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First drive: Toyota C-HR. Image by Toyota.

First drive: Toyota C-HR
Toyota C-HR's cracking, distinctive looks hide many more treats inside.


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Toyota C-HR

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Toyota, for too long dependent on humdrum machines, showed signs of rejuvenation when it released the GT86 coupe in 2012 in a joint venture with Subaru. That car has kind of stood alone ever since as the sole interesting spark in a staid range (unless you find the Prius technically fascinating). But now we've got this fantastic C-HR as a barometer of where the marque is heading. Sitting on a new platform and promising more youthful appeal, the best news of all is that the C-HR is not all about its stunning exterior appearance alone, as it possesses a chassis of rare talent in the C-segment crossover/SUV world and an interior that is streets ahead of any of Toyota's usual fare.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Toyota C-HR 1.2 Dynamic FWD manual
Pricing: from 20,995; from 25,495 as tested
Engine: 1.2-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Transmission: front-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body style: five-door, five-seat SUV
CO2 emissions: 136g/km (VED Band E, 130 annually)
Combined economy: 55.4mpg
Top speed: 118mph
0-62mph: 10.9 seconds
Power: 116hp at 5,200- to 5,600rpm
Torque: 185Nm at 1,500- to 4,000rpm

What's this?

The Toyota Coupe High-Rider, or C-HR. No, we don't understand the different placing of the hyphen in the initialised version of the name either, but that's how it is. After the current, wild-looking Prius, it is the second vehicle the Japanese marque has built on its Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform. Compared to the aforementioned eco-car, the C-HR has a shorter wheelbase but a wider track, and for the moment it launches with a two-engine range that's rather light on power for something that's supposedly a sporty car.

However, don't despair. For a start, just look at it. Potentially divisive, sure - we guarantee a small fraction of you are making retching noises or similar, denouncing it as a hideous mishmash of angles and conflicting aesthetic ideas. But so many car manufacturers, Toyota included, do plenty of 'safe' designs in all manner of market segments, so to see the carmaker stick its neck out and launch the C-HR onto the roads almost unchanged from the concept version it touted at motor shows is at once incredibly refreshing and hugely commendable. And, to these eyes at least, it looks absolutely bloody fantastic. There is not a mainstream C-segment SUV at any price that can hold a candle to it for visual appeal, the C-HR managing to look equally stunning in sober hues like silver or black, or in its more youth-oriented war paint of bright blue with a contrast roof. There are so many interesting details to drink in when looking at it that you can spend the best part of an hour finding intriguing new angles from which to best view it, so absolutely top marks to all at Toyota for punting this out there.

It might look all compact and teensy, but that's another clever trick of the design, because it's bigger than an Auris in all dimensions and therefore is - as we've hinted at - a C-segment contender, rather than a rival for vehicles of the ilk of the similarly striking Nissan Juke. Toyota itself suggests it sits above the Nissan Qashqai/Renault Kadjar clan and that it could even potentially pinch a few conquest sales from the likes of the brand-new Audi Q2, the BMW X1 and Mercedes' GLA. And if you're wondering what this means for the RAV4, fear not, as that SUV continues alongside the C-HR as the more pragmatic of Toyota's high-riding offerings.

So, the C-HR looks marvellous. But it has a mediocre interior, right? Wrong. Very, very wrong. Toyota has made a determined effort to up the quality levels inside and it shows. This is the company's finest cabin yet, with much improved switchgear (goodbye to big, clunky lozenge buttons hiding low down, hello to diamond-shaped, elegant designs arranged in a thoughtful fashion), far nicer materials used for all the major touchpoints (the Nappa leather steering wheel, standard on all models, is a particular highlight) and some interesting design themes - such as the blue line motif running from the doors over the new Toyota Touch 2 infotainment screen in the centre console, or the diamonds in the headlining, or the dashboard that's heavily angled towards the driver.

It's not perfect; there are one or two hiccups, such as the highly unusual, patterned hard surfaces on the door cards, the cheap plastic at the base of the windscreen and a few retro-looking LCD numbers in the displays, but overall this is a superb interior. OK, the rear seats feel a little dark and claustrophobic, due to the small windows at the back, but there's actually plenty enough knee- and headroom back there, and there's a reasonably big boot out the back. You don't have to sacrifice every shred of practicality to have that fantastic exterior, is the point we're making here.

The UK C-HR line-up features two efficiency-biased Atkinson cycle petrol engines, a 1.2-litre four-cylinder turbo with 116hp/185Nm and the familiar 1.8-litre normally aspirated VVT-i unit mated to a couple of electric motors in the C-HR Hybrid; yup, that means there's no diesel model, and there's unlikely to be one on the way either, as Toyota is staking its reputation on hybrids as the fuel-saving alternatives to straight petrol power. Said C-HR Hybrid only comes with the E-CVT planetary transmission and front-wheel drive, but the 1.2-litre unit can be paired to either a six-speed manual with IMT (we'll come back to that in the drive section) or a more straightforward version of the CVT. If you pick this latter transmission, the C-HR can be specified as either two- or four-wheel drive, so there are three variants of the 1.2 on offer.

Trim lines start with Icon (from 20,995 for a 1.2 manual) and then spur off into two branches, with the luxury-themed Excel in one direction and the sportier Dynamic in the other. Top C-HR money is 27,995 for either a 1.2 CVT AWD or the Hybrid in this latter specification. The C-HR is covered by a five-year/100,000-mile warranty and lots of toys, including radar cruise control, automated parking tech, satnav, leather upholstery, a nine-speaker JBL audio system rated at 537 watts and loads of driver assist safety systems, are all on the menu.

How does it drive?

Response, linearity and consistency. These were the watchwords when developing the C-HR and Toyota would appear to have hit the nail on the head. We'll quickly touch on the Hybrid, because it's a fine machine, but it's not quite as thrilling to drive as the 1.2. It feels a little weightier at the front, the hybrid drivetrain, while reasonably responsive for its modest 122hp output (no peak system torque is stated for the electrified C-HR), but it still has that harsh revving characteristic when fully extended, and there's a little more body roll in the mix. It's happier being driven more sedately, where it's impressively refined and good on fuel.

Toyota expects the Hybrid to take anything between 65 and 75 per cent of all sales here, which is harsh on the 1.2 - because we think this is unquestionably the C-HR to have. It's still not straight-line quick, despite having the fastest 0-62mph time (by a tenth) of 10.9 seconds, but it feels a lively little performer thanks to its ability to sweetly pile on revs, while that superb IMT gearbox only adds to the fun. IMT stands for Intelligent Manual Transmission and it's basically a rev-matching function to smooth out gearshifts, but its cleverness is that it works going up the gears as well as down. It functions brilliantly and, craftily, Toyota has made it switchable, so if you think it's one level of interference too many you can turn it off.

However, it's the cornering that makes you go 'wow' in the C-HR. Crikey, what a great chassis for a crossover like this. No rival in the segment has such crisp turn-in or resistance to understeer, and there's even the sensation that the C-HR will adjust its line faithfully on the throttle. The steering lacks feel - so many modern systems do - but it is well weighted and consistent in its responses, which makes placing the relatively light C-HR (1,320kg) on the road an exercise in high precision. Add in a beautifully judged throttle map, great body control and some strong, nicely modulated brakes, and the whole suite of controls allows you to maintain masses of pace through all manner of corners. You can't go into the driving experience expecting hot hatch-like ability from the C-HR, but by the standards of its SUV/crossover rivals, this thing is easily the most enjoyable thing to punt about in the class.

It's incredibly entertaining for a taller-than-a-hatchback machine, then, but the C-HR is also blessed with a fabulous ride, that never gets upset in towns, on poor country roads or by transverse ridges running across motorways. There's a little bit too much wind ruffling from the door mirrors at 70mph and some tyre roar is evident, but overall the Toyota is a very pleasant thing to cover ground in, whether you're going at it hammer and tongs on a twisting route or simply cruising along a big dual-carriageway with the active cruise control doing its traffic-soothing act. The brand makes little secret that a more powerful 2.0-litre petrol C-HR is on the way - we can't wait to see if added oomph makes this crossover package even more alluring.


We thought long and hard about giving the Toyota C-HR an extra half-star here, as it really is that good... as the 1.2. It's slightly less impressive in its Hybrid format, which is expected to outsell the regular petrol model by three-to-one both here in the UK and across the wider European market. Nevertheless, either version looks brilliant, inside you'll find the best interior the company (Lexus notwithstanding) has ever made and they both drive excellently.

What keeps the C-HR from a high rating is that the rear passengers are sitting in quite a narrow, confined space, it doesn't quite have the go to match its extravagant show and it's not exactly cheap given it's one of the least practical cars in the segment. But we love it regardless, because it is so daring and the care that has gone into its dynamic make-up is shiningly evident within your first few miles behind the wheel. If this is what the TNGA chassis can do to enliven its cars, then we'd say to the Japanese giant: much more of the same in future, please.

5 5 5 5 5 Exterior Design

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Interior Ambience

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Passenger Space

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Luggage Space

5 5 5 5 5 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Driving Dynamics

4 4 4 4 4 Powertrain

Matt Robinson - 22 Nov 2016    - Toyota road tests
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2017 Toyota C-HR. Image by Toyota.2017 Toyota C-HR. Image by Toyota.2017 Toyota C-HR. Image by Toyota.2017 Toyota C-HR. Image by Toyota.2017 Toyota C-HR. Image by Toyota.

2017 Toyota C-HR. Image by Toyota.2017 Toyota C-HR. Image by Toyota.2017 Toyota C-HR. Image by Toyota.2017 Toyota C-HR. Image by Toyota.2017 Toyota C-HR. Image by Toyota.


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