Honda HR-V VTi-L 2017 review: long term
Peter Anderson is spending three months living with Honda's small-SUV contender to discover its charms, faults and whether it makes the grade in this very competitive end of the market.
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Toyota probably could have easily made an SUV version of its Corolla, and it would have been great, and lots of people would have bought it, but Toyota built the C-HR instead. While the Corolla SUV would have been practical and easy to drive, it would probably have been about as exciting as, well, a Corolla.
Toyota has taken way too long to bring out a small SUV to fill the gap left by the RAV4, which was little once, but by 2013 had grown to almost 4.6m long, and moved up to the mid-sized class. Meanwhile the Mitsubishi ASX has been totally killing it in the small SUV segment, along with recent arrivals such as the the Honda HR-V, Nissan Qashqai and the smaller Mazda CX-3.
So, Toyota has some major catching up to do, and the C-HR needs to be more than just interesting to look at.
The signs are good though. The C-HR has been built on a new platform, which is also under the new Prius (which I'm embarrassed to be seen in, but is so good to drive). Also, last year Toyota raced the C-HR at the hardcore 24 Hours of Nürburgring, and it didn't come last – far from it. But then heaps of car companies have new platforms and pull these racing stunts to promote new vehicles.
Australia has also been given the C-HR with the smaller engine, but will it be powerful enough for the real world, you know, with hills? And talking of reality, how practical is it? How do you get to the rear seats, is there any head or legroom back there, too. And is the boot big enough for a pram?
We drove the fanciest C-HR in the range – the Koba – which was the good news. That it was a front-wheel drive (FWD) didn't concern me much. Hey, cheaper for fuel, right? What was worrying me was that it had a continuously variable transmission (CVT) which is the Bill Shorten of the transmission world when it comes to personality.
|Toyota C-HR 2017: KOBA (2WD)|
|Engine Type||1.2L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The C-HR looks like a concept car that's escaped from a motor show. There's that big, fat, futuristic face, the side profile with the cabin slung low down like a hammock between those pumped up wheel arches, the back end with all its sharp fiddly bits, and tail-lights that will probably have Honda scanning copyright infringement rules.
At the same time those headlights and grille connect it firmly to the rest of the Toyota family.
The C-HR is one of the most distinctive cars on the road, and has the same jarring appeal as Hyundai's Veloster which went on to become a star for that carmaker. Rivals such as the ASX and HR-V look ancient by comparison.
You can tell the top-grade Koba from the entry C-HR by its LED head- and tail-lights, 18-inch alloy wheels and tinted rear windows.
The C-HR's insides are just as cool as its outsides. Toyota's European design team obviously has a thing for textures and diamond shapes. You'll see this in the raised pattern in the door trim and on the seats. Look up and you'll see diamond shapes cut into the headlining. It's a nice touch that makes you feel like a bit of thought has gone into the design.
It's a stylish, well-crafted cabin with excellent fit and finish, which we expect of Toyota, but with these cool touches it even exceeds the brand's already high standard.
The C-HR's ride is comfortable and controlled, yet it handles superbly well.
So, how big is the C-HR? Well, it feels bigger than it is when you drive it, which we'll talk about later, but the dimensions show it to be 4360mm end-to-end (5mm more than the ASX), 1795mm wide (15 less than the ASX) and 1565mm tall (75mm less than the ASX).
C-HR stands for Coupe High Rider and when it appeared in concept form at the 2014 Paris motor show it only had two doors. Toyota's added back doors and hidden the door handles up high. It's a messy design, but they look like air lock handles on a spaceship, and I make a ksccssssssh! noise every time I open them. I'm easily amused.
Our C-HR was painted 'Hornet Yellow', the black roof is an option, and I like the way it accentuates the low cabin. If you're not a fan of hi-vis, then there are other colours. Ahem, allow me yo translate them for you - 'Atomic Rush' means red, 'Bionic Bronze' looks like cola, 'Tidal Blue' is blue, 'Shadow Platinum' is just silver, 'Ink' is black, 'Crystal Pearl' is white, and 'Electric Teal' is revolting.
Your instincts are probably telling you the C-HR might be a bit squishy inside? Take it from a 191cm tall freak, it's surprisingly roomy. There's heaps of headroom in the front and back with just enough legroom in the rear seats for me to sit behind my own driving position.
But wait, don't ignore your instincts completely. The little windows and their high sills in the back make me so claustrophobic I can only last a few minutes in there. Before making that discovery I'd been behind the wheel playing I Spy with my toddler who was in the back. I had no idea that all he could spy was the door, I just thought he was having difficulty understanding how to play the game.
That aside, the C-HR's boot capacity is 377 litres, which is pretty big for this small SUV class, but it's less than the luggage capacity of the HR-V (437 litres) and the ASX (393 litres).
What's also important is that the boot opening is large enough to fit our big pram. Either side of the boot floor are plastic tubs for your wet and muddy gear, too.
There are plenty of other storage nooks throughout the cabin, including two cup holders in the back and the two up front are super deep – like jumbo slurpee super deep. There are also bottle holders up front in the doors and smaller pockets in the back ones. The bin under the centre console arm rest is deep, too, and there's a hidey hole for your mobile under the dash. Oh, and the glove box is... a box, just big enough to hold gloves.
Our C-HR Koba with the CVT and FWD lists for $33,290. The base spec C-HR is $28,990.
All C-HRs come with a 6.1-inch touchscreen (which feels too small) with sat nav, Bluetooth connectivity, voice commands, reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, auto wipers, LED running lights, dual-zone climate control, and puddle lamps.
The Koba gets a few extra things such as proximity unlocking (which worked faultlessly), LED headlights, leather seats, 18-inch wheels, tinted rear glass and something which Toyota calls 'Nano-e' air purifying which supposedly moisturises the air... ooookaaayyy.
Our car had the black roof which you can option on the Koba for $450. Car mats are also an option and ours were $120 for the front and rear.
The C-HR also comes with a stack of advanced safety equipment as standard – read about that in the safety section.
There's only one engine available in the C-HR in Australia, a 1.2-litre turbo petrol four cylinder that makes 85kW of power and 185Nm of torque. Those are impressive figures from a small engine. The ASX's 2.0-litre makes 110kW/197Nm.
When it comes to sending that drive to the front wheels, think of the CVT like a rubber band that stretches as… actually try not to think about it. Personally, I'm not a fan of them because they lack the feeling that comes with changing up or down through the gears of a traditional auto.
Toyota reckons the FWD C-HR should get through 6.4L/100km on the combined cycle. I scored 7.9L/100km, and that's after driving it like I stole the thing for about 250km on a combination of winding bush roads and city commutes. I might not be the CVT's biggest fan but they are great for fuel efficiency, especially when combined with a small turbo petrol engine like the C-HR's.
So, all that talk about the new platform under the C-HR and racing the little SUV at the Nurburgring – I think it may have worked because the driving dynamics of the C-HR are impressive. The C-HR's ride is comfortable and controlled, yet it handles superbly well, even when pushed on twisty roads. The chassis (the suspension and platform) of this car is outrageously good.
The brakes are excellent. I had to make an emergency stop in dry conditions from about 80km/h and pulled up within 10m. The pedal feel was good, the steering felt light when parking, but heavy enough for some fun driving, and always accurate and smooth.
Grip from the relatively wide 225/50 R18 Bridgestone Potenza tyres is also excellent.
The leather seats in the Koba are god-damned comfy, but supportive. I sat in them, sometimes for more than two hours straight, during our loan of the car, and even with my dodgy back I still felt comfortable and supported.
There's really only one weakness to the C-HR... well, two. This engine, and the CVT don't match the car's great chassis. You may not notice it around the city and on highways where the 1.2-litre turbo feels pretty good and perky, with more than enough shove to accelerate well and overtake. But a winding hilly road kills the fun.
The CVT just doesn't seem to get that drive to the wheels as well as a traditional automatic, and after flying down twisty sections with a giant grin on my face I then had to slowly come back up them with a sad face and an engine that droned like a washing machine on the spin cycle.
Oh, there's something else you should know, too. There's an issue with the driving position. The steering wheel felt too low even on the highest setting. My seat was as low as it could go, but the wheel was way below my shoulder line and a correct driving position should see the hands at 9- and 3-o'clock at the same height as the driver's shoulders. I am tall though, and if you're smaller you may not have the same issue.
I know I said there were only two, but there's another issue. I found that I didn't want to sit any lower because it was tricky to see where the C-HR's bonnet and bumper ended due to its bulbous design. You'll notice this the first time you drive the car. It feels bigger than you expect, and I reckon it's because the cockpit is low slung between the wheels.
That design was intentional, to give the C-HR a lower centre of mass, and I reckon it's another reason the SUV handles so well. That lack of top heaviness means there isn't much body roll at all.
There's another issue. Yes, sorry, I know. It's visibility again, but this time out the back corners of the car. The lack of windows at the rear edges meant I was only partially sighted for reverse parallel parks. Yes, there's a reversing camera, but that's only good for seeing the car directly behind you. This wouldn't be a good car to learn to drive in, for that reason alone.
The ride and handling though was so good, even the visibility and CVT issues couldn't ruin the overall driving experience.
3 years / 100,000 km warranty
ANCAP Safety Rating
The C-HR has the maximum five-star ANCAP rating, and has a high level of advanced safety equipment, and all of it is standard across the both grades. There's AEB (although it doesn't work below 20km/h), adaptive cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assistance and blind spot warning. The auto-high beams work well at spotting a car coming and dipping to low beam and back up again when it passes.
The Koba gets LED headlights, and travelling through the dead of night in the bush, they turned the road ahead into daylight.
A space saver spare is a bit of a let down. This is Australia, the distances are vast and you shouldn't travel too far on one of these.
The C-HR is covered by Toyota's three-year/100,000km warranty. Servicing is recommended every 12 months/15,000km and is capped at $195 for each service for the first five years. That's outstanding.
When I first walked across the car park to the waiting C-HR I was convinced this would be an impractical SUV that would be okay to drive but was really just about the over-the-top looks. I even sent photos of it to my friends mocking it. Don't judge a car by its body kit. The C-HR is fun to drive with impressive dynamics and a comfortable ride that would embarrass some expensive sports cars.
Sure, the back seat is claustrophobic, but there's good legroom. Yes, the driving position is a bit off, but I got used to it. And the performance is let down by the CVT, but if you can use a manual gearbox I'd go for that. If you can't, then learn dammit, and get the most out of the C-HR.
I reckon not building an SUV version of its Corolla is the best thing Toyota has done in five years. The last best thing was the 86 sports car. Now if only they could put the same drivetrain in the C-HR.
|(2WD)||1.2L, PULP, 6 SP MAN||$22,000 – 29,480||2017 Toyota C-HR 2017 (2WD) Pricing and Specs|
|(AWD)||1.2L, PULP, CVT AUTO||$26,775 – 30,888||2017 Toyota C-HR 2017 (AWD) Pricing and Specs|
|KOBA (2WD)||1.2L, PULP, CVT AUTO||$24,990 – 31,990||2017 Toyota C-HR 2017 KOBA (2WD) Pricing and Specs|
|KOBA (AWD)||1.2L, PULP, CVT AUTO||$27,490 – 31,380||2017 Toyota C-HR 2017 KOBA (AWD) Pricing and Specs|
|Price and features||9|
|Engine & trans||6|