Review: Toyota C-HR could be a game-changer

The Toyota C-HR ' short for Coupe High-Rider '  is on the Car of the Year shortlist.
The Toyota C-HR ' short for Coupe High-Rider ' is on the Car of the Year shortlist.
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Toyota has at last let its designers have fun. The game-changer is the C-HR, from its factory in Turkey – significantly located vis-à-vis the hoopla about UK exports after Brexit – outside the EU. This visually invasive five-door hatchback pitches against Nissan’s definitive urban superhatch, the Qashqai from Sunderland – still in the EU.

C-HR mimics the smaller Nissan Juke, with vivacious styling you can’t miss, though surely some will not like it what they call “sensual speed cross” design. I do. You may choose between Toyota’s 1.2 turbo petrol engine or a 1.8 litre petrol/electric hybrid – expected to take 75 per cent of sales in Britain at least. The hybrid unit comes from a £7 million investment at the company’s Deeside factory in north Wales and is also used in the latest Toyota Prius, the world’s best-selling hybrid vehicle. The two electric motors and the CVT automatic gearbox come from Japan.

Toyota has made its system lighter and more efficient, and engineered it to give sharper performance, with longer distances on pure electric power. One motor provides power to the wheels, the other generates electricity and is the starter motor.

The cheaper 1.2 petrol engine, familiar in the Derby-built Auris, is made in Japan, using a manual gearbox from Poland. Such is the to and fro of the car business. This engine is also available with the CVT gearbox coupled to all-wheel-drive. The hybrid is front drive automatic only.

The C-HR is a European car, designed for the region. It is shortlisted for the Car of the Year title. Annual sales are expected to be 100,000 – without a diesel engine, though don’t rule one out in the future.

I drove both back to back on a mixed route chosen by Toyota, starting and ending in Madrid – where rush-hour gave a taste of estrés, Spanish style.

Oddly, the company opines that buyers will enjoy the challenge of driving in traffic. Harrumph. Testers whose navigation failed had too much of a challenge. “My car should express my personality” is another C-HR rallying slogan. Judging from the lack of volume on the navigation guidance, I am a shy, quiet guy.

People I talked to at the event preferred the petrol turbo model. Me too. It has a lower purchase cost – by £2,600 – but add a CVT box and that gap is reduced to £1,400 versus the Hybrid. However – and it’s a big however – business users are going to like the tax advantages and economy of the cleaner Hybrid, while private buyers on a three-year purchase plan pay only £20 a month more for the Hybrid. Deals start at £229 and £249 respectively with a 21 to 28 per cent deposit. Business contact hire rates start at £209 a month for the Hybrid.

They share the same eye-catching exterior, an avalanche of ridges and hollows and extrusions, peaking with the eruption of the rear light units from the tail. This is a Toyota for newcomers never swayed by Auris and early inquiries suggest that eight in ten buyers will be new to the brand. As a business plan this is good – meaning that the majority would not be switching from another Toyota but will be eschewing its worthy rivals.

The name means Coupe High-Rider and fulfils Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda’s wish to “allow greater stylistic freedom”. Claims include class-leading sensory quality, with leather look or nappa surfaces and smart switches. The large touchscreen is angled towards the driver. The car has the lowest centre of gravity in its class.

There is no budget model and the range starts with the Icon which has a pre-collision system with pedestrian warning, Also standard – adaptive cruise control, lane departure alert with steering control, automatic high beam and road sign reading. Excel grade models have heated front seats, a smart entry system, rear privacy glass, part-leather upholstery, parking assistance, Toyota Touch 2 with Go communications, 18-inch alloy wheels, blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic alert. Dynamic have leather upholstery, two-tone paint finish with a black roof and LEDs for all lights, including the headlights.

Prices start at £20,995 for the Icon 1.2T manual (CVT £22,195) and £23,595 for the Icon hybrid. AWD prices are from £26,495 for the 1.2T Excel – the same price as the Hybrid Excel; Dynamic from £26,495 for the 1.2T; Hybrid Dynamic is £27,995, the same price as the AWD 1.2T CVT.

The Hybrid powertrain has a maximum power output of 120bhp with 105lb ft torque from the petrol unit and 120 lb ft from the drive motor. CO2 emissions are as low as 86g/km. The combined cycle fuel consumption figures are from 74.3mpg.

The 1.2-litre turbo petrol develops 114bhp and 136 lb ft of torque, with CO2 emissions from 134g/km and combined cycle fuel consumption from 47.9mpg. It is available with a six-speed manual gearbox or CVT automatic, and CVT all-wheel drive.

Verdict: Head-turner from the world’s biggest carmaker.