Em­pire strikes back

Aus­tralia’s dom­i­nant brand missed the boat on the lat­est au­to­mo­tive trend — but that’s about to change,

Herald Sun - Motoring - - COVER STORY - writes John Carey

Toyota’s de­sign­ers have come up with a shape that will not blend in with the crowd

THE new C-HR fea­tures the first petrol-burn­ing turbo from Toyota in more than two decades — but this small SUV is noth­ing like the fire­breath­ing Cel­ica GT-Four of the mid-1990s.

That was a car built for speed, where the C-HR’s mis­sion is to make Toyota’s po­si­tion at the top more com­fort­able than ever.

So far this year the brand tops the Aus­tralian new car sales chart with a 17.5 per cent share, miles ahead of clos­est ri­vals Mazda and Hyundai. It’s Toyota and then day­light, even though its line-up glar­ingly lacks a small SUV.

This will change in Fe­bru­ary, when the C-HR ar­rives to chal­lenge the strong­est sell­ers of the boom­ing small SUV seg­ment. This list in­cludes the Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3 and Nis­san Qashqai, along with the older Mit­subishi ASX.

Toyota’s de­sign­ers have come up with a shape that will not blend into the crowd.

The C-HR is swoop­ier and coupe-ier than the style stand­outs of the seg­ment, the CX-3 and HR-V. With its wedgy waist­line, bulging whee­larches and pro­trud­ing tail-lights, it puts looks be­fore load space.

What’s un­der­neath the bon­net is rad­i­cal, at least for Toyota. De­spite ooz­ing vis­ual ag­gres­sion, the C-HR doesn’t pack a knock­out punch. Its en­gine may be a turbo but it’s a 1.2-litre four-cylin­der.

This is Toyota adopt­ing the same down­siz­ing strat­egy as Europe’s big-time car mak­ers, not re­viv­ing its high-pow­ered hot­ties of yes­ter­year.

The C-HR’s main com­peti­tors use 1.8 or 2.0-litre non-turbo petrol en­gines.

Toyota will build the C-HR with a 2.0 four for the US and some mar­kets in East­ern Europe but it won’t go into mod­els headed for Aus­tralia. Nor will the 1.8-litre petrol­elec­tric hy­brid driv­e­train, which the C-HR shares with the lat­est Prius, come our way. Fi­nally, there’s no plan for a diesel.

Peak power of 85kW in the 1.2 is less than com­peti­tors but its 185Nm of torque is at least in the same ball­park as the opposition. The ef­fect of turbo boost means it feels ea­ger to please at low to mid­dling revs, it grows vo­cal near­ing its low 5500rpm red-line.

Where the smooth lit­tle en­gine should ex­cel is fuel econ­omy. If its results in the stan­dard Euro­pean con­sump­tion test (on which Aus­tralia’s fig­ures are based) are to be be­lieved, the C-HR will be one of the most eco­nom­i­cal cars in its class.

Toyota Aus­tralia plans to sell its new small SUV in two grades. In the ba­sic ver­sion, la­belled sim­ply C-HR, the 1.2 will be teamed with a six-speed man­ual or con­tin­u­ously vari­able trans­mis­sion. The for­mer will come only in fron­twheel drive ex­am­ples and the CVT will add the choice of all­wheel drive. The high-grade ver­sion will be badged C-HR Koba, a trib­ute to chief en­gi­neer Hiroyuki Koba, and will come only with AWD and CVT.

In each ver­sion, there is an out­stand­ing ar­ray of stan­dard hi-tech safety and driver-aid fea­tures. High­lights are au­tonomous emer­gency brak­ing and ac­tive cruise con­trol, which share the same for­ward-fac­ing radar sen­sor. Also stan­dard will be lane departure alert and au­to­matic high-beam.

The ac­tive cruise con­trol and lane departure alert both worked bril­liantly on cut-andthough

thrust Span­ish mo­tor­ways dur­ing the C-HR’s in­ter­na­tional press launch on roads in and around Madrid.

There was time only to try a front-drive man­ual, which will be the least ex­pen­sive in the Aus­tralian line-up. The en­gine had enough oomph to keep up with fast-mov­ing mo­tor­way traf­fic, and the man­ual shifted with a sweet and easy ac­tion. With its low-rev mus­cle and flex­i­bil­ity, we sus­pect the 1.2 turbo will be a happy match with the CVT, which most Aus­tralians are sure to adopt.

The C-HR’s exterior style is sure to seem over­done to some but the in­te­rior isn’t likely to di­vide opin­ion in the same way. The cabin, es­pe­cially the in­stru­ment panel, is classy, user-friendly and well made and seven airbags are fit­ted as stan­dard.

The only dis­ap­point­ment is that Aus­tralia will not get the same big cen­tral tablet touch­screen as Europe. Ours will be 6.1-inch, not the 8.0-inch on the model tested.

The C-HR’s front seats are shapely and sup­port­ive and the driv­ing po­si­tion is pretty well per­fect. The steer­ing wheel is neatly de­signed and a plea­sure to use, too.

Hefty rear pil­lars hin­der the driver’s over-the-shoul­der vi­sion and also se­verely re­strict vi­sion from the rear seat. Pas­sen­gers not prone to claus­tro­pho­bia will find the rear seats sur­pris­ingly spa­cious and com­fort­able

The rear win­dows go all the way down, there are bot­tle hold­ers in the rear arm­rests but there are few other ameni­ties back there; no air vents, no 12V plug or USB charger.

The down­ward ta­per of the C-HR’s tail also means its 377L cargo ca­pac­ity is less than ri­vals such as the more prac­ti­cal look­ing and sim­i­larly sized Nis­san Qashqai.

The C-HR is only the sec­ond car, after the lat­est Prius, to be based on the Toyota New Global Ar­chi­tec­ture.

It ben­e­fits from the lat­est ad­vances in the com­pany’s en­gi­neer­ing ex­per­tise to de­liver stronger, safer shell and a lower cen­tre of grav­ity.

As with the new Prius, you can feel the im­prove­ments. The C-HR has a shorter wheel­base and a slightly mod­i­fied rear sus­pen­sion de­sign but it shares the Prius’s smooth-rid­ing and con­fi­dent-cor­ner­ing driv­ing char­ac­ter — it’s bet­ter, in other words, than the av­er­age Toyota.

Toyota Aus­tralia will im­port the C-HR from a fac­tory in Ja­pan. Pric­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions are un­der way.

If the least ex­pen­sive fronta drive man­ual C-HR wears a sticker for about $25,000, and the costs of adding CVT, AWD and the richer Koba equip­ment grade are rea­son­able, this small SUV will surely add a touch of turbo boost to Toyota’s sales rate in Aus­tralia.

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