CLEVER DESIGN: 'The C-HR might wear a different frock and pack something altogether different under the hood, but it’s a seriously quality act,' writes Alex Parker. Image: Toyota South Africa
'The Toyota C-HR is an interesting car for several reasons, but the absolute obvious one would be the way it looks,' writes Alex Parker as he test drivers Toyota's latest crossover offering.
Cape Town - Well there’s a great deal to contemplate here. The Toyota C-HR is an interesting car for several reasons, but the absolute most obvious one would be the way it looks. About five years ago Akio Toyoda said he wanted the company that bears his grandfather’s name to stop building cars designed by committee. He’s taken a bunch of signatures out of the sign-off process and ordered his team to build more interesting cars.
Actually, I find the idea that Toyota builds “boring” cars absurd. There is nothing boring about the 86, there is nothing boring about the FJ Cruiser or 76 Series Cruiser and the current generation of RAV4 looks pretty great to me too – and if “boring” is simply a way of saying “don’t break down that often”, then we can’t be friends.
Anyway, the C-HR is a pretty amazing looking thing. Clever design tricks give what is a small crossover SUV a fairly planted and muscular stance. I liked it.
But the real story about the C-HR is actually rather different. Toyota slipped the TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture) platform into SA relatively quietly in a car few people have bought (more’s the pity, as I pointed out last week), and fewer journalists have really had a proper look at – the new Prius.
I shouted repeatedly into a howling south-easter of indifference that the platform underpinning the Prius was a class act, that the drivetrain (hybrid) and looks (an acquired taste) could not disguise the fact that the car cornered flat and true, the body was stiff and the NVH levels (Noise, Vibration, Harshness) were out of the absolute top drawer.
Well, here we are with the second TNGA car to arrive in SA, and it’s about as far away from the Prius as you might imagine, a funky urban crossover designed for urban hipsters and, for some, the families they’ve made together.
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But that TNGA quality is as apparent as it was to me in the Prius. The C-HR might wear a different frock and pack something altogether different under the hood, but it’s a seriously quality act.
That means the C-HR corners more like a hatchback than an SUV, and yet its ride is genuinely pliant and comfortable. The 1.2-litre turbopetrol motor is in a characteristically conservative Toyota fashion playing within itself at 85kW. But low-RPM torque makes progress in traffic comfortable and, for the first time I can remember, makes a CVT (Continuously variable transmission) a preferable option over the manual.
That manual ‘box is actually a gem, slick and quick-shifting (and comes with rev-matching tech on downshifts), but with the CVT finding 185Nm at just 1500rpm the traditional engine-labouring associated with CVT boxes in search of kilowatts at the top end of the rev range is really only ever experienced in flat-out overtaking scenarios. In town and on the cruise, the CVT keeps the little four-pot happily in the torque band, giving the C-HR a sense of decorum and calm.
The C-HR is not a rocketship, but will crack 100km/h in under 11 seconds which, I’m pretty sure, is good enough for the school run and the commute. On the cruise that TNGA platform ensures it is quiet and stable far beyond its pricetag. On a largely extra-urban run with some good speed on a national road, I was averaging about 6.0-litres/100km.
The first cars to arrive come with full-sized spares and lack significant boot space as a result, but later vehicles will come with space savers if you prefer. The rest of the interior is yet another step in the direction TNGA has set for the firm. This is the highest quality interior I’ve seen on a Toyota yet. All materials are of excellent quality and, baring a few classically Toyota 1980s-style LCD readouts, absolutely up to the minute in terms of functionality and feel.
It’s not a perfect car. The chunky design of the C-Pillar limit light and visibility from the rear seats, and the sloped rear bootlid makes rear visibility for the driver tight too. A reversing camera, or even just PDC (Park Distance Control) would be a welcome practical addition.
Whether or not you like the C-HR will quite naturally be a question of whether you like the look of it. That’s fine, but questions that I have seen around the price of the car do require a thought. It’s bigger than a Nissan Juke and marginally smaller than a Qashqai, and if you consider the sheer quality of the engineering on show here, the entry price of R318 000 starts to look reasonable. The CVT model starts to creep up into the 92kW VW Golf 1.4TSi DSG territory (R356 000), a perilous place for anyone to play in this industry.
It is, on the surface, a ludicrous comparison. It seems unlikely that a Golf buyer might consider a very Japanese funky urban crossover. But the heart of C-HR is pure engineering class, it really is, and Volkswagen might have something to worry about when the next Auris arrives on this platform.
And the C-HR? It’s a very likeable car. I like that you can have both worlds – an outwardly modern and fresh-faced all-new car designed with a heart of conservative, clever engineering. Keep an eye on Toyota. They’re building some seriously good cars.