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Toyota’s rival to the Nissan Qashqai is interesting to look at and sit in, albeit largely forgettable to drive
Matt Prior
13 November 2016

What is it?

It’s the Toyota C-HR. And, well, far be it from me to get your pedantry radar pinging, but if you’re going to call a car a ‘coupé, high-rider’, then you might expect an element of accuracy within both of those statements. But, well, this is a post-fact world, or so The Guardian keeps reminding me, so let’s allow Toyota some poetic licence. The C-HR, effectively its new mainstream five-door hatchback, does have a swooping rear window and sits a hand width higher than its own Auris hatchback. But a GT86 SUV it ain’t.

You remember the Auris hatchback, right? Go on, you do. Replaced the Corolla? Competes against the Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf, that sort of thing? No? Well, anyway, you can still buy one, only not many people do, hence the requirement, I suppose, for something else. Something crossover-shaped, because if you want a new mainstream hatchback to sell in Europe, then these days you’ll need to make what we used to think was a niche one.

The C-HR is precisely one of those. Toyota expects to sell no fewer than 100,000 of them a year within Europe, which is the only market where Toyota initially thought it would sell the car, before other regions got a look at it and demanded it, too. So the C-HR will sell in Japan and other parts of Asia, and before long other regions as well. A crossover is, effectively, the new global family hatch.

In none of those markets, though, will the C-HR be offered with anything other than petrol or electric propulsion. Even in a Toyota, this is slightly surprising but probably shouldn’t be. Toyota long ago decided that a combination of petrol and electricity – then, further away, hydrogen and electricity – was its future, because it foresaw that although CO2 emissions were the factor that most affected new car legislation, that situation wouldn’t last forever. Air quality – particulates, nitrogen dioxide and so on – are about to replace CO2 as the bigger concern facing legislation makers, despite the non-end to global warming fears. City dwellers trump polar bears, in other words. I suppose they have better lawyers.

The C-HR, then, comes with either a 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol engine (£20,995-£27,995), which can drive the front wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox or, when mated to a continually variable transmission (CVT), can propel either the front wheels or all four wheels (it’s a crossover, innit). Or it can be had in front-wheel drive with the 1.8-litre petrol-electric drivetrain (£23,595-£27,995) that you’ll find in the latest Toyota Prius, whose architecture the C-HR also shares. 

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What's it like?

At 4.36 metres long, the C-HR is more or less the same length as the Nissan Qashqai. (Toyota’s own RAV4 got a bit larger this time around to make room for it in the range.) That the C-HR has some funky surfacing and that sloping rear window mean that it isn’t quite as large as a Qashqai on the inside. With its seats up, the Qashqai has 430 litres of boot to the C-HR’s 377 litres, but you can seat adults behind adults comfortably, although the rising rear window line makes the C-HR’s back chairs feel quite claustrophobic.

That’s not the case in the front, where there’s not only a relatively low scuttle (thanks to a platform designed for a lowish centre of gravity) but also some wickedly radical styling, if you’re coming from another Toyota. Honestly, it’s hard to think that the Auris and C-HR could come from the same company. It’s finished pleasingly, too. Pretty lovely inside, in fact. What did we do to deserve this?

Be European, apparently, with our insatiable demand for nice things. That’s where the design work has been done, and most of the chassis development, too, including a couple of stints in the UK but mostly on the roads around the Eifel mountains, because Toyota, like most car makers, has an engineering base near some track or other based around there.

To drive, then? Well, the C-HR is one of those cars in which it’s useful to make lot of detailed notes when you’re driving it, because otherwise your driving impressions are a whole lot of ‘fine’. In fact, even with copious notes, it’s not far off that. Toyota doesn’t monitor feedback from its customers about dynamics, partly because it’s hard to decipher layman’s terms into engineering ones, but mostly because Toyota buyers don’t care.

They won’t here, either. Toyota said the C-HR wanted performance on a par with a ‘good’ C-segment hatchback. I’m not sure what one of those is. A Vauxhall Astra, maybe? A Hyundai i30? Something that doesn’t constitute aiming high, anyway. So there’s a tight turning circle, the ride is fine, and the steering is smooth.

The 113bhp 1.2-litre drives through its six-speed manual really sweetly (don’t mention the CVT) but the real action for Toyota will be with the hybrid, accounting for more than 70% of sales. It makes only 120bhp so you’re not looking at a brisk car (0-62mph is 11.0sec), but although the engine is sometimes vocal, Toyota’s clever, compact hybrid system, which constitutes planetary gears so that the electric drive motor and petrol engine can spin at whatever speed the car wants, is wickedly effective, albeit the switch between power modes, and braking modes (regeneration or discs), could be smoother.

Should I buy one?

You should certainly think about buying one. We prefer the sweetness of the 1.2, but there's no denying that the hybrid drivetrain is here just as effective as it is in a Prius. That's no surprise, then. The surprise, instead, is that all of those Prius characteristics come in a package that looks and feels quite as funky as the C-HR, so you look less like an Uber driver and more like somebody with, y’know, an active lifestyle. Which is quite appealing in itself. 


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Toyota C-HR
 1.8 Hybrid specifications

Location Madrid, Spain; On sale January 2017; Price £27,995; Engine 4cyls, 1798cc, petrol, plus electric motor; Power 120bhp at 5200rpm; Torque 106lb ft at 3600-4000rpm; Gearbox CVT; Kerb weight 1420kg; 0-62mph 11.0sec; Top speed 105mph; Economy 74.3mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 86g/km, 15%; Rivals Nissan Qashqai 1.6 dCi 130PS Tekna, Peugeot 3008 Hybrid4 Limited Edition

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Comments
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Micaw 22 December 2016

Poor Engine Choice / Fixed 4x4 version / Expensive

Loving the styling. However, what point is there having a sporty looking car with an 11 sec 0-60 time? Most rivals eg Juke, Renegade, are offering 190-200bhp in their 4x4 versions, compared to 120 bhp from the C-HR.

Second issue is the 4x4 system. Nearly all rivals including the bargain end of the market are offering multi-mode 4x4 systems for max grip in all conditions, yet the C-HR offers a basic fixed 4x4 system for £27K????? No hill descent mode. No diff lock, no specially tuned grip modes.

Which brings up the 3rd issue - price. At £20K it's not a bad price. At 4x4 level at £27K it's the same price as a mid range MkII Tiguan 4x4 with Nav, which blows it completely out of the water. £27K is also Jeep Renegade Trailhawk Territory, which is a very capable top of the range 200bhp off road vehicle with Land Rover rivalling off road performance (I believe it uses the same 4x4 and gear box system as the Evoque / Range Rover), luxury leather interior as standard, and more equipment than you can dream of. It's also top Audi Q2 Territory which is a whole level above in quality in my opinion.

£27k is also top of the range Quashqui 4x4 territory, the previous class leader.

Then there's the cheaper rivals. £23K buys a Jeep Longitude 4x4, with luxury leather interior and pretty much everything the Trailhawk has except the raised suspension, "rock" surface 4x4 mode, and full blown off road wheels / tyres. You can buy a Seat Ateca with 4x4 to a pretty high spec for £23-25K and 150bhp engine. You can buy a range topping Vitara Boosterjet with 150bhp, multimode 4x4 and hill descent and loads of toys for £21K, albeit with harder plastics. Even the Q2 starts at £20K.

So does Toyota really expect people to buy a low powered fixed transmission 4x4 for up to £5k more than it's rivals?

I would buy one as it's a great looking car. But only if it had gti performance, multimode 4x4 with hill descent etc and if it cost less than £23k.

gregor60 16 November 2016

Mean spirited?

This may have been written with the intention of contrasting the style of this car with the lack thereof in the Auris, but it comes across more as a mean spirited attack on that car. I've got a first gen Auris and admit it looks bland but it drives well in the circumstances I use it and is extremely reliable and economical. The newer Auris looks pretty sharp too. It's time some Autocar writers acknowledged that car enthusiasts can be enthusiastic about different things beyond go cart handling. Jim Holder, with his Zoe reports, is an honorable exception, IMHO.
AV 15 November 2016

Turkey

I believe the Verso is made in Turkey.
Pity this car didn't have a VW group badge on the front; Autocar would have loved it.

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