Everyone’s starting to do small, high-riding, sporty-looking cars. This is Toyota’s.
There are two things you need to know about the C-HR. Firstly, it’s what happens when Toyota looks at the Nissan Juke and thinks, ‘Oh. Shit. That idea actually worked’. So it’s a sort of small, tall hatchback that’s meant to be distinctive and a bit sporty. Secondly, it’s built on the company’s New Global Architecture, the same box of bits that is used to make the latest Prius and will, in time, form the basis of almost everything Toyota including Aurises, Camrys, showrooms, coffee machines, notepads, and people. Probably. Toyota didn’t get rich by wasting chances for commonality across everything that it does. One other thing about the C-HR you might not realise; it’s built in Turkey. With this in mind, I was expecting the sat-nav to become increasingly dictatorial. Actually, on first impressions this car feels eager to please.
It’s hard to ignore the C-HR’s styling because there’s quite a lot of it. At first glance it looks like a drawing of a more conventional car that’s been screwed up into a ball, or a child’s toy that’s about to turn into a robocat. But the more you stare at it, the more appealing it seems to become. I like the aggressive nose. I really like the clever tricks with folds and mouldings along the sides so that the entire body appears to pinch in, giving it an interesting, wasp-esque quality. And although the back end threatens to turn into an impression of the last Civic, it’s still quite unusual and interesting. During the design process it’s clear that the interiors people got wind of what their colleagues in the exterior design department were doing and decided they were not to be out-done in the mad detailing stakes. This must be why the C-HR is the first car I can recall that appears to have wicker door trims. They’re actually quite nice, as is the leather dash top, though both things are rather spoilt by being brown when the rest of the interior is black. Come on people, this is basic stuff. Anyway, the inside is almost as busy as the outside but it mostly works as a design and the quality of the buttons and switches is tremendous. In fact, the fit and finish of the whole car is superb. No one in the mainstream does this stuff as well as Toyota. You’d kill to have the doors in your house fit this well. In case you’re wondering, the C-HR still has the massive digital clock fitted to all Toyotas since time itself was invented. In this case, it’s blue, but it’s still hilariously out of date, especially since it sits next to a glossy, hi-res screen. There’s no need for it to be there. The screen has a clock. My wrist has a clock on it. It’s baffling, in this car especially. Design and drivetrain technology from the near-future. Clock from 1982. It’s like driving around with a tiny telly showing Stranger Things on a loop. If this is Toyota’s idea of an in-joke, it’s bloody good. However, I’m starting to suspect the entire corporation is actually in trouble with a local digital clock maker and cannot stop fitting the clock for fear that some uncompromising nudey photos from its youth will be released to the press. Toyota, if that’s the case and you’re reading this, blink once and we’ll send help.
Another trundle across London. This C-HR is the hybrid version, which means another chance to play the game of trying to run on electric power for as long as possible in slow traffic, treating the triggering of the petrol engine as a landmine going off. It demands very smooth and delicate throttle work, and even then the C-HR seems annoyingly keen to start burning fossils again. Since this car is made from the same kit as the latest Prius I presume it’s the same hybrid gubbins underneath but somehow it doesn’t work as well. A bigger problem, particularly when you get out of crawling traffic, is that the design and demeanour of the C-HR tries to suggest some fire in the belly, and the powertrain immediately drops a damp flannel onto it.
The hyphen in the C-HR’s name isn’t where you expect it to be. A bit like Ban Ki-Moon. It’s also not clear what C-HR actually stands for since Toyota themselves seems confused and claim it’s ‘derived from Compact High Rider and Cross Hatch Run-about’. I think the man who styled the back bumper gave the marketing department some of whatever’s in his vape pen. Compact-HighRider?
I’ve done some light helmswork in the C-HR and here’s what I’ve found. I think the chassis is actually quite good, what with its acceptable ride and keen appetite for the business of turning into and then going around corners in a brisk way. But there’s a subtle issue: In order to make the C-HR feel lively they’ve given it a pretty quick steering rack and this means that, with just a slight turn off-centre, it fair darts towards the place you’re pointing it at. But the springs and dampers aren’t quite tuned correctly for this and have to catch up, so in certain situations the car feels out of step with itself. It’s only slight, but it’s there. An easy mistake to make, I imagine. It’s not terrible, and certainly not as bad as the droning and grunting that comes from the engine compartment if you ask the hybrid drivetrain to come out for a play. No, it says. I want to go back to the city where I can be economical. Boo hiss.
If you ever have to go through an average speed camera zone, and if you’re not one of those fast-moving thickos who still hasn’t figured out what ‘average’ means, cruise control is a very good thing. And radar cruise control, as fitted to this C-HR, is even better. But this car’s system has a weird quirk. If you set it at, say, 52 for a 50 zone it will hold that speed. But if you try to adjust your speed up or down very slightly it insists on rounding to the nearest five. Which is no good because 50 in a 50 zone gets you tangled in other motorists and 55 feels like you’ll get a letter about it. Toyota always strikes me as a very logical car company, but I can’t work out the logic of that one at all. Unless they’re so logical, they can’t bear any number that’s not rounded off.
One last brisk drive in the C-HR before it goes away. It’s still not quite fun enough, almost entirely because of that engine/gearbox combo. I’ve nothing against hybrid systems per se. I like the new Prius simply because it seems fit for purpose, and that purpose is plodding about urban areas being smooth and quiet and economical. Sadly, when you attempt to apply that tech to a car that sets out to do more than that, it doesn’t work. It’s still quite economical, but it’s not very nice to drive in anything like an up-and-at-‘em manner. It’s a shame because the rest of the C-HR has great promise. I like the way it looks, I like the way it’s made, and I can sense some goodness in its chassis. But the mooing, fun sponge of a powertrain takes the edge off. You can have it with a non-hybrid, turbocharged 1.2-litre petrol engine and a manual ‘box. I’ll take a punt and say that, with that engine and transmission, I think the C-HR might be better than this.
The car talked about here is a Toyota C-HR Excel Hybrid 1.8 CVT. It has a 1.8-litre petrol engine plus an electric motor making a total of 120 horsepower. It can go from 0-62 in 11 seconds and on to a top speed of 105mph. In this trim it costs £27,995.