Ride, Handling & Performance
Interior Comfort & Practicality
Technology & Safety
Value & Ownership
Compact or city SUVs, depending on the terminology you prefer, are currently experiencing significant growth. It’s easy to see why, these are cars that make sense if you live in one of Australia’s cities. It’s a competitive segment with all the major players being represented and Toyota now has a dog in the fight with its new C-HR.
The arrival of the 2017 C-HR represents something of a new direction for Toyota. In a brave move, the conservative styling the brand is known for has been thrown out the window. It has to be the most innovative design in Toyota’s current range. When approaching the C-HR, it looks like a motor show concept car, but in this case, it has number plates attached.
From every angle, the C-HR has a striking exterior and one that fits in well with other images of Japanese modernity. Toyota claims its new platform called Toyota New Global Architecture, allows designers more creative freedom. With this in mind, it will be interesting to see what follows in the footsteps of the C-HR.
Toyota believes the C-HR will bring new customers to the brand, customers who focus on the emotional side of purchasing a new car. It’s a fair assumption to make, it would be hard to argue the C-HR won’t be able to pull a slightly different buyer into dealerships. The C-HR is definitely the car that has the showroom appeal which can attract buyers who may favour the style on offer from Japanese rivals Mazda and Honda.
For this review, Toyota has supplied us with a 2WD Koba model. The Koba variants of the C-HR sit at the business end of the range. To get behind the wheel of this model you will need to part with $33,290 plus on-road costs. This is a price point that puts the C-HR in competition with mid-size models, where buyers can consider the tradeoff between space and equipment levels.
In Koba spec, the C-HR is loaded with standard kit, the highlights being, leather-accented seats, keyless entry and start, satellite navigation, dual-zone automatic air-conditioning, LED lamps and great looking 18-inch alloy wheels.
The design isn’t just a case of attention seeking looks, there is also functionality. For instance, the roof mounted spoiler and tailgate lip spoiler act to reduce drag, while improving the car’s stability at high speeds.
For those wanting to add even more panache to the exterior, Koba buyers can option a two-tone paint scheme, this brings a white or black roof to some of the already bold paint choices.
Our only criticism of the exterior is the concealed rear door handles, they look the part, but they are too high for young hands to reach.
Turning to the cabin of the C-HR, Toyota’s interior designers have held up their end, every button and dial has been carefully placed, it’s easy to see the amount of thought that has gone into the layout. It’s a driver-focused cockpit. All the important controls are orientated towards the driver, including the 6.1-inch touchscreen, which has broken free and now sits atop of the dash.
The interior of the C-HR is a pleasant place to spend time. The compact exterior is deceiving when trying to estimate how spacious the interior should be. Clever use of space means head and legroom are generous for a car in this class, even tall passengers will find the C-HR accommodating.
The heated front seats with power lumbar adjustment offer excellent support that improves driver and passenger comfort over long stints behind the wheel. The seats utilise a clever two-tiered design that puts emphasis on bolstering the lower section.
It would be difficult to categorise the C-HR as a family car but as a model that can carry four adults, USB charging options are needed for rear passengers.  While speaking of the back, youngsters may feel a little claustrophobic as a result of the high rear windows.
There is generally a good mix of materials used throughout the interior, nice soft touch plastics and leather cover the most of the interior surfaces. In saying that, easily the most frustrating aspect of the interior is the overuse of piano black trim. The centre console is covered in it. It makes no sense to deploy a finish like this in an SUV, even a compact one. Our test car hadn’t covered many miles, but the wear and tear was already evident. The matte surfaces used in the RAV4 and Fortuner are a far more practical alternative and should be available here.
Putting surface choices to one side, the overall build quality is typical Toyota, everything is well screwed together. Interestingly, all Australian C-HR variants are manufactured in Japan.
After plenty of time admiring the design, it’s a very big ask for the driving experience to be commensurate with the C-HR’s styling.
All Australian C-HR models are powered by a 1.2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine, developing 85kW of power and 185Nm of torque. These numbers are small and to achieve them, the C-HR needs to be worked hard. Maximum power comes from 5,200rpm, while peak torque can be found between 1,500 and 4,000rpm.
Gear changes are taken care of by way of an automatic continuously variable transmission. There is a manual mode, but no paddle shifters. If sports mode is selected, under hard acceleration the CVT has been calibrated to simulate gear changes of a regular automatic. We are not sure if this is completely necessary, however, it does disguise the usual CVT drone.  
Around town, in the C-HR’s natural habitat, the engine delivers enough performance to easily cover the day to day. It can also keep the pace up on highway runs. The C-HR isn’t a car that will win many speed tests, but it’s unlikely to ever need to.
What is a surprise is how engaging the C-HR is to drive. The chassis tune encourages a sporty drive. The new platform offers a low centre of gravity, meaning the C-HR has some credentials in the way of dynamics, it handles and corners extremely well. The C-HR offers a level of control and balance you would generally not expect to find in a high rider. This leads us to believe the C-HR is engineered to handle far more power than what is currently available and could evolve into a hot hatch competitor.   
The suspension was also impressive on some dreadfully coarse roads in country Victoria. The lumps and bumps were absorbed before making their way into the cabin. The C-HR can provide a smooth and comfortable drive when it’s needed.
Steering is another area that sets the C-HR apart from other Toyota models we have tested, in the C-HR the steering is very direct. It’s a sophisticated setup that combines excellent weighting with a level of precision that works brilliantly.
Toyota has focussed heavily on the C-HR’s safety package. All models get seven airbags, stability and traction control, auto high beam, blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, rain-sensing wipers, front and rear parking sensors and hill-start assist control.
There’s also a pre-collision system that brings autonomous emergency braking, active cruise control and a lane departure alert with steering assistance. All the safety equipment and a highly rigid chassis and body structure have seen the C-HR score the maximum five-star ANCAP rating.
We were expecting the small engine to provide strong economy figures and it didn’t disappoint. After a week in the C-HR, we were able to match the combined consumption figure of 6.4litres/100km. This is a very good return. It is worth noting, the C-HR likes to drink the good stuff and requires a minimum of 95 RON premium unleaded.
In an excellent move, Toyota has set very convenient 12-month/15,000km service intervals for the C-HR. Getting away from the Toyota’s usual 6-month/10,000km intervals represents a win for buyers. The first five services are capped at only $195. We are hopeful this new service structure will filter through the rest of the Toyota range.
The warranty remains a 3-year/100,000km proposition. It’s not really representative of the build quality and reputation for durability Toyota is famous for.
It would be easy for those who haven’t driven the C-HR to dismiss it as just a flashy design, a car looking for an attention. This would be a mistake. The C-HR is one of those rare cars where style and substance come together. It brings distinct, modern styling flare along with a dynamic driving experience through a brilliant ride and handling package that justifies the cost.
The C-HR, especially in Koba form is a rarity from Toyota. It’s a car that breaks the rules and challenges the overly conservative labels that surround the brand. It’s a car that’s desirable and can lead the small SUV segment. It’s also a car that makes us wonder where Toyota is now headed in terms of its range and design language. The C-HR isn’t just another well made Toyota, it’s a statement of future intentions that’s well worth getting excited about.
2017 Toyota C-HR Koba 2WD Specifications
Price from $33,290, plus on-road costs Engine 1.2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol Power 85kW @ 5,200-5,600rpm Torque 185Nm @ 1,500-4,000rpm Transmission Multidrive S CVT (continuously variable transmission) automatic Combined Fuel Consumption 6.4L/100km Tank Capacity 50L Length 4,360mm Width 1,795mm Height 1,565mm Wheelbase 2,640mm Kerb Weight 1440kg Ground Clearance 154mm Turning circle 10.4m Service Intervals 12-months or 15,000km Warranty three year/100,000 kilometre
Let’s start a Car Conversation, what do you think of the design of the C-HR? Do you think the value stacks up?