Toy­ota de­cides it’s ‘no more ‘Mr Sen­si­ble’

C-HR swings from the chan­de­liers with its party-an­i­mal styling

The Star Early Edition - - ROAD TEST - JA­SON WOOSEY

IT CER­TAINLY helps that cur­rent Toy­ota Pres­i­dent Akio Toy­oda is a car en­thu­si­ast, yet there must be more to Toy­ota’s in­creas­ingly dar­ing de­sign di­rec­tion and out-of-char­ac­ter prod­ucts like the new C-HR. My guess is that Toy­ota is sim­ply sick to death of be­ing called bor­ing and sen­si­ble, and is act­ing out like a re­bel­lious teen. And no, I didn’t say that’s a bad thing.

In keep­ing with its sub­ver­sive na­ture, the rad­i­cal-look­ing C-HR doesn’t re­ally fit neatly into any spe­cific seg­ment or cat­e­gory. You could say that in spirit it’s a bit like Nis­san’s Juke, only more rad­i­cal, but in size and price terms it’s ac­tu­ally much closer to the Qashqai, ex­cept the C-HR is lower to the ground and ul­ti­mately less prac­ti­cal.

With a ground clear­ance of just 160mm, it’s not a lot fur­ther off the ground than your av­er­age hatch­back, and yet it’s just high enough to give it that SUV stance and a slightly com­mand­ing driv­ing po­si­tion that so many peo­ple want these days.

This cross­over’s strik­ing ex­te­rior de­sign unashamedly places form over func­tion. With short over­hangs, bulgy wheel arches, a fin-like C-pil­lar that blends into a slop­ing roofline and boomerang-like tail­lights, it’s clear that this Toy­ota thinks of it­self as a sportscar on stilts.

Yet there is a price to pay for all this aes­thetic ex­u­ber­ance in that the C-HR is not as prac­ti­cal as your ev­ery­day cross­over, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to lug­gage space and other ‘sen­si­ble non­sense’ like that. The po­si­tion­ing of the rear axle at the very back of the ve­hi­cle makes for a rather shal­low boot, and it doesn’t help that Toy­ota SA in­cluded a full-sized spare wheel. Surely a space saver would have worked just fine in this ap­pli­ca­tion? Toy­ota says the boot will swal­low just 328 litres of lug­gage, and that’s even 26 litres less than you get in the smaller Juke.

Yet the C-HR’s gen­er­ous over­all pro­por­tions do re­sult in am­ple rear legroom, with good stretch­ing space be­hind an av­er­age-sized driver, al­though head­room could be a prob­lem for rear pas­sen­gers that are taller than nor­mal.

So this Toy­ota looks fast and it cer­tainly turns heads, but does it have the per­for­mance to match? Given the car’s main­stream price po­si­tion­ing (R318 500 to R356 000), Toy­ota hasn’t gone the GTI route here, but the C-HR’s 1.2-litre, four-cylin­der tur­bopetrol en­gine is a fair com­pro­mise in any­one’s book. It’s the first lo­cal Toy­ota to be fit­ted with this new mo­tor, which boasts di­rect fuel in­jec­tion and the abil­ity to run on the fuel-sav­ing Otto-cy­cle at low en­gine loads. It pushes 85kW at 5600rpm and 185Nm from 1500rpm and drives the front wheels through ei­ther a six-speed man­ual or, as per our test car, a con­tin­u­ously vari­able trans­mis­sion, with seven pre-de­fined ra­tios in man­ual mode.

It’s a sat­is­fy­ing com­bi­na­tion all round. It’s a touch laggy off the mark per­haps, but nowhere near as bad as com­pa­ra­ble ve­hi­cles we’ve driven, and the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence is smooth and pain­less for the most part. It’s a lit­tle droney when pushed hard, in typ­i­cal CVT fash­ion, but Toy­ota has con­fig­ured the ‘box to give a more nat­u­ral feel un­der nor- mal driv­ing cir­cum­stances. The steer­ing hardly feels sporty yet it’s as ac­cu­rate as you’d want it and the ve­hi­cle cor­ners well for a cross­over. The ride is quite agree­able too. There is a slight firm­ness in the sus­pen­sion but Toy­ota has thank­fully avoided try­ing to make it too sporty.

The in­te­rior didn’t get that memo, you’ll be pleased to hear. Toy­ota is unashamedly pitch­ing this ve­hi­cle at the youth mar­ket, or Mil­len­ni­als as they’re called these days, and un­der­stands full well that they want style and in­di­vid­u­al­ity. Al­though the C-HR is not quite as rad­i­cal on the in­side as it is on the out­side, Toy­ota has gone for a fu­tur­is­tic vibe here, with a large touch­screen pok­ing out the top of the dash­board and swoopy lines that are an­gled to­wards the driver. What re­ally stood how­ever was the qual­ity of the ma­te­ri­als. Most of the mid­dle and up­per dash is soft to the touch and there’s some el­e­gant stitch­ing on the up­per panel, while pi­ano black in­lays break the monotony of the grey colour scheme. It’s also a very er­gonomic de­sign, with the touch-screen and ven­ti­la­tion con­trols all placed high up and within easy reach.

It’s as if, for a brief mo­ment, Toy­ota’s de­sign­ers for­got that they were try­ing not to be sen­si­ble. There are some mi­nor blem­ishes, like that ‘dig­i­tal’ clock that 1985 wants back ur­gently, and there’s a nav­i­ga­tion but­ton on the au­dio sys­tem, even though there is no sat­nav specced for our mar­ket.

Toy­ota of­fers two spec grades, but if you want the CVT then you have to go for the ‘Plus’ range-top­per, which adds things like dual zone cli­mate con­trol, cruise con­trol, leather steer­ing wheel and rain-sens­ing wipers to the fea­tures mix.

Oddly, none of them are fit­ted with side or cur­tain airbags, which is cer­tainly a safety con­cern, also mean­ing that our cars are not fully rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the five-star EuroNCAP safety rat­ing that the Euro-spec CH-R achieved, at least in a side col­li­sion. VER­DICT If you can live with the small­ish boot, you’ll prob­a­bly find that Toy­ota C-HR is a charm­ing al­ter­na­tive to the cross­over herd. On top of that, it still boasts that typ­i­cal Toy­ota so­lid­ity - this com­pany just can’t help it­self when it comes to stuff like that.

Yet ul­ti­mately the C-HR is Toy­ota try­ing its hard­est not to be sen­si­ble, and we can’t help but ad­mire it for that.

With its 160mm ground clear­ance the C-HR is quite low for a cross­over, but that fits in with the ve­hi­cle’s whole form-over-func­tion vibe.

A fu­tur­is­tic-look­ing in­te­rior with a large touch­screen and im­pres­sively high-qual­ity ma­te­ri­als.

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