On the one hand, it’s pleasing to slide into the C-HR and find that the car’s agenda isn’t only about high design. The fascia at once looks and feels solidly built. It’s cleverly laid out, too, dominated by Toyota’s 7.0in colour touchscreen infotainment system at the head of the centre stack. The use of high-gloss black plastic on the dashboard and centre console is quite liberal and won’t be to everyone’s taste, and the seats are a little short and flat in the cushion to grant perfect at-the-wheel comfort. But otherwise, thoughtful design and high-quality fit and finish are in plentiful evidence. We like the teardrop-shaped cupholders particularly, made to better admit a travel mug with a handle.
The other good news is that anyone worried how much less rear cabin space the car may grant than their current, more practical but more visually prosaic crossover needn’t really worry – unless they carry large adults in the back. Access to the C-HR’s back seats is easy enough (funny door handles notwithstanding) and there’s enough occupant space for anyone under 6ft tall. Knee and foot space are, in fact, as good as in most compact crossovers. Head room is the limiting factor, with a claustrophobic feel exacerbated by the car’s pinched windowline.
The C-HR adopts Toyota’s TNGA model platform, as seen previously under the current Prius hatchback, with this model in particular using the same hybrid powertrain as the Prius as well. That means the C-HR gets double wishbone independent rear suspension for optimal wheel camber control and uncompromised ride tuning – which does indeed pay off in the driving experience.
Handling is a strong suit. The car steers with meaty feel and plenty of directional keenness, countering body roll well enough to maintain good resistance to understeer and responding as crisply when adding lock mid-corner as on initial turn-in. For a fairly high-sided car, the C-HR certainly feels wieldy. And yet it rides with balance and sophistication - with just enough gristle in the gait to feel closely controlled over bigger bumps, but quietly and with decent suppleness.
The chassis certainly deserves a better powertrain than Toyota’s 120bhp 1.8-litre hybrid. It’s regrettable to report such disappointing impressions after finding exactly the same powertrain so much improved in the smaller, lighter Prius earlier this year. But in the C-HR, Toyota’s petrol-electric combination is back to its wheezy, one-dimensional worst.
The improved part-throttle responsiveness we remarked on in the C-HR’s sister car is notable by its absence, obliging you to use wide pedal openings to get the car to pick up speed with any vim and not shed prevailing speed when climbing. Mechanical refinement is creditable but is certainly eroded by the sheer amount of time the petrol engine spends revving into the stratosphere. And those who’d like to tap into the car’s electrical reserves around town will find it tricky to do without rousing the combustion engine; the drive motor struggles to move the car’s mass with any conviction on its own, and Toyota declines to give the driver any help via a haptic pedal.