The last time I drove a 1.2-litre Toyota was the day I sold my wife’s old Starlet – that was 10 years ago.
How times have changed, if you had told me then that Toyota would now be marketing a 1.2-litre sport utility vehicle I would have said you were joking.
Well, the joke’s on me because that’s exactly what has just landed on the market, a 1197cc SUV/crossover which Toyota have simply badged C-HR – an acronym for coupe high-rider.
The C-HR is a smart piece of kit; of course it’s not overly big but it is bold, it has edgy styling which polarises people, most who I spoke to liked the shape, but a couple of others felt it was too weird. Personally, I grew to like it, the sharp angles mixed with flowing curves create a lot of attention and, judging by global demand, it is being well accepted. I particularly like the position of the rear door handles, they are situated just beneath the roof line and blend into the design almost invisibly.
In terms of functionality, the C-HR is quite purposeful, the interior makes good use of its compact proportions, it’s a definite five-seater, and for three in the rear it’s cosy but not tight. In contrast the interior is a lot more conservative than the outside appearance, but it is fresh and built to the Toyota quality process. The fit and finish is perfect with high grade trim materials.
The C-HR lands here in just one specification, well you do have the choice of either front-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive. It is listed at $37,990 with the 4WD option adding an extra $2000. The evaluation car was without drive to the rear, and that would be my choice by far. The C-HR is not an off-roader, so for the odd occasion when you need that extra grip aside, I don’t know that I’d be spending the extra.
However, it’s the mechanicals which make the C-HR rather special. Under the bonnet sits the wee four-potter, it’s a twin-camshaft, 16-valve design, but instead of being naturally aspirated, it has a turbocharger to boost power outputs. Toyota rate the engine with healthy figures for its size at 85kW and 185Nm; but the big secret is the area where those outputs are developed – 5200rpm for power and 1500rpm for torque.
Consequently, they are low in the rev band and, that being the case, the engine works solidly and strongly right through to the top end, it is a smooth, whisper-quiet engine and I guess when you don’t have a lot of reciprocating mass you could expect that.
The C-HR isn’t fast but it will cut out a standstill to 100km/h time of 10.5sec.
Drive is channelled through a continuously variable transmission and it, too, helps enhance the levels of smoothness and refinement.
There’s a steady transition of drive and the ratio changes don’t load the engine, that feel of pull from engine and associated turbo boost is constant, the engine feels a lot more powerful than its figures suggest. Also, it responds willingly to throttle pressure, the beauty of turbocharging is the instant response but without the once heavy fuel use.
Instead, the C-HR is rated with a 6.4-litre per 100km (44mpg) combined cycle average. That fits well with the 8l/100km (35mpg) average figure showing on the trip computer, along with a 5l/100km (56mpg) instantaneous figure sitting at a steady 100km/h (engine speed 2750rpm).
I took the test car west to Hororata and presented it with some short but challenging corners into the Malvern Hills. The C-HR has dynamic handling, and you’d expect that from a car which looks like it wants to move quickly.
The suspension is quality through and through, it’s a fully independent strut/wishbone system and it hasn’t been dampened overly firm; instead there are high levels of comfort. Suspension control and the way it arrests body movement is a credit to the engineering teams.
The ride is perfect, yet you can also force the C-HR into a corner and it will respond like a sports car with direct steering and plenty of steering feel.
Riding on high quality Michelin tyres (225/50 x 18in) there is a lot of rubber on the road and that, too, contributes to the strong feeling of stability.
In one of my Lexus evaluations last year I remarked that I couldn’t wait to drive other vehicles with the new 2-litre turbocharged engine that is finding its way through those premium vehicles.
I thought that engine would also trickle its way through Toyota product
as well, that hasn’t happened yet, but Toyota did surprise me when the C-HR was lunched, I didn’t expect its re-entry into turbocharging would be in an engine with such small capacity.
The fact remains, though, that it works well and serves to prove that you don’t need cubic capacity to glean good performance. Add all that with those sharp styling elements and the C-HR is certainly a standout SUV.
Price – Toyota C-HR, $37,990
Dimensions – Length, 4360mm; width, 1795mm; height, 1565mm
Configuration – Four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive, 1197cc, 85kW, 185Nm, continuously variable automatic
Fuel usage –6.4l/100km