Review: Suddenly, the Toyota C-HR is a quiet achiever
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Toyota C-HR hybrid
- Strong urban performance
- Incredible fuel economy
- Hybrid tech has really come into its own
- CVT still no fun on the open road
- Abysmal rear accommodation
- Should you wait for the Yaris Cross?
We are now well into the age of electrified Toyotas; year-to-date for 2020, Toyota New Zealand (TNZ) has sold more hybrid cars and SUVs than petrol or diesel ones.
With petrol-electric technology positively charging across TNZ’s mainstream models, it’s almost a given that if you’re buying a new Toyota passenger vehicle, you’ll look at the hybrid option first. It’s no longer a left-of-centre choice for people who grow their own soap.
That’s partly because hybrids appeal to the bit of the brain that looks after the bank account; they’re about 30 per cent more economical than their petrol-only equivalents.
But we’d like to think it’s also because after 20 years practice, Toyota also now knows how to use hybrid technology to make a car better to drive. This is certainly true of the C-HR compact crossover.
Toyota made a huge effort with the C-HR at launch in 2017; it was a clear signal that the company wanted to make interesting cars again.
There was polarising style (but that’s a good thing, right?) and real attention to detail inside: from a company known for sharing components across multiple model ranges to keep costs down, the C-HR had bespoke switchgear and even a gear selector with cool-to-the-touch alloy trim.
The then-new TNGA platform also impressed for its strength and handling prowess.
So there was some really good stuff. But the sole powertrain chosen for NZ was disappointing: a 1.2-litre turbocharged four with continuously variable transmission. Perhaps it was the expectation created by the massive “turbo” badge on the flanks, but it felt pretty breathless.
Or rather “feels” breathless, because that engine continues. However, with the facelift 2020 C-HR (new front bumper, new tail lights, phone projection) comes a hybrid engine option that saves over 2l/100km in fuel consumption, while also adding driver appeal.
Seriously? Yes. This is not exactly new-gen hybrid technology: it’s basically the powertrain from the Corolla hybrid (and therefore the previous generation Prius), which means a nickel-metal hydride battery pack rather than the lithium-ion of the new Yaris hybrid.
But it’s a proven setup and it really works for urban driving. We’ve tested a brace of C-HR hybrids (entry and flagship) back-to-back-to-back with a standard petrol model, and the more muscular power delivery of the electrified model off the line in traffic is obvious. You’re conscious of the petrol car working hard, whereas you just relax and enjoy the hybrid.
The hybrid system can still only travel for short distances on pure-EV power, but it’s a case of little and often – and that works brilliantly in the city. The official combined fuel economy figure is 4.3l/100km and in a week of Auckland CBD commuting (no open-road stuff at all) in our first C-HR hybrid I managed 4.8l/100km, easy.
In the second car I ranged a lot further and went faster, but it still stuck resolutely to 5.5l.
The dynamic aspect of the C-HR still scores. A CVT is never the enthusiastic driver’s friend, but the hybrid is only 20kg heavier than the petrol C-HR and so it retains a faithful and predictable cornering stance. If we’re talking nuance (to be honest, we’re probably not with a car like this) you could argue the hybrid is better, because the extra weight is within the wheelbase, tucked under the rear seat.
The hybrid is FWD only at this stage. If you want a C-HR AWD, you’ll have to go for the 1.2-litre Limited model. It’s still $1500 cheaper than the hybrid Limited, so it’s tempting. But still… no.
What a shame a hybrid powertrain can’t give a compact SUV a better rear seat.
Another problem with C-HR from the start was that the rear accommodation falls victim to the sleek styling. Or rather, the sleek styling murders the rear-seat accommodation with extreme malice.
It's hard to reach the doorhandles, you can’t see much out of the side windows (if you can call them “windows”) and children can feel unwell almost immediately once you set off.
So the C-HR is pretty much a two-person vehicle. If you have kids (or grandkids), might pay to wait for the Yaris Cross SUV.
There’s not a lot to choose between entry and Limited grades. The base car is still well kitted-up and it doesn’t even look a whole different – unless you go for the two-tone colour scheme that’s only available on the Limited.
The flagship model gets its own style of alloy wheel (no bigger though - still 18in), low/high LED headlights, leather-accented heated seats, slightly more glitzy cabin trim and a panoramic camera system for parking. You can decide whether that appeals for an extra $3000.
Safety is strong whatever you choose in these days of Toyota Safety Sense (TSS): all C-HR models have Pre-Collision System, Autonomous Emergency Braking, all-speed adaptive cruise and Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist. Blind Spot Monitor and Rear Cross Traffic alert are also standard.
If you’re being impossibly rational about it, you’d have to drive a C-HR hybrid 150,000km to recoup the extra $3k asked over a standard petrol model. But you’re getting a much better car to start with – and with the likely superior residual values of petrol-electric Toyotas going forward, we reckon the hybrid is a no-brainer.
TOYOTA C-HR HYBRID
ENGINE: 1.8-litre petrol four with nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) battery and electric motor
POWER: 72kW/142Nm (total system 90kW)
GEARBOX: Continuously variable automatic, FWD