Mover for mil­len­ni­als

The C-HR is the most imag­i­na­tive ma­chine in the com­pact SUV class — and it’s a Toy­ota

The Weekend Post - Motoring - - ROAD TEST - BILL McKIN­NON bill.mckin­non@news.com.au

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.

DE­SIGN

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.

AROUND TOWN

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.

VER­DICT

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.

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