Toyota C-HR

Junior SUV uncovers Toyotaís missing mojo

TONY O'KANE

43 Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Toyota C-HR 1197cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo 85kW @ 5200-5600rpm 185Nm @ 1500-4000rpm CVT automatic 1385kg 11.1sec (claimed) 6.4L/100km $28,990 Now

Junior SUV uncovers Toyotaís missing mojo

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

THE C-HR is a most un-Toyotalike thing. It boldly goes against the grain, and when parked next to the largely soulless and conservative metal that presently decorates Toyota showrooms decorates Toyota showrooms across the country it appears foreign. Actually scratch that: itís thoroughly alien.

Just look at it. There are curves and creases everywhere, yet thereís not really a bad angle to the C-HR.

Itís an eye-catching and eye-pleasing design, and itís been quite a while since weíve been able to say that about a mainstream Toyota.

Then thereís the engine Ė a downsized, turbocharged 1.2-litre four that makes 85kW/185Nm. Low outputs, sure, but Toyota hasnít thrown turbo tech like this into a mainstream crossover before.

Thereís also a double-wishbone rear end and a fairly clever all-paw drivetrain option. This car is such an abrupt change of direction and flavour for Toyota, and a refreshing one at that.

Were it not for Toyota Australiaís 6000-unit first-year allocation of C-HRs, Mazda and its popular CX-3 should be quaking in their boots right now. Even the more conventional Nissan Qashqai should feel challenged, for the C-HR has the right balance of space, design and driving chops to command this segmentÖ if only Toyota Oz can get enough cars to cater for demand.

The design and materials also impart an air of upmarket sophistication to the C-HRís cockpit, something thatís a rarity at this end of the SUV spectrum. While the Suzuki Vitara and Nissan Juke make do with cheap, rock-hard plastics, the C-HR takes things to the next level with plenty of soft surfacing and cool textures.

Wider, longer and with 40mm more distance between the front and rear axles compared to a Corolla, the C-HR is also more accommodating on the inside than Toyotaís evergreen hatchback.

There are weird facets to this cabin though. The front cupholders are separated by the gear selector, and the tiny rear windows and rising shoulder line mean kids will see jack-all from the back seats. Style before function? Yep.

However the real highlight is the C-HRís all-new TNGAplatformed underpinnings. With struts up front and an independent rear, the hardware story is already impressive enough, but adept tuning endows the C-HR with a well-balanced chassis that boasts segment-leading comfort as well as excellent body control.

Handling favours understeer, but tip it in with a subtle lift of the throttle and the C-HRís neat rear end comes into play, rotating with ease. Itís especially enjoyable on dirt. Were we expecting that?

After our first experience of it at its European launch, not really, but after driving it on local roads itís clear that this car can handle bucketloads more grunt Ė and might make a respectable base for TNGAnings. n ory a high-riding hot hatch too.

Itís also clear that Toyota has finally shrugged off whatever malaise was preventing it from building genuinely appealing cars.

The 86 was a Subaru-sourced outlier, but the C-HR is the first true signal that Toyota is once again interested in making cars that people would proudly put in their driveway.

PLUS & MINUS

Engine could use more pep; rear-seat visibility; pricey in top-spec form Cool exterior styling; capable chassis; healthy standard equipment

No strippers allowed

Donít expect cheap and cheerful Toyota-ness from this new offering. C-HRís starting price is steep at $26,990 for a base six-speed manual (add $2K for a CVT, another $2K for AWD and $4300 for CVT-only Koba spec), but Toyota counters this hurdle by packing loads in as standard, including satnav, dual-zone climate, AEB, active cruise control on autos and, incredibly, rev-matching for the manual. Who said a compact SUV couldn't have a bit of sportscar flavour?