Toyota C-HR

Finally, a funky-crossover apology for all of Toyota’s dull cars

MIKE DUFF

FIRSTDRIVES

FIRST OVERSEAS DRIVE

WE SHOULDN’T view the new Toyota C-HR as just a car. It’s also an apology; recognition an apology; recognition from Toyota that it has been trying to sell some very dull mid-sized cars in parts of the world that are no longer interested in them.

As such gestures tend to be, the C-HR is close to being an overblown try-hard, yet if you’re prepared to accept something so visually radical wearing a Toyota badge, the result is pretty impressive.

Categorising the C-HR is a

challenge. The name officially decrypts as ‘Coupe – High Riding’ and we’re told to regard it as a dynamically focused crossover.

Underneath the radical styling it has five-door practicality, and in size terms it’s slightly smaller than a RAV4 and almost exactly the same length as its most obvious rival, the Nissan Qashqai.

The styling doesn’t so much push boundaries as drive through them. You’d scratch yourself bald trying to remember a time Toyota did anything so radically different. It’s acknowledgement of the need to go out and find new buyers in Europe, and also proof of the width of the trail that the Qashqai has blazed through the C-segment (globally, Nissan produced 230,000 last year, and Toyota is hoping the C-HR will manage similar numbers).

In design terms, coupe and SUV are never going to be easily combined, but the C-HR pulls it off about as successfully as is possible, and with far more grace than the vastly more expensive Mercedes GLC Coupe.

Things aren’t much less radical inside the cabin. There’s still familiar Toyota switchgear – and the separate LED digital clock that the company has put in everything it’s built for the last three decades – but everything else is swoopy and sleek, with a diamond theme that carries from the shape of the HVAC buttons to the door cards and even the headlining. Materials mostly feel reassuringly expensive, although wandering fingers will find cheaper plastics lower down.

The seating position is higher than a Corolla – that’s what crossover buyers expect – and taller occupants are likely to feel short of headroom.

SPECS

Toyota C-HR Koba AWD 1197cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo 85kW @ 5200rpm 185Nm @ 1500-4000rpm CVT automatic 1510kg 11.4sec (claimed) 6.3L/100km $35,000 (estimated) February Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Kerb weight 0-100km/h Top speed Price On sale

The 1.2-litre turbo will be new to Australia and, for the most part, impresses. Like most smallcapacity turbo petrols, it has been tuned to deliver a convincing diesel impression, churning out its peak 185Nm on a plateau from 1500-4000rpm and revving out to just 5600rpm for a max of 85kW.

It feels tight at the top end but works happily in its brawny midrange, which delivers enough shove for respectable pace.

The base front-drive version will come with either a six-speed manual (with rev-matching on downchanges) or a CVT. The more expensive all-paw version is CVT-only.

As tends to be the case, the CVT works well under lowintensity use, keeping the engine around the 2000rpm mark where it’s happiest, but requests for brisk acceleration come at the expense of the engine putting on a convincing food-blender impression. At least, unlike many modern systems, it doesn’t pretend to have gears when left in Drive, although the virtual ratios accessed by sliding the selector into its manual mode are every bit as slurry.

The all-wheel-drive system is part-time, diverting torque backwards when slip is detected, but even after a wrong turn onto a wet gravel road I struggled to feel it lending much of a hand.

The C-HR exploits the extra torsional rigidity of its GA-C platform (which also underpins the Prius), with well-chosen spring and damper settings allowing it to feel both taut and pliant when digesting a rough road at speed. Steering is less impressive – direct and proportional, but with little more than a digital impression of feel reaching the helm.

Push too hard in a slower turn and the car understeers, but not excessively so, and although it will tighten its line on an eased throttle, it does so without the sense of fun you’d expect from a true hot hatch. But then the C-HR does cover a lot of bases, and on-the-limit handling is unlikely to a priority for many potential buyers.

We’re promised that Australian specification will be generous, with autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise, automatic high beam, a reversing camera and lanedeparture warning coming as standard. And there’s a higherspecced Koba model – named after the car’s engineering father, Hiruyuki Koba – that gets 18-inch alloys, part-leather seats and keyless entry.

Toyota predicts C-HR sales volumes will slot behind the RAV4’s 15,000 units, but we’ll have to wait for pricing.

We’ll fully understand if the C-HR isn’t your thing, as it’s probably the most daring model Toyota has launched in living memory. Under the radical styling lies an impressively competent alternative to a mainstream hatchback, and one that won’t require buyers to make too many compromises. The 1.2 turbo can’t deliver a huge amount of performance, and the handling doesn’t quite live up to the promises made by the design, but overall it’s a welcome new direction for the brand.

With details of the new BMW joint venture that will lead to the next Supra set to drop soon, let’s hope Toyota hasn’t used its quota of excitement in this one model.

PLUS & MINUS

Lack of steering feel; performance is adequate, not zesty Striking design; likeable engine; decent ride and body control

A little boost

Although it’s already been seen in other markets, the C-HR will be the first time Toyota’s 1.2-litre turbo four has come to Australia. This features both a low-inertia turbocharger and Toyota’s ‘intelligent wide’ variable timing system, which can keep the intake valve open once the compression stroke has started to turn the engine to a leaner Atkinson cycle. The result is a claimed 6.3L/100km on the European cycle.

OR TRY THESE...

Nissan Qashqai Ti $34,490

More conventional design than the C-HR (maybe Nissan’s Juke is more your speed?). Powered by a 2.0-litre atmo that needs to be worked a bit harder than the Toyota’s punchy little turbo 1.2, unless you opt for the 1.6 diesel, but that sees NVH levels soar.

Mazda CX-3 Akari AWD $35,290

Atmo 2.0-litre is hooked to a six-speed auto, giving a far more crisp, satisfying powertrain experience than the CVTs in both the Toyota and Nissan. Much lighter than the C-HR, so way more sprightly performance, and nice, perky dynamics. A bit loud, though.