Striking, alternative crossover coupé makes compact Toyotas interesting again – although it deserves a better powertrain

What is it?

The Toyota C-HR is part coupé, part hatchback and part crossover. It’s a fusion of conventional vehicle bodystyles that indicates most tellingly of all just how many crossover hatchbacks have been launched into what we refer to so often as ‘the Qashqai class’ in the past couple of years. You now have to design one as wacky-looking as this just to get people’s attention.

The C-HR, or ‘coupé high-rider’, has just arrived in UK showrooms, and it plainly aims for a fairly design-savvy crowd. By the standards of the cars it's up against – the Nissan Qashqai, Peugeot 3008, Seat Ateca and Kia Niro – it compromises a little bit of cabin and boot space for the freedom to accommodate that swooping roofline, sloping rear end and those deeply sculpted body surfaces.

If you don’t like the way the C-HR looks, and the idea of a marginally less practical crossover hatchback seems entirely pointless to you – because isn’t that just a normal hatchback, after all? – I guess you know you’re not in Toyota’s target market. The company’s own definition of a C-HR buyer is “a young customer driven by emotional considerations, as well as by style and quality, who wants their car to serve as an extension of their personality”.

So there you are. Those fiddly rear door handles, mounted so highly as to be almost out of reach to anyone small enough to be comfortable in the back seats, are emotional. They’d have that kind of effect on me, I fear. But otherwise, putting all cynicism to one side, the C-HR’s is a design that certainly has its moments and wins plenty of admiring glances on the street.

Toyota offers the car with a choice of 120bhp 1.8-litre petrol-electric hybrid and 113bhp 1.2-litre turbo petrol engines, with either six-speed manual or continuously variable transmissions and with either front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. Given that it’ll account for seven out of 10 UK sales, it was the hybrid we turned to for our first UK test.

What's it like?

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.

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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.

Should I buy one?

Assuming Toyota’s market research is correct and its customer base really isn’t too fussed about how their new car will actually drive, a creditable-handling but poor-performing derivative might actually be 50% over-engineered for their tastes.

But anyone who is interested in the driving experience and likes a true sense of completeness to their new car couldn’t really fail to be underwhelmed by the weedy, unengaging feel of the hybrid powerplant. With Toyota’s 1.2-litre petrol engine and a conventional manual gearbox, we’d expect the C-HR to be much better.


Toyota C-HR Hybrid Excel

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Location Middlesex; On sale Now; Price £26,495; Engine 4 cyls, 1798cc, petrol, plus electric motor; Power 120bhp; Torque 105lb ft; Gearbox e-CVT; Kerb weight 1420kg; 0-62mph 11.0sec; Top speed 106mph; Economy 72.4mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 87g/km, 15%; Rivals Kia Niro, Renault Kadjar

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

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bowsersheepdog 3 December 2016


Are they really trying to sell that heap? They should have given the pencil to Stevie Wonder, even a blind man couldn't have drawn anything more horrendous.
Techie69 2 December 2016

Girlish editorial review

Toyota CH-R is perfect for tight European roads, especially the English roadSo! It's a perfect urban SUV with just amount of cargo space with unrivaled fuel economy and spunk to dodie traffic to go along w/best Toyota styling in the market!!
Fasteddie 29 November 2016

Styling is a Lost Art At Toyota

What the hell is going on with Toyota styling?!?! The Lexus Look is dreadful and surely impacting sales. Then, THIS! Even a mother could not love this baby!
superstevie 29 November 2016

Fasteddie wrote:

Fasteddie wrote:

What the hell is going on with Toyota styling?!?! The Lexus Look is dreadful and surely impacting sales. Then, THIS! Even a mother could not love this baby!

While I don't love this, it looks heck of a lot better than the bland boxes they've been churning over the years.