Toyota C-HR 2017

  • By Andrew Chesterton
  • 14 July 2017

Toyota isn't often late to the party. In fact, it's usually the first to arrive. 

The Japanese powerhouse essentially invented the small SUV (RAV4), coined the term "people-mover" (Tarago), and led the charge, along with Subaru, to introduce a modern take on the affordable rear-drive sports car to world (86).

And yet as the micro-SUV tsunami was washing over the globe, bringing with it an entire generation of new and cashed-up customers, Toyota was eerily quiet. Japanese competitor Mazda conquered with its CX-3, while Honda celebrated a return to form with its pint-sized HR-V. Mitsubishi, Subaru, Citroen, Peugeot, Jeep, Fiat; all rushed to roll out models into one of the world's fastest-growing segments.

From Toyota, though? Nothing. Sure, there was the occasional hint of movement: a publicity sketch here, a motor show concept there, but there was no drivable metal anywhere in the world. 

Meanwhile, the market was booming: Australians bought more than 440,000 SUVs in 2016 -  more than the double the number sold in 2009. And more than 110,000 of those sales were in the C-HR's segment. And that's just in Australia, with global numbers singing a similar (only even bigger) tune. People the world over were embracing these micro-machines in never-before-seen numbers, and Toyota had exactly nothing to offer them.

But be wary the sleeping giant: Toyota's first-ever city-sized SUV - the C-HR - finally arrived in February 2017, and it was unlike any Toyota to have gone before it. An aggressive, exciting design, ride and handling tuned at the infamous Nurburgring and an interior that focuses on premium all point to a very different Toyota experience to the one we have all grown accustomed to.

The C-HR's development also included an entry in the 2016 Nurburgring 24 hour. The C-HR's development also included an entry in the 2016 Nurburgring 24 hour.

In Australia, that means a two-tier model lineup in which a price-led budget model was noticeably absent. Instead, we are asked to part with $26,990 for the cheapest C-HR (about $6k more than the cheapest CX-3). But Toyota makes no bones about the fact they are targeting a more premium customer than they might normally, with the brand's international design and engineering teams benchmarking the car against the best from Germany.

Toyota's Australian executives told CarsGuide about 80 per cent of small SUV shoppers jump into the market at a medium trim level or higher, and assure us the C-HR's customers are willing to pay for the “niceties of life", hence the hefty entry point to the range.

At the time of publication, that base price would buy you a front-wheel drive, manual-equipped C-HR, with satellite navigation, cloth seats and active cruise control. Your alloy wheels are 17 inches, and there's LED fog lights and DRLs up front, along with a far-from-impressive (it's actually a bespoke, Australian-delivered unit) 6.1-inch screen that's missing Apple Car Play and Android Auto. Want to upgrade to a CVT? That's $2k. Want all-wheel drive? Another $2k, meaning the base-model C-HR can wear a $30,990 sticker price before options.

Clearly there's been a seismic shift in the way Toyota views the C-HR.

The well-heeled and deep-pocketed can then spring for the top-spec (and CVT, AWD-only) Koba model, for which your $35,290 investment will earn you heated leather seats, push-button start, LED headlights and taillights, bigger 18-inch alloys and a new ‘Nanoe E' air-con system that both blocks nasties entering the cabin and adds moisture to the ambient air to stop your hair and skin drying out.

"When our sales and marketing teams decided how to bring the C-HR to market, one word kept cropping up, and that was ‘disrupt'. Disrupt the market, disrupt the segment, disrupt at every turn," says Toyota Australia's executive director of sales and marketing, Tony Cramb.

“The prime buying motivation for this vehicle is style. No matter their age, these people are early adopters and they want what is new and exciting, and they want it to look great. And almost all of them will be new to Toyota."

People buying a Toyota because of its style? Or because they're early adopters? Clearly there's been a seismic shift in the way Toyota views the C-HR.

The only real question now is also the most obvious; will it also shift the way we view Toyota?

The thing is, it was never supposed to be this late. Toyota had initially been planning to launch its C-HR into the thick of the small SUV throng, but the lure of being able to use an all-new platform proved too strong, and so the rollout was delayed until the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) was finished.

The C-HR's development actually began in 2010, and Toyota was shooting for a mid-2015 launch date (and possibly earlier). But deep into that car's development, the hugely unpopular decision was made to delay the launch in order to build the C-HR using the still-being-developed TNGA system.

That decision was made, and then fought for, by the car's chief engineer Hiroyuki Koba, and the news that one of the biggest automotive manufacturers on the planet was set to miss out on more than a year's worth of sales in one of the world's most booming segments was every bit as popular inside Toyota HQ as you might imagine,

“In 2010, it was going to be built using the old platform, but I made the decision that everything would change, from the steering to the suspension, to fit with the new platform," Koba-san told CarsGuide.

“Everyone said ‘why do you need to make this change?'. We even discussed utilising a bigger platform so we could launch it earlier. But the TNGA platform is better, so I knew we should use the new one. It gives us more design freedom and better driving dynamics.

For the C-HR we focused on the styling and the driving performance.

Hiroyuki Koba C-HR project boss

“We could have brought it in one or two years earlier if we had used the old platform, but maybe the car's performance wouldn't be as good. So I focused on the development of the C-HR with the new platform."

The TNGA isn't actually a specific piece of architecture (we'll look at it in more detail in a moment), think of it more of a holistic engineering philosophy that will underpin all future Toyotas, regardless of size, adding a much-needed focus on driver engagement and dynamics. Neither of which are traditionally Toyota's strongest suits. It also presents a uniform base (the TGNA's important bits are all hidden from sight) for Toyota's designers to work their magic.

And if the sharp and futuristic lines of the C-HR are any guide, work their magic they will.

“The usual Toyota product, we might (highlight) the fuel consumption, or interior space or specs. They're easier to understand, and to compare, so it's easier to decide that this one is better, larger or more functional," Koba-san says.

“For the C-HR we focused on the styling and the driving performance, these are the emotional things and the selling point for the C-HR. That's completely different from the current Toyota models.

“Our President, Akio Toyoda, he always said to make ever-better cars, and for me, an ever-better car is in driving and styling - that's why I made this car."

While most of the world's C-HRs will be built in Toyota's plants in Turkey, Australian cars will be built in Japan. First year deliveries are limited to 6,000 cars, with Toyota Australia pushing to increase that number in year two and beyond.

While there have been flashes of hit-and-miss creativity in Toyota's recent history (the Rukus, for example), almost every other car in the brand's lineup can be summarised with one simple overarching design philosophy. And that philosophy is safe. Or, if we want to be a little mean about it, they're boring.

But the Toyota C-HR isn't safe. Nor is it boring. In fact, it might just be the most out-there looking vehicle in its segment.

The C-HR stands for Coupe High Rider (a look it achieves despite having four entry/exit points by disguising the rear doors and hiding the handles up above the rear window). Viewed from the front, it looks predictable enough, with its tall grille and two giant 950mm headlights that wrap back into the body, but catch it in side-profile and things get a whole lot weirder.

The cabin is a clear step above a standard Toyota offering, and will easily compete for best-in-segment.

The windscreen looks near-horizontal while the rear windscreen is raked at a sharp 25-degrees (something Toyota has never attempted before). The wheel arches are bulging like a sock stuffed with watermelons, and they're tapered at the rear so the rubber of the tyre appears to be jutting out from the body. The rear view is stranger still; a sea of black cladding, boomerang-shaped brake lights and more flexed muscles than a Schwarzenegger movie.

Technically speaking, the exterior is based on what Toyota is calling its "diamond architecture", but we don't see it. What we do see, however, is car that's unlike any Toyota to have gone before it.

There are eight body colours (four are all-new for Toyota in Australia: red, bronze, teal and silver), and you can choose between a white- or black-painted roof as a cost option if you don't want to stick with the usual body-coloured option.

The interior is a product of Toyota's European design teams, who benchmarked premium competitors in an effort to lure customers away from the German powerhouses of posh, and while there are still a few hard plastics lurking in places, the other materials feel well crafted and the driver-angled dash has a layered design which works well, with different materials and colours stacked on top of each other. The cabin is a clear step above a standard Toyota offering, and will easily compete for best-in-segment.

You'll find two cupholders for front seat passengers, and another one in each of the rear doors, but there are no pockets for bottles in the back doors. There are also two ISOFIX attachment points, one in each window seat in the back

At 4360mm in length and 1795mm in width, the C-HR is actually slightly bigger than a Corolla - though interior and luggage space is roughly identical - and space for front and rear passengers is impressive, thanks especially to the bridge-style roofline that is low at the sides but high in the middle. And unlike others in its segment, four adult passengers can ride in something resembling comfort, even on long trips, though a quirk of the body styling means backseat riders are encased by the high door panels, with the windows in the rear doors positioned too high and too far forward to be of any real use.

Luggage space is a useable 377 litres VDA with the 60/40 split-fold rear seats in place, but that climbs to very manageable 1,112 litres VDA with them folded flat.

It might have been honed at the Nurburgring, but the only engine on offer in the C-HR in Australia is unlikely to set the world's racetrack's alight.

Instead, you'll find a brand new 1.2-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine that's equipped with a low-inertia turbocharger and a direct-injection system that combine to deliver its power early in the rev range - meaning the C-HR's powertrain has been designed with the school run, not high-speed runs, in mind. The 1,197cc engine will produce 85kW from 5,200rpm and 185Nm from a low 1,500rpm.

As you've likely guessed, those numbers don't produce neck-snapping acceleration, and while no official times have been given, CarsGuide has recorded consecutive 12-ish second zero-to-100km/h sprints, though that was in the most uncontrolled and unofficial of environments.

The C-HR can be had in front- or all-wheel-drive configuration, and the self-shifters among you will find the six-speed manual transmission arrives with a rev-matching system that blips the throttle on both the up and down shifts - a kind of poor man's heel-and-toe - to make your changes smoother. Toyota rightfully expects though that the vast majority of its customers will be opting for the CVT automatic transmission, however, complete with seven artificial steps built in to mimic a traditional automatic changing gears. Manual shoppers will be limited to two-wheel-drive cars, while CVT buyers can choose a two- or all-wheel-drive, with all C-HR's also offering three drive modes; Eco, Normal or Sport.

No matter your gearbox, the top speed is a galloping 190km/h  - a mountain Koba-san claims to have summited several times at the Nurburgring - but we'd be packing a lunch and good book for the climb to the claimed top speed.

Fuel consumption was a major focus of the C-HR, with a new heat management system and intake ports both designed to ensure the 1.2-litre engine consumes as little fuel as possible. The end result is a claimed/combined 6.3 litres per hundred kilometres in front-wheel-drive cars with a manual transmission, climbing to 6.4 litres in front-wheel-drive cars with a CVT transmission - helped by the fact the CVT will sit in its highest possible ratio when coasting - and 6.5 litres in AWD cars, in which the engine actually defaults to FWD when it can to conserve fuel.

Remember, too, that dynamics were at the forefront of the C-HR's development, and much was made about its linear steering and precision at its media launch. Expect bespoke MacPherson strut front suspension (specifically designed to reduce steering friction, allowing faster, more accurate turn-in) and double-wishbone rear suspension, along with a stabiliser bar that aids rigidity.

The all-wheel-drive versions also get Toyota's Dynamic Torque Control, with is more a series of programs reading inputs like speed, yaw rate, steering input and throttle angle and distributing torque accordingly between the two axles, helping both with cornering stability and ensuring there's always plenty of traction. The system also diverts 10 per cent of torque to the rear wheels when it senses the steering wheel turning, meaning quicker response to steering inputs mid-corner. Finally, the yaw-rate sensor attacks oversteer and understeer every six milliseconds by diverting torque to the front or rear wheels as required, topping out at a 50/50 split.

To help smooth the drive experience, Toyota's Advanced Body Control system uses front-wheel sensors to pick up road imperfections, sending that information to the engine which will then adjust the torque delivery to compensate for bumps and dips.

It might be easy to set the bar when you're entry-level model is closer to a mid-spec for your competitors, but regardless a strong safety package arrives as standard across the C-HR, with Toyota's Safety Sense that includes AEB, active cruise control and a lane departure warning system that will tug the wheel when it senses you crossing lane lines. You also get blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and hill start assist, along with a reversing camera and parking sensors at both the front and rear and seven airbags.

The C-HR was awarded the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating when crash tested in early 2017.

The C-HR range is covered by Toyota's three-year/100,000km warranty, with service schedules set to a (very good for Toyota) 12 months or 15,000kms. Servicing is simple, with the costs capped at $195 per service for the first five years.

According to some of the company's heaviest hitters, the Toyota New Global Architecture was conceived in the ashes of the global credit crunch of 2008, when Toyota vice-president Mitsuhisa Kato recognised the need for his company to streamline its production processes as a form of insulation against the inevitable global economic downturn.

"It was", he says, "a fresh reminder that Toyota needed to be able to achieve sustainable growth. The whole company had to change direction."

Until that point, each of Toyota's vehicle projects had an independent chief engineer guiding the development, which was a positive in terms of allowing huge flexibility to build cars for specific markets, but had the whopping negative of birthing more than 100 platforms and platform spin-offs in the Japanese giant's model lineup. According to Toyota in the UK, there were another 800 powertrain options tailored to suit the many platforms. Which isn''t just confusing, but frightfully expensive, too.

Toyota's engineers were told to "drive as much as possible, especially outside working hours. (To) Love cars".

And so the decision was made to streamline that process, with the TNGA platform less a specific piece of engineering and more a kind of Meccano kit of connecting bits and pieces that can be scaled up or down, depending on the vehicle being built. Crucially, dynamics have also been dialled in to the platform, with what Toyota's claims is an industry-best centre of gravity.

The basic idea is to standardise as many of the invisible bits and pieces, all of which are matched to five pre-determined seat heights depending on exactly what car is being built. It's a kind of Ikea-style flatpack construction philosophy.

It's a much cheaper way to build cars, of course, with a huge shared parts bin lowering development and engineering costs across the board by as much as 20 per cent, but that could be just as good news for Toyota's customers as it is for the brand itself, with the company's heavy hitters promising those savings will be funnelled back into the the research and development division.

Again, according to Toyota UK, Kato-san has tasked his team to use the TNGA as an opportunity to "Improve the basic performance of its cars, build attractive and eye-catching cars and to dream up ever-better vehicles", with the C-HR being the first cab off Toyota's shining new rank. Equally important, Toyota's engineers were told to "drive as much as possible, especially outside working hours. (To) Love cars".

Hiroyuki Koba isn't your average Toyota executive. The Supra-owning, open-wheel-racing, self-described petrol head loves cars and loves driving - the latter of which is not something often associated with Toyota's sensible shoe-wearing executives.

It was Koba who pushed to put dynamics at the forefront of the C-HR's development, personally lapping the Nurburgring on two seperate testing trips to ensure the chassis held up to the kinds of vigorous driving not often associated with the Japanese brand's target market. He also oversaw a preproduction race-spec C-HR which competed at the 24 Hours of Nurburgring in 2016.

The 86 and LFA were tested at the Nurburgring, but usually we wouldn't take a passenger car.

Hiroyuki Koba C-HR project boss

He's also a man so intrinsically linked with the C-HR's development, his name is stamped onto the rump of Australia's top-spec model, the Koba. That, the Australian team assures us, is nothing but coincidence, but we're not sure we believe them.

"It's a coincidence," Koba-san says. "The naming is decided locally. When I know I was surprised. It is very big honour for me."

Having worked for some Japan-only Lexus models, and then Toyota's truck division in the USA, this is his first truly international model. And Koba-san has some very clear ideas about where he'd like the future of his company to go. For him, the future is the past. A return to the exciting Toyota's of old. And to find out exactly what he's talking about, you need look no further than his garage.

Nestled in there is his JZA80 twin-turbo Supra, along with a first-generation 86 and a third-generation MR2. His daily drivers read like a Toyota best-of list, and he rotates between the three every day.

It was also Koba-san who pushed to use the Nurburgring for testing, the firs time a mainstream passenger model made use of the infamous 20.7km Green Hell. Even setting a pre-production vehicle loose in the infamous Nurburgring 24hr in 2016.

"The 86 and LFA were tested at the Nurburgring, but usually we wouldn’t take a passenger car, : he says. "But we used the ring in 2013, 2014 and 2015, and while there we did tuning on European public roads.

"To drive on the Nurburgring, that is easy for me, But to compete on track is a very hard job. Racing in the lowest horsepower vehicle in the race, you need to be very confident, otherwise you can't control the car. So in that sense, it was very good to evaluate the car. And it was fun..."

Now, if you're thinking something is not quite right here, then you're right. Testing an 85kW car at the Nurburgring makes as much sense as testing a bicycle on a drag strip. Surely there is a version that's a little faster in pipeline? Koba-san is coy: "This chassis can handle around 200 horsepower, around 140kW or 150kW, I'd love to make that sort of thing. But so far it's not in the plan..."

In a company the size of Toyota, rocking the boat isn’t common. But Hiroyuki Koba wanted the C-HR to stand out. To mark a new direction for Toyota. So he got to rocking.

At the vehicle’s Australian launch, he took CarsGuide on a personal tour of the C-HR, pointing out all the elements he had to fight for.

(image credit: Dean McCartney) (image credit: Dean McCartney)

Headlights - "This is Toyota's biggest headlamp. It's 950mm, so we requested to introduce a new press machine for the supplier, otherwise they couldn't make it because it was too big. During the development, we considered spitting the headlamp into two pieces (so they could use existing equipment) but we thought it wasn't good for the design, so we negotiated with them to build the new machinery."

(image credit: Dean McCartney) (image credit: Dean McCartney)

Brake-cooling vent - "On the second year of Nurburgring testing, we found a problem with the brake cooling. This car brake size is 16-inch (the same as RAV4), but at the Nurburgring we still had some brake trouble. We did a lot of brake testing, going from 100km/h to zero 10 times, and there was no problem, but on the Nurburgring, it was from 190km/h to 60km/h, 190km/h to 80km/h. That energy was three times higher and we uncovered the brake cooling problem, so this very small slit helps a lot (feeding cool air on to the brake). If we didn't do the Nurburgring testing we wouldn't have found it"

(image credit: Dean McCartney) (image credit: Dean McCartney)

Coupe roof line - "The back window is angled at 25-degrees, which is a very unique amount in the segment. But we tried to give the C-HR a distinctive style, so that you can identify the C-HR, even in silhouette. But the roofline then makes bad aerodynamics, so we had to add the rear spoiler."

(image credit: Dean McCartney) (image credit: Dean McCartney)

Hidden door handles - "This is a very big challenge for Toyota. Toyota is very traditional, and hasn't done this kind of door handle. During the development, I got told by management ‘no way'. But these are important for us. We know that anyone around 120cm tall can open the door. We did a lot of testing using the children of members of our development team, so we gathered the children and tested the door handle."

(image credit: Dean McCartney) (image credit: Dean McCartney)

Driving position - "This is a new driving position for Toyota. Everything is easy to reach, and we've focused on visibility, with the narrow A-pillar and the view out of the back. This is important to drive precisely, you need to be able to see out of the car. It's why we have (set up the cabin) so you don't need to move your eye line, and the layout is easy to understand."

(image credit: Dean McCartney) (image credit: Dean McCartney)

Diamond trim pattern - "The buttons, roof lining and storage options are all based on the diamond design scheme, while the seats and wheel are specifically designed for C-HR, and use Lexus LS leather on the wheel and the same baseball stitching. I made this steering wheel shape myself, because it's important for the driver to feel the car from the steering wheel and the seat."

Let's be honest, Toyota could have glued four wheels to a vaguely SUV-shaped cardboard box and it would have sold like hotcakes, such is the brand loyalty to the Japanese giant. But they didn't. The C-HR is fun to drive, fun to look at, and offers plenty of safety and technology stuff, too.

But the C-HR is more than just a new car, it's the beginning of a new Toyota - a future in which design, technology and dynamics are at the forefront of all they do. It's been a long time coming, but we're finally excited about what's next for one of the world's biggest car brands.

Explore the 2017 Toyota C-HR range

There are 10 models

2017 SUV
(2WD)
Median price
$25,464 – 28,990
ANCAP Rating
TBA
2017 SUV
(2WD)
Median price
$25,464 – 28,990
ANCAP Rating
TBA
2017 SUV
(2WD)
Median price
$25,464 – 28,990
ANCAP Rating
2017 SUV
(2WD)
Median price
$25,464 – 28,990
ANCAP Rating
2017 SUV
(AWD)
Median price
$26,990 – 32,000
ANCAP Rating
TBA
2017 SUV
(AWD)
Median price
$26,990 – 32,000
ANCAP Rating
2017 SUV
KOBA (2WD)
Median price
$31,980 – 32,880
ANCAP Rating
TBA
2017 SUV
KOBA (2WD)
Median price
$31,980 – 32,880
ANCAP Rating
2017 SUV
KOBA (AWD)
Median price
$33,495 – 38,990
ANCAP Rating
TBA
2017 SUV
KOBA (AWD)
Median price
$33,495 – 38,990
ANCAP Rating

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