If you didn’t know what a C-HR was and someone happened to tell you that they’d just bought one, you’d think they’d bought a printer, or a dialysis machine. Toyota has often and justifiably been accused of making dull cars and they don’t do themselves any favours with names like C-HR. But when you see what he’d bought you’d be staggered, this is a space ship not an office appliance! The C-HR is Toyota’s most exciting car at least until the Supra is released upon the roads of the world.
The designers must have been hypnotised by watching loops of origami videos because in white it looks like it’s been folded out of paper. Toyota has through its luxury brand Lexus, been trying angular design for some time and while whether it works or not is open to interpretation, the C-HR takes this a lot further. This is Lamborghini territory of edgy madness and not too far from the design of the Lamborghini Urus.
The acronym actually means Coupe High Rider and true to name the swooping roofline and rear three-quarter result in a very sleek look. The front looks like the head of a Sci-Fi anime dragon about to pounce and the whole car is visually balanced. The C-HR eerily embodies crossover philosophy in a way that none of its competitors have been able to. It looks like a hatchback coupe was blended with a small SUV and a fighter jet. The end result is a car you want to keep looking at and parking anywhere, it immediately improves the scene.
Functionality comes to a screeching halt at the altar of form. Because Toyota wanted a commanding ride height, the seats are higher than in most crossovers, which makes egress and ingress very natural and driving very enjoyable, if you’re short. However, if you’re 6 foot onwards it’s a tight fit. My head constantly scraped along the headlining. Underlining the fact that despite its vertical advantage, the C-HR is about the size of a VW Golf. With the tapered roofline it feels especially cramped in the rear, however legroom is more than sufficient in both rows.
The rest of the cockpit is very avant-garde with piano black plastics used generously for a very fresh contemporary look. A standard 8-inch infotainment screen protrudes as the centrepiece on an asymmetrical fascia, making the interior feel more driver-focussed. The switchgear feels solid and deliberately designed and wouldn’t look out of place in a luxury oriented Lexus. All in all it feels comfortable, well made and very upper crust.
The C-HR has close crisp handling response, good lateral adhesion and well-balanced grip levels. It rides fluently and quietly, despite my spirited attempts to deliberately unsettle it. You never feel the computers but you can instinctively feel their presence as they deal with oversteer and understeer. You can chuck it into a corner briskly and it just shrugs off the effort and sticks to the line like Velcro. The steering is weighty, feels like it belongs on a more expensive badge and steers with a confidence inspiring directness that’s as chatty as a drunk girlfriend. You always know where the wheels are and the amount of traction you have.
The relatively low centre of gravity and sophisticated rear suspension pay dynamic dividends here, allowing it to come into its element. Point it at a corner and it scurries towards it keenly, the frame settling in to the wheels and the rubber digging into the tarmac. You feel it just wants to go and go it does. It feels well made by people who like driving and handles more like a hatchback with every turn than the similarly proportioned RAV4 ever will. This is mostly down to the Prius borrowed modular underpinnings which give it a lower centre of gravity than its rivals.
It’s a very lively car despite its measly 113 horsepower from the 1.2 turbocharged engine.
As you exit a corner, the car disappoints for lack of grunt. The accelerator is either on or off and if you’re lucky, the slow and very dim witted CVT will have figured out that you’re trying to maintain momentum. If not you exit the corner underwhelmed and wishing you had a bigger engine.
The CHR is Toyota at its contemporary best. It’s available as a Hybrid for the most forward thinking but is enjoyable in either guise. It was a deliberate effort by one of the greatest car companies. Everything from the fit and finish to the space age design served on a platter of legendary reliability. It’s far ahead of its rivals in the styling department and puts swagger above practicality. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and that’s a good thing. Plus in my eye, it pulls off the cute quirky look better than the Nissan Juke.