Mover for millennials
The C-HR is the most imaginative machine in the compact SUV class — and it’s a Toyota
WHEN the world’s most conservative car group releases a car as radical as the new C-HR compact SUV, something important is going on.
For the first time, a Toyota — this one — is the most imaginative, exciting machine in its class. Toyota needs to hook millennial generation new car buyers, for whom a Corolla just ain’t cool. The C-HR is its first serious, targeted pitch to their hearts, minds and wallets.
“We need to keep customers with us for life,” the man from Toyota said at the C-HR’s launch. Best get ’em young, then, is the idea here.
The basis of C-HR’s low stance and coupe-like profile is a new platform, or base structure, that allows the engine, transmission and seating to be positioned as close to the road as possible.
So beyond the extravagant creases and curves, there’s a purpose to it. The C-HR looks and drives closer to a regular hatch than a typical SUV, a tall, skinny, box on wheels.
Inside, Toyota has created a futuristic, sensory space, with premium quality, diamond motifs, much darker hues than usual and lashings of gloss black plastic trim, embedded with multicoloured metallic-look glitter on the centre console. It’s all a bit Priscilla but, hey, we’re not a Camry, darling.
C-HR prices start at $26,990; today, we’re testing the top-spec Koba, at $35,290.
Toyota is notoriously tight with safety tech but the C-HR has the most comprehensive fitout in the class. Pre-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, radar cruise, blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert are standard in all models.
The styling compromises the C-HR’s functionality and it’s not much of a kid carrier. Rear legroom is reasonable, though the seat is low and the side windows small, with high sills and dark glass, so kids will feel entombed. Adjustable backrests, vents or storage, apart from front seat pockets, are absent.
Boot space is 377L, slightly more than class average. The test car’s tailgate wouldn’t open because the electrically operated exterior latch was on the blink and there is no interior or keyfob release alternative — This might be the first time in 30 years anything has ever gone wrong on a Toyota I’ve tested.
A new 1.2-litre turbo four is just as innovative for the company as the C-HR’s styling, because Toyota has customarily used naturally aspirated engines (and hybrid derivatives) in its small cars and SUVs.
The 1.2 is an unusual and extremely effective engine, with torque-biased tuning that emphasises low-speed tractability and responsiveness at the expense of power and acceleration, in keeping with CHR’s brief to work at maximum efficiency in urban areas.
Matched with a constantly variable transmission and, in the test car, all-wheel drive (each a $2000 option across the range), it uses the absolute minimum of revs to cruise easily around town and responds well to light accelerator pressure, almost like a diesel.
Pedal to the metal, though, the C-HR doesn’t so much accelerate as gather speed in its own sweet time. It looks a lot faster than it is. Toyota doesn’t quote a 0-100km/h time but seat of the pants says it’s on the wrong side of 10 seconds.
The pay-off is a city thirst of just 7L-9L/100km, on premium, using Eco or Normal drivetrain modes.
It’s as manoeuvrable as a Corolla in traffic. There’s ample driving position adjustment and a comfortable, supportive seat.
Controls are clearly marked and close at hand but the small touchscreen is potentially dangerous because hitting the desired icon or button quickly and precisely is difficult. Voice control works with audio and phone but not with navigation.
ON THE ROAD OAD
The tight body, y, low centre of gravity plus suspension that strikes a sophisticated compromise between compliance and control help make the e C-HR a class- leader on the road. It’s agile, comfortable, table, secure on rough surfaces and changes direction without wanting to fall over, unlike most of its rivals.
Quality Bridgestone tyres help, though they can generate noise on coarse bitumen. Light steering is almost too sharp but the C-HR is sufficiently wellbalanced to get away with it.
Drive goes to the front wheels, with the rears getting up to 50 per cent on demand, and 10 per cent whenever you turn the wheel, which helps it point accurately into corners.
Extra weight is added to the steering in Sport mode, which also elicits a moderately enthusiastic surge from the drivetrain. It’s a fiddly process to switch between modes, though.
Manual mode is pointless because there’s no top end power to tap. Cruising at 100km/h, the CVT parks on about 1800rpm and the C-HR can use as little as 5.0L/100km.
Automatic high-beam isn’t sufficiently precise or consistent in its timing or range to avoid
the occasional flash in riposte from an oncoming driver.
The C-HR may look like a complete departure from Toyota’s usual conservatism but, in its design and engineering, the whitecoats have been just as thorough as with any of the company’s cars. Still a Toyota through and through, it’s just a lot more interesting to look at and fun to drive.