Sure, Toyota has attempted to get down with the "yoof" before with the Rukus and the FJ Cruiser, but even they were basically boxy efforts that ended up being bought mainly by old folks anyway.

And yet here comes its newest creation - set to arrive on the local market in February - a sporty crossover not-quite baby SUV that's so edgy it looks like you'll cut yourself if you stand too close to it.

What exactly are they playing at? And what is a Toyota showroom going to look like with one of these parked in it?  Like Snoop Dogg at a Michael Buble concert, that's what.

Price and features

Pricing is the great unknown when it comes to the C-HR, which will arrive in Australia in February with just one choice of engine, a 1.2-litre turbocharged four cylinder (overseas markets will get a hybrid engine lifted from the Prius, and a 2.0-litre petrol engine, but no diesel, strangely).

You can bet Toyota will be aggressive with its pricing, of course, and will look to take on the similarly sized, but less visually striking, Nissan Qashqai.

The C-HR will come in two premium grades initially, and you can expect prices to start in the low $30,000s for the base model, which will offer front-wheel drive and a six-speed manual gearbox and will be bought by almost no one.

Toyota's turbo unit is pretty spry for a little guy.

Even the most basic offering, though, will come with safety features like AEB, a pre-collision system, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning with steering control and a reversing camera as standard.

More up-spec, and all-wheel-drive models, will come with a CVT gearbox and heated seats, keyless entry, privacy glass, seats with some leather bits and 18-inch alloys.

The features are certainly good, but we need to see a final price before we can adjudge the value equation.

Engine and transmissions

No one expects too much from an engine with just 1.2 litres of displacement, but Toyota's turbo unit is pretty spry for a little guy.

You get a not-startling 85kW and handy torque of 185Nm, which is all available in a nice flat plateau from 1500rpm to 4000rpm.

With the six-speed manual, which is well and truly the pick of the litter for any enthusiastic driver, you'll get a 0 to 100km/h time of 10.9 seconds, which is on the cool side of glacial. But that doesn't mean it can't be fun, because the sharp-shifting manual encourages you to drag out every ounce of power through every last rpm.

You have to give points to Toyota for being bold, and that's not a sentence we've ever written before.

Unfortunately, Toyota predicts the self-shifting option, which is only available with FWD, will be taken up by around 5 per cent of buyers, or less, which means most people will opt for the CVT.

While this gearbox resorts to moaning and droning like a metallic old man if you ask too much of it, it's smooth and swift enough for the kind of driving most owners will do.

It does have a Sport mode, but it doesn't come with shift paddles to make the most of its seven pre-selected, notional gears, and using the central shifter is the opposite of intuitive, so 99 per cent of drivers will leave it in Drive 100 per cent of the time.

It's hard to think of any CVT equipped car you'd describe as exciting, but choosing the C-HR with that transmission does kill the fun a bit, like a kind of mechanical lockout law.

Fuel consumption

Toyota claims an impressive 6.3 litres per 100km, but we got nowhere near that on our test loop at the launch in Spain, mainly because we were exploring the limits of its redline. We'll have to wait for a local test to confirm the claimed figure, but what's interesting is that Toyota is not bringing the hybrid version, which is expected to make up more than 75 per cent of sales in Europe, the market this car was initially designed for.

Partly this is because of supply - the Europeans, with their $2 a litre fuel, will take as many as Toyota can build - and partly because of demand, of which there is little in Australia. As a Toyota Australia spokesman put it: "The Europeans get it (the hybrid), because they get it".

Design

You have to give points to Toyota for being bold, and that's not a sentence we've ever written before. The team behind the C-HR was given the directive to make it "distinctive", and they've well and truly over-delivered on the brief.

Approaching one parked on the side of the road for the first time, I honestly wasn't sure what it was - a stranded rally car, the result of a rear-ender between a hover board and a RAV-4 - but there was certainly no missing it.

Overall the look and feel is modern, verging on premium.

The car's chief engineer, Hiroyuki Koba, candidly admits that the raked rear angle is actually entirely impractical when it comes to air flow, but his job was to make the car look cool first, and everything else second.

This certainly shows in some areas, with the coupe look that no crossover SUV actually needs (C-HR stands for Coupe - High Riding) achieved by hiding the rear door handle cunningly in the top corner, and shrinking the rear windows to the point where anyone riding in the back will feel like it's constantly night time.

  • 2017 Toyota C-HR Koba (pre-production model shown) 2017 Toyota C-HR Koba (pre-production model shown)
  • 2017 Toyota C-HR Koba (pre-production model shown) 2017 Toyota C-HR Koba (pre-production model shown)
  • 2017 Toyota C-HR Koba (pre-production model shown) 2017 Toyota C-HR Koba (pre-production model shown)
  • 2017 Toyota C-HR Koba (pre-production model shown) 2017 Toyota C-HR Koba (pre-production model shown)
  • 2017 Toyota C-HR Koba (pre-production model shown) 2017 Toyota C-HR Koba (pre-production model shown)
  • 2017 Toyota C-HR Koba (pre-production model shown) 2017 Toyota C-HR Koba (pre-production model shown)
  • 2017 Toyota C-HR interior (pre-production model shown) 2017 Toyota C-HR interior (pre-production model shown)

You could call the overall look busy, as if it was designed by a thousand monkeys with a thousand crayons, but there's actually a cohesive craziness to it, once your eye gets used to all those sculpted lines.

Other than concept cars, it's hard to recall Toyota ever producing something so risqué and youth-focused. Some people, obviously, will hate it, but they'll just be typical Toyota customers, who'll buy a RAV-4 anyway (the company expects the C-HR's sales to sit somewhere below its successful mid-size SUV).

The inside is an example of the problem that the Toyota/Lexus marriage must struggle with in counselling. There's been a real lift in the quality and feel of the cabin, which makes it feel more like a Lexus, or makes a Lexus feel more like a Toyota, take your pick.

The rear seats are not blessed with much legroom, but are spacious in all other dimensions, as is the front, which is dominated by a massive touch screen of some eight inches. Australians won't get this screen, however, as we've been shorn by almost two inches (big enough already perhaps?) to just 6.1 inches.

Overall the look and feel is modern, verging on premium, but there are some weird touches, like a selectable G-meter, which is going to be severely underworked in this car. 

Practicality

Rear leg room may be limited for adults but there's plenty of space for small children, and an airy cabin feel overall. What kids won't like is the tiny, and high, rear windows, which will make it feel like they're being transported in a cat box.

There are two huge cupholders under the dash, with plenty of storage cubbies as well, and two more in the door bins for big bottles. The rear seats also have door-bin holders, for a total of six.

Boot space is not vast, with a rating of 377 litres, compared to the 430 litres you get in a Nissan Qashqai.

Driving

Honestly, who would want to be a car designer, when you constantly have to deal with the contrary and contradictory demands of customers who are, according to all available evidence, simpletons and fools?

Toyota's chief engineer for the C-HR project, Hiroyuki Koba, was sent to Europe to study the way that the natives drive, so he could produce a car they would enjoy.

What he found, to his delight, that everyone in Europe drives as though they are leaving the scene of a crime, or as he puts it "they drive fast, even in blind corners, and very near to the shoulder of the road, and they don't slow down."

This told him his car would need to have hatchback-like levels of agility and fluidity, a stiff chassis and a low centre of gravity. Unfortunately, his research team would have already told him that what people really want is small SUVs, or crossovers, which have a high C of G and handle like bouncy castles.

Koba was given the latest Prius platform, part of the 60 per cent more rigid Toyota New Global Architecture, to play with and set about doing his best to get the engine down low, eventually achieving a centre of gravity some 25mm lower than the Prius, with which his car would also share a hybrid-engine system.

What they have created is the perfect car for people who want to look sporty, and cool, but don't actually want to use too much fuel.

This hybrid, pretty much the opposite of the sportiness Europeans apparently want, will take up 75 per cent of C-HR sales on the continent.

The rest of the Toyota world liked the look of the car so much, however, that it's now going on sale in the US and Australia, where we'll only get the 1.2-litre petrol version, at least for now.

What the engineers, who predictably took their car to the Nurburgring to refine its sportiness, have done with this economical rather than exciting powerplant is quite impressive, particularly if you pair it with the slick six-speed manual.

Effectively, though, what they have created is the perfect car for people who want to look sporty, and cool, but don't actually want to use too much fuel, and aren't that bothered about attacking corners at pace, as long as they can cruise in comfort, and at speeds of 140km/h, along European freeways; something the C-HR does with both ease and style.

Ride quality is excellent, but the surprise is how well the little truck copes if you do bother to throw it at some corners.

Koba is a racing driver and an absolute enthusiast, and his love of handling is reflected in the way the C-HR drives. Its dimensions make it feel like it should be a boat through corners, and you're always waiting for it to tip over or misbehave, but it never does. It's an impressive bit of kit that would be much improved by the addition of the 2.0-litre engine that only the Yanks are getting (it's not an option for right-hand drive, or not yet).

Safety

The C-HR comes with a full suite of Toyota Safety Sense features, including a pre-collision system, Active Emergency Braking, active cruise control, lane-departure alert with steering control, blind-spot warning and automatic high beam. The airbag tally is yet to be confirmed, as is a safety rating from ANCAP.

Ownership

Toyota is also yet to reveal details of its warranty and service programs for the C-HR, but it's a safe bet they'll get the same three-year/100,000km warranty that most of their models carry.

Nor will they announce their service intervals until the car arrives in February down under, but for comparison's sake, a RAV4 offers six-month/10,000km intervals.

Verdict

Bowling hats off to Toyota, we say, for coming with something as funky, youthful and fun as the C-HR. Yes, it's the answer to a question that no one would have taken seriously a decade ago - a sporty, coupe-style small SUV crossover? But why?

But in the current market, where SUVs have just overtaken all other styles to become the dominant life form in car world, it's a no-brainer. This car will sell, although the pricing will largely determine how many.

Some will be put off by its flairy and lairy styling, but plenty more will love its unique road presence. And there's plenty to love about the interior, and the way it drives as well.

A bigger engine, or a gearbox that's not a CVT, would both make it better, but even in its current form it looks like a sure-fire winner for a company that's had plenty of them before. But never one this interesting.

Would the C-HR make it onto your shopping list, or would you prefer a CX-3? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Pricing Guides

$29,795
Based on 122 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$23,990
Highest Price
$33,850

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
(2WD) 1.2L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $23,850 – 28,990 2017 TOYOTA C-HR 2017 (2WD) Pricing and Specs
(AWD) 1.2L, PULP, CVT AUTO $25,888 – 32,888 2017 TOYOTA C-HR 2017 (AWD) Pricing and Specs
KOBA (2WD) 1.2L, PULP, CVT AUTO $25,990 – 33,000 2017 TOYOTA C-HR 2017 KOBA (2WD) Pricing and Specs
KOBA (AWD) 1.2L, PULP, CVT AUTO $27,790 – 33,850 2017 TOYOTA C-HR 2017 KOBA (AWD) Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8
Stephen Corby
Contributing Journalist

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Pricing Guide

$21,500

Lowest price, based on 99 car listings in the last 6 months

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