It’s true, small SUVs are what people are choosing now. Not because they want something sensible, like a hatchback. And not because they want something with family-hauling practicality, like a mid-size SUV, or better yet, a wagon.
No, small SUVs are about style over convention. C-HR, for example, stands for Coupe High Rider. Seemingly oxymoronic by design, it aims to pack the practicality of a two-door sports car into something a little taller than a hatchback.
But here’s the thing; SUVs (especially these small ones) are the 'in' thing, and Toyota wants a larger piece of the action.
So, is it all as silly as it seems, or can the C-HR’s top Koba variant offer something beyond its edgy style?
Is there anything interesting about its design? 8/10
If nothing else, the C-HR is eye-grabbing. Our car looked striking in 'Atomic Rush' red with machine-finished 18-inch alloys. The deep red looks at home with the black roof and highlights native to the Koba… I saw the same colour on a RAV4 and was nowhere near as impressed.
If you’re not a fan of busy designs, the C-HR may not be for you. All the angles and highlights add up to a bulbous looking front end and an angular rear that proved controversial for most people I showed it to.
The rear end proved controversial to those I showed it to.
Much like the Nissan Juke, the pumped wheel-arches perhaps over-sell the C-HRs sporty intent. I was personally a fan of the terraced rear window and dual-spoiler layout with the nestled rear door handles, though.
Don’t like the scheme of our car? No worries. Toyota says the Koba is its second-most customisable vehicle after the LandCruiser, with over 60 different accessories that can be fitted prior to delivery.
If you don't like this particular car, Toyota offers a breadth of style options.
These range from eight colours, all available with a black roof, to neon-coloured stickers and ‘garnishes’ to apply to the front, rear and side of the little SUV. There are also side-steps if you really want them, three different types of roof-rack attachments and eight different alloy wheel designs.
Step inside, and there are some interesting design touches around the cabin. It’s markedly different from the last decade's worth of Toyota offerings, with a sculpted gloss-black centre console, a dash that projects out into the cabin, and unusually for the brand, a consistent ‘diamond’ design theme across everything from the switchgear, to the doors, and roof linings.
It's nice to see a Toyota with a strong thematic design and some cool touches about the place.
There are also a few soft-touch materials in tactical places, as well as a cool-looking chrome shift lever (Nerd Fact: It's reminiscent of the first-generation Lexus IS).
Everywhere you look you’ll spot a neat little detail and it feels cosy, but not claustrophobic, behind the wheel.
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with? 7/10
This is where Toyota needs to nail it to get to their target audience with the Koba… Young people.
Our exact variant is the Koba 2WD coming in at $33,290 before on-roads. Considering the focus on style, the main rivals are the Mazda CX-3 Akari ($33,490, FWD, six-speed auto), Honda HR-V VTi-L ($33,340, FWD, CVT) and the Hyundai Kona Elite ($33,000, FWD, six-speed auto).
There are other rivals like the Mitsubishi ASX and Subaru XV in this busy segment which you may want to consider if you’re focussed on practicality over style, but more on that later.
A choice of neat-looking 18-inch alloys are available on the Koba grade.
Exclusive features to the Koba grade are ‘smart entry’ and push-button start (useful), LED headlights and rear light clusters (flashy, but better than halogen), heated leather seats (good in winter) tinted windows, illuminated sun visors (why isn’t this standard?), and ‘illuminated door trim’ with ‘puddle lamp’ (ridiculous).
There’s also something called 'Nano-e air purifying' which turns out to be a Panasonic air filtration system. This video explains it.
Those features come at a $5300 premium over the base automatic C-HR, but stepping down a grade will also cause you to lose the ability to two-tone the roof and 18-inch alloys.
Standard across the C-HR range is a 6.1-inch touchscreen that looks tiny and functions like something from at least five years ago. Yes, there’s built-in nav and Bluetooth connectivity, but still no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and to be honest with you the whole thing is a bit of a laggy nightmare to navigate.
The 6.1-inch touchscreen is looking (and feeling) outdated and a little out of place in an otherwise modern design.
It really loses out to the CX-3 and Kona which sport bigger, faster and easier to use 7.0-inch touchscreens. The Kona and HR-V also score Apple CarPlay and Android Auto which are hard to go back from.
I’ve talked about the edgy design and how it pits the Koba against equally aesthetically focussed competitors. Truth is, small SUVs are really broken into two groups. Ones that are just fancy small hatchbacks, and ones that try to live out their SUV aspirations.
At the helm, as I mentioned before, I would describe the C-HR as cosy. There’s not heaps of room for activities, but my 182cm frame was very at home. Along the glossy centre console, there are two deep cupholders and a centre console box, which Toyota tells us has a capacity of 4.2 litres. It'll easily swallow heaps of tidbits, a few books, or extra bottles.
In the front doors there’s a small stowage space and cupholders that will secure your average 600ml bottle, while the rear doors have big, deep chunky cupholders in the armrests which double as stowage spaces.
Expect hatchback levels of space in the back seat.
On the topic of the back seat, it looks smaller than it is, probably due to the over-use of dark coloured surfaces throughout the C-HR’s cabin and the slanty roof-line, but I was surprised to find I had a decent amount of leg and headroom. Anyone taller than me might start feeling the (vertical) pinch, however.
Then, there’s the boot.
At one end of the small SUV spaciousness scale you have Mazda’s CX-3 with its tiny 264 litre boot capacity, and at the other you have the generous 437L capacity of the HR-V.
The C-HR sports a 377L boot which is, again, roughly hatchback-sized.
The C-HR sits at the larger end of the scale with 377L which is still impressive considering its coupe roofline, and slightly bigger than the Hyundai Kona and Suzuki Vitara.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission? 6/10
The C-HR is available with one engine. It’s a 1.2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol producing 85kW/180Nm.
Those outputs seem low compared to competitors, and that’s because they are. Older 2.0-litre units in the Kona and CX-3 produce better power figures, and the Suzuki Vitara’s 1.4-litre turbo (103kW/220Nm) is a total gun. Makes you wonder why Toyota insisted on a sub-100kW option.
The C-HR's sub-100kW 1.2-litre turbocharged engine leaves a lot to be desired.
All automatic C-HRs are mated to a CVT auto which is not particularly good, nor particularly bad. I always prefer an old-school torque converter transmission.
How much fuel does it consume? 6/10
Here’s another youth conscious area. Manufacturers like to claim less than 7.0-litres per 100km for most small SUV models, except the (reasonably) honest Hyundai which claims its 2.0-litre Kona Elite will use 7.2.
In this instance Toyota claims 6.3L/100km but, after driving more than a few of its competitors, I’ve found the number to expect is more like 8.0L.
Lo and behold, after a week of driving and a full tank of petrol, the C-HR was returning that magic number (well, 8.1L/100km to be exact). A let-down considering you can get the same consumption but better performance from the Suzuki Vitara’s 1.4-litre turbo engine.
The tank tops out at 50 litres, and the C-HR demands mid-range, 95RON premium fuel.
What's it like to drive? 6/10
In this job, to drive a car that is genuinely underpowered is rare. Sometimes we say one engine doesn’t feel as good as another or maybe performance is dulled by an average transmission, but the C-HR honestly feels gutless.
It has three driving modes, I spent a day in ‘Normal’, then half a week in ‘Eco’ and the remaining days in ‘Sport’. It was revealing.
Firstly, these settings do more than just hold or not hold gears to higher shift points; they alter throttle response, and the characteristics of the CVT.
Eco mode was hilarious because it reinforced the engine’s worst characteristics. I enjoyed it in a way because you could indulge in the usually-forbidden behaviour of driving everywhere with your foot all the way to the floor.
This was only entertaining around town though because the time taken to reach adequate speed to merge onto the freeway or for an overtake manoeuvre could be measured in eons.
Sport mode was better. You could kick the car up to speed much faster, but this was just due to the engine spending a lot more time above 2500rpm, and the CVT acting more like a torque converter, holding revs for longer and letting off more aggressively.
It was only a little noisier, but oddly didn’t make much of an impact on fuel usage. This may be due to my, more aggressive throttle application in Eco, however.
Despite the C-HR’s boosted ride height, Toyota has really stiffened up the suspension. It feels somewhat graceful on a nice smooth curvy road and the well-weighted steering is great. Despite being front-wheel drive, it never felt too ‘nosy’ – as though it could understeer at any moment. This left me questioning why you would ever really need to opt for the AWD variant.
However, it does feel stiff on sub-par surfaces. Car park speed bumps in particular were cringe-inducing, with the wheels bouncing onto the ground sending shocks through the cabin.
Despite this, the C-HR wasn’t impacted by too much road noise, even on poor surfaces, and it maintained a civilised cabin ambiance. Also nice not to hear too much of the signature ‘CVT whine’.
Warranty & Safety Rating
3 years / 100,000 km
ANCAP Safety Rating
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating? 9/10
The space-saver spare is always a let down for those who regularly drive long-distance.
There’s a space-saver spare under the boot floor, while not the safest option for long-distance country travel, this isn’t unusual for the segment.
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered? 7/10
The good: The C-HR was the first Toyota to be offered with capped annual services of just $195 which is a pretty decent offering when stacked up against competitors.
The bad: The Toyota-wide three year/100,000km warranty is tragically outdated.
To compare, Hyundai’s Kona, Honda’s HR-V and even Ford’s EcoSport are all covered by five-year/unlimited kilometre warranties.
The C-HR Koba is a well-equipped and competitively priced small SUV that hits the nail on the head in terms of looks, safety, and handling.
Keep in mind though, most of the biggest selling points are also available on the base C-HR at a significant saving, and the fun chassis and features are dulled by an underpowered engine and old-fashioned multimedia system.
What do you look for in a small SUV. Is it the look, practicality or features? Tell us what you think in the comments below.