IAIN ROBERTSON 

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Long-time fan of Toyota’s response to the Nissan Juke, Iain Robertson’s pro-C-HR stance certainly helped the Japanese carmaker to nail its colours to the mast, although he has often wondered why Toyota went rallying with Yaris instead.

From the land of the avant-garde and from a carmaker hardly renowned for producing entrancing designs, the Toyota C-HR became an instant hit with consumers, when it was launched in late-2016. The first examples trickled into our market in early-2017, its product name standing disturbingly for a choice of Compact High-Rider, Cross Hatch Runabout, or Coupe High-Rider, almost as if Toyota was unsure of its intentions.

Over the years, we have witnessed several car manufacturers introducing fresh styling cues to their model ranges. Toyota itself did so, with its ‘organic’ Celica period, although Ford is probably better known for its ‘Edge’ design that outlined the post-Escort, first Focus era of its existence. In several ways, you can see unique styling elements around the C-HR model. Not intending to please everybody, had the Toyota been launched prior to the Juke, it could have become the overnight sales success instead. From a purely personal viewpoint, I could see rally car, rather than SUV cues in abundance around the C-HR that I considered to be significantly more attractive and better balanced than the big-selling Nissan.

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Yet, most unlike its nemesis, despite looking fast at standstill (the Juke looked more simplistically steamed pudding-like), with a choice of 1.2-litre petrol turbo, or 1.8-litre hybrid engines, it was scarcely going to terrify bunnies on the nation’s back doubles, even though the handling envelope was a moderate cause for celebration. C-HR has always needed a bit more urge but, while the 1.2-litre motor has been dropped in favour of the company’s 2.0-litre hybrid unit, bags of grunt still remain on the wish list, which I believe to be a missed opportunity by Toyota.

The GR bit of the new version’s model name refers to Gazoo Racing, its world championship-winning performance label that, under the control of former WRC Driver’s Champion, Tommi Makinen, has shaken up the international rallying scene with the be-winged Yaris. Naturally, the rally look inspires both appearance and handling of the new addition to the C-HR crossover range that is set to be introduced in early-2021. Blending extra sporty styling elements (different grilles and black trim detailing inevitably), both inside and outside the car, with suspension and steering modifications for even sharper dynamic performance, Toyota is hoping the changes will be enough to reheat sales for the brand.

The usual raft of styling tricks includes a black finish for the headlamp and fog light housings, while the central bumper section, new door mouldings and even the background to the Toyota emblem continue the theme. The pouting radiator grille is now rendered in a dark chrome finish and there is a more prominently styled front spoiler/splitter to differentiate GR from the less sporty alternatives. New larger diameter, 19.0-inch alloy wheels, which feature a contrasting black and machined-face finish, fill the wheel arches more comprehensively and support the beefed-up premise. At the rear, the theme continues with black reflector surrounds, a new under-bumper trim and the all-important GR Sport badging. The finishing touch comes in the form of a bi-tone paint finish that is part of the standard specification, with eight core colours to choose from, including a new Ash Grey, with a black roof combination that is exclusive to the GR Sport.

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The sporting theme continues into the cabin, with an attractive silver deco line (it’s the new automotive dado rail, just do not hang works of art from it!) and a choice of Alcantara-trimmed leather, or all-fabric seat upholstery, both trim finishes featuring GR-type red and grey stitching. The three-spoke steering wheel also features a perforated leather finish, complete with red stitching that is also carried onto the shift lever gaiter. The GR logo is emblazoned along the door sill scuff plates, on the stop-start button and by the start-up animation in the driver’s multi-information LCD display panel.

The GR’s standard equipment specification provides rear privacy glass, smart entry (keyless), LED headlight array, heated front seats and auto-folding door mirrors. Toyota’s Touch 2 multimedia system, complete with satellite navigation and smartphone integration, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto accessibility, all come as standard, although the limited range of extra-cost options does include a nine-speaker JBL Premium Sound audio system.

On the road, the C-HR GR Sport benefits from much sharper driving dynamics, with electrically assisted power steering that provides deliciously accurate turn-in to bends and reassuring levels of mechanical grip from the new wheel/tyre combination. Fortunately, Toyota’s chassis engineers have managed to preserve the fluent ride quality that was so impressive on the original C-HR models. The front and rear springs have been stiffened by 10% and 15% respectively, while the dampers have been tuned for increased resilience on both bounce and rebound settings.

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The 1.8-litre hybrid version now benefits from the larger diameter anti-roll bar that has been applied to the 2.0-litre hybrid version for greater stiffness and it is worth noting that both engines and drivetrain can wear the GR trim. Greatly reduced body roll and improved pitch control gift the GR versions markedly better dynamic balance worthy of the sportier badging. There is no price information available at this stage, after all, Toyota is not alone among UK car importers that need to comprehend whatever trade and import duty deals are struck by a post-Brexit government. Therefore, you can expect more detailed information nearer the launch date.

Conclusion:      My fascination for the C-HR has not ebbed an inch, since its launch over three years ago, the GR details merely supplementing a package that I still believe to be one of the better in class. However, I still pray for a last-ditch performance variant, before Toyota sells its soul to EV-mania. After all, the Yaris GR is a wee firecracker and the more practical C-HR would definitely suit a noisier drivetrain!

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