Gareth Butterfield tests out the justifiably popular new Toyota C-HR
IT wasn’t that long ago that Toyota was a brand synonymous with solid, dependable but woefully dull cars. Sure, there’d be the odd mad moment of release such as the MR2 and the Supra but the Japanese marque’s true fortes have been the forgettable Carina, Corrolla, Auris and the like.
At some point though, a conversation about brand image has happened in one of the Toyota offices and the outcome of this discussion has led us to this; the weird and wonderful Toyota C-HR.
Now, Toyota already has a surprisingly entertaining SUV on its books, the Toyota Rav-4, and you’d be forgiven for thinking this is sort of a coupe-version of that car. But it’s not. It’s been designed from the ground-up to take an individual position in the range. It’s a crossover.
You’d also be forgiven for thinking it’s a rival other funky crossovers, such as the Nissan Juke, but it’s actually a bit bigger than that. However, it’s still smaller than the SUV.
So it sits somewhere alongside the likes of the Nissan Qashqai and the Renault Kadjar. And neither of those are very entertaining to look at or drive. So the C-HR has a big ace up its sleeve already.
Because just look at it. It actually takes as long to eye up the C-HR as it does to drink in the details on some of the wackiest supercars; that aggrssive nose blends into a line that swoops low along the side and the sweeps up to meet the angular rear end. All the while you’ve got a curved roof that flows neatly into the rear window, met at the top by the rear door and rear quarter-panel.
And all the while, unlike some mad creations on the market these days, there’s a wonderful cohesion to these angles and swooshes. It works really, really well.
The inside is just as refreshing as the outside, too There’s a lovely bold-coloured line running from each door, meeting in the centre of the dash above, framing the infotainment screen. And the materials used to create the effect are lovely, although there’s still a silly 1908s-style LED clock spoiling the effect, although I’m now convinced that’s an in-joke at Toyota, as it still needlessly crops up everywhere.
Of course, to create such a stylish car means you have to make the odd compromise. Boot space is smaller than a few of its rivals and space in the rear seats is squashed a bit by that sloping roof. The sharp angle on the doors means there’s also little in the way of a view out from the rear seats, but it’s still not a bad place for two adults to sit. It’s a comfortable car.
On the road, though, it’s the driver that will be happiest. True to Toyota form it’s available with a hybrid powertrain, which lowers emissions but, seriously, don’t bother. There’s also a 1.2-litre turbo petrol engine which was fitted to my test model and it’s an absolute gem. With its traditional manual gearbox you’ll have all the fun you need, without a drony hybrid drivetrain spoiling it. Four-wheel-drive is available too, but only with the CVT transmission and, to be honest, you don’t really need four-wheel-drive.
In keeping with its ultra-modern stance, the C-HR is also a tech-fest for the gadget-lover, with all models having autonomous braking, radar cruise control and lane-keep assist. My test model also came with a brilliant 576 watt stereo thanks to a tie in with those audio legends at JBL.
Downsides? Nothing too worrying. Obviously, it’s not the most practical crossover on the market, but this is a car for people who value form over function. And even then, it’s not exactly cramped inside It’s a tad pricey compared to some, with even the most basic models coming in at £21,065 – but there’s plenty of standard equipment to soften the blow.
Overall the C-HR is a cracking all-rounder, a promising nod to Toyota’s future and a breath of fresh air in the otherwise comparatively dull crossover sector.
A guy I spoke to from Toyota told me the C-HR is already selling like hot cakes. I’m not surprised.