First Drive: Toyota C-HR

If you think the Nissan Juke looks odd, just wait until you see the new Toyota C-HR on the road…

The design studio elected to remove any hint of a straight line from the car and then, just as they’d finished, found a box of angles in the corner of the room and added them all to the bodywork. The C-HR is distinctive then.

Get past the floating roof, hidden rear door handles, rear lights that stick out of the back like glowing red jet engines, and step inside and it continues to be entirely un-Toyota. There’s an infotainment screen that’s been stuck on like a Blu-tak covered iPad that dominates the centre, but there’s also diamond printed door and roof lining, piano-black lacquer, carbon-fibre trim, swish Nappa leather and an iridescent blue highlight running around the cabin.

It should really be a god awful mess, but it all works well, at least if you’re in the front. Despite being roughly the same size as the Nissan Qashqai, it’s far smaller inside. That’s not poor design, but intentional on Toyota’s part – as should be obvious by now, this is a car for people who want a design-led motor rather than a sensible and bland me-too box on wheels.

The downside of that is that there’s room for just two rear passengers, and they’d better not be very tall. Or claustrophobic, for that matter. There’s little more space in the boot either, with the 377 litres available being some way behind the 430 in the Qashqai, and a long way off the Kia Sportage’s 503 litres.

Assuming you can get past the looks (I can, but it’s definitely a Marmite car) and you’ve decided that the practical issues aren’t quite as important for you as they might be for others, then you’ll find the C-HR to be a genuinely pleasant and rewarding car. Available with a 1.2-petrol engine or a petrol-electric hybrid, there’s some clever tech on both options to make the driving experience smooth and refined.

The hybrid is only available with a CVT gearbox, but this uses complex planetary gears rather than the usual metal band, so there’s a smoother and instantaneous response to the accelerator. You still get a tiring whine from the engine when accelerating hard, but it drops to a barely audible whisper once you’re up to speed.

The traditional 1.2- litre option includes rev-matching wizardry so that the manual gearshifts you have to make are smoother and easier. Keen drivers who heel-and-toe will be caught out, but for everybody else it’s feels like a gloriously silky gearbox.

Point towards the open road and you’ll find the C-HR to be so softly spring that it’s remarkably comfortable, yet the body is kept under control through corners and over bumps. It’s a potent mix that comes from Japan testing the car comprehensively in the UK, but means the C-HR strikes the near-perfect balance between handling and ride quality.

There’s nothing on our roads that look or drive like this Toyota, and on this occasion that’s a good thing. Across the range virtually every box gets ticked, from eco hybrid options to a four-wheel drive choice. Most that we see on our roads will be high-spec hybrids in front-wheel drive, and that’s the best choice in the range. It might just be the best choice in the market, too.

Model Tested: Toyota C-HR Dynamic 1.8 Hybrid
Price: £28,620
Range: £21,600 – £28,620
Top speed: 105 mph
0-62 mph: 11.0 seconds
Power: 122 PS (74 bhp)
Torque: N/A Nm (N/A ft lb)
Monthly PCP*: £391
Official fuel economy: 74.3 mpg
Road test economy: N/A
CO2 Emissions: 86 g/km
Car Tax: £130
Insurance group: 14E
* Monthly PCP estimate based on 20% deposit, 36 month term, 5% APR, final payment of 40%.