Toyota’s unsurprisingly surprising C-HR leads hybrid charge

It may be eye-catchingly attractive, it may feature a well-tried hybrid drivetrain and it has become exceedingly popular only a year after its launch but Iain Robertson has no problem with declaring the C-HR as his hybrid of choice.

By all logic, this car should not work. Its styling is unavoidably ‘in yer face’, yet C-HR carries off an optical illusion of crossover, with its pinched midriff, the darker sections of lower bodywork granting a lissome profile to the car. Its flanks contain bolstered and sporty wheel-arches that herald an overt styling stance, wrapped around chunky alloy wheels. It is stretched and sinewy, verging on muscular.

Intriguingly, even the LED head and tail-lamp units that protrude into the atmosphere manage to assimilate a designed-in purpose, not some token add-on. Even the visual hints at aerodynamic ‘ground effects’, the front and rear under-bumper addenda, and the high-level tail spoiler, do not look out of place. Judging by the admiring glances that C-HR received, as I trawled around town, Toyota has got the balance right.

Apart from the swathe of mauve-coloured, saddle-type ‘hide’ layered sensually across the dashboard top, stacked above a mid-blue ‘metallic’ flange that connects both front doors to the architecture and below which juts, rather than slinks, a soft-touch lower dashboard trim, within which is the push-to-open bin ahead of the front passenger’s knees, both the padded roof panel (with its leaf-moulded impression) and the diamond texture door cards (also in mauve) add fascinating levels of visual interest. Like an iPad but carrying readily visible graphics, the centre of the dash is predominated by a touch-screen that accesses most of the car’s functions.

Ahead of the driver is the customary Toyota hybrid dashboard, with a speedometer on the right side and an efficiency meter matching it on the left. There is no rev-counter but, between the dials is the read-out for the on-board computer, accessed via micro-switches and rockers on the steering wheel cross-spokes. The lower centre console is finished in piano-black, with a pair of large diameter and thoughtfully LED illuminated cupholders (one ahead of, the other behind the constantly-variable transmission selector). Possessing high levels of tactility, which generates a tremendous amount of driver engagement, the cockpit of the C-HR is the best place in which to reside of any car that I have tested in the past five years, including that of a McLaren supercar.

Although there is plenty of space in the rear, it feels more cramped than in the light and airy front. Small, dark tinted windows do not alleviate the impression caused by the upwards lilt of the rear door frame and, with the dark grey roof-lining, over-the-shoulder checks made by the driver are obscured slightly by the depth and width of the rear pillars, more so to the nearside than offside. On the other hand, the boot is large and easy to access, the rear seats folding to more than double the available space. A puncture repair kit sits in the space below the boot floor, as is current practice.

Beneath the bonnet is fairly typical Toyota hybrid fayre: a high-compression (13:1), four-cylinder, twin-cam, 16-valve petrol-injected engine sits alongside an electric motor. The efficiency-optimised but largely conventional internal combustion unit develops an unremarkable 97bhp for its 1.8-litre displacement, allied to 104lbs ft of torque. The Nickel-metal Hydride (NiMH) battery is located below the cabin floor and carries a maximum of 600v. It also produces an equivalent amount of power to the petrol engine, although, combined, the output is 122bhp, with the electric capacity almost doubling the available amount of torque, thereby allowing instant karma, with initial throttle application.

Remember that there are no gears to contend with (a CVT is fitted), which means that testing the 0-60mph figure of 10.7 seconds is a seamless exercise, as long as you can tolerate the distant and muted whirr of the engine revving up to its peak power figure of around 5,200rpm. Of course, it is not like that all of the time, as the driver soon becomes accustomed to modulating the accelerator pedal, when keeping up with the rest of the traffic and the C-HR settles into a 70mph cruise in a most relaxed manner. Its maximum speed is given as 105mph.

However, customers are attracted to Toyota’s familiar hybrid technology for the broader benefits it bestows, not least of which is decent fuel economy. Its Official Combined return is given as 72.4mpg, when riding on the 18-inch alloys of the test car (74.3mpg on standard 17s). While most hybrid owners enjoy the driving experience, the clinically-obtained figures can prove difficult to replicate, unless a degree of restraint is exercised. 

Driven hard, the C-HR will give around 47.6mpg, although more judicious motoring, with as much use of the limited EV mode (which does work well in town-centre traffic for a mile, or so) as is possible, will see a consistent 65mpg and probably more. The exhaust emissions figure is given as 87g/km, which is not exempt from Road Fund Tax since the changes made in March 2017 (a factor worth bearing in mind). It is worth highlighting that Toyota’s outstanding 1.2-litre light-pressure turbo-petrol engine is also available in the C-HR, with both automatic and 4x4 transmission options.

Yet, away from the business end of the C-HR, its driveability is simply first-rate. Firm, roll-free but forgivingly compliant suspension is matched to deliciously accurate and well-weighted steering. Chuckability on the limit is excellent, the car responding faithfully to driver input, despite the damping effects of its quite weighty drive-train. The simple truth is that the C-HR is fun, which is an adjective that I have not applied to a Toyota for many years.

FCD Summary

Quite unashamedly C-HR is a car in which I am prepared to invest my own money. I love its practicality, its comfort and build quality. Its cabin is artful in its colour and textural integrity and it drives beautifully. The C-HR engages with its customers in a way that benefits Toyota immeasurably. It is for those reasons, whether for business, or private use, that it has become a large seller for the Japanese and British car maker.

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