- Hybrid produces more torque but 1.2 more fun
- Clever manual transmission; noisy automatic
- Don’t bother with all-wheel drive
As this suggests, performance is also evenly matched, with 0-62mph in the hybrid taking 11.0 seconds, while the 1.2 requires 10.9 seconds in its most basic and fastest front-wheel drive, manual gearbox guise. The automatic and four-wheel drive automatic versions of the 1.2 are slightly slower, but not so much that you’d notice day-to-day.
Electric torque counts
However, because the electric motor produces 163Nm of instant torque – almost as much as the 1.2-litre engine, and that’s before the motor’s 1.8-litre petrol partner makes its contribution – once you’re on the move, the hybrid often feels the more responsive choice. In some cases the 1.2 feels gutless.
Keep the revs up, though, and you’ll find the smaller petrol an eager companion. It even makes a pleasantly keen noise. Combined with the standard manual gearbox this ultimately makes it the most engaging C-HR if you like to go fast.
Two interesting transmissions
The basic 1.2 is the only C-HR that comes with a manual gearbox, yet this isn’t quite your regular six-speed. Toyota calls it the Intelligent Manual Transmission (IMT), because it cleverly matches the engine revs whenever you change gear to make both upshifts and downshifts smoother. It also increases engine torque when moving away from a standstill for the same reason. Both features work almost imperceptibly, but very well.
The automatic offered on all other versions, including the hybrid, is a Continuously Variable Transmission. As is typical for a CVT, this is smooth but the engine noise often doesn’t correspond with the speed you are driving, which can be a strange sensation at first, sounding rather as if the clutch is slipping.
We can see very little value in opting for the all-wheel drive option on the 1.2; this is not an off-road vehicle, and in regular road driving you are unlikely to see much benefit.
- C-HR designed to improve Toyota’s handling image
- Very well controlled in the corners – especially for a crossover
- Steering delivers little feedback but good accuracy
Currently Toyota does not have a reputation for building keen drivers’ cars – but it would like to change this. So for the C-HR, a model that was conceived exclusively for the European market, it has expended a great deal of effort attempting to understand European driving traits and how they influence the development of vehicles from the region’s brands.
The end result is a Toyota that is much more satisfying from behind the wheel.
What makes the C-HR a better Toyota to drive?
Attention to detail and a positive attitude, essentially. And by positive attitude we mean that it changes direction with keenness, rather than the reluctance you experience in, say, a Toyota Auris. To make such an amendment with a vehicle of the C-HR’s increased height is impressive, and shows how seriously Toyota plans to take driver involvement from now on.
As for the attention to detail, this is evident in the consistent behaviour of all the handling elements. The steering isn’t over-brimming with feel and feedback, but it transitions very smoothly into cornering, with little of the numbness about the straight ahead you often experience with electrically assisted systems.
Similarly, the suspension’s damping is excellent, not only doing a great job of absorbing bumpy roads effectively but also controlling the way the C-HR leans into turns – tilting gently rather than lurching.
Toyota says it was aiming to deliver the handling enthusiasm of 'a competent hatchback'; we’d hesitate to go quite that far in isolation, but for an SUV it acquits itself commendably, and can be placed on the road with great accuracy.
Which version handles best?
The hybrid carries more weight, especially at the front, so it isn’t quite as sharp to drive as the 1.2. If you want a C-HR that’s fun on a B-road, we’d pick the 1.2 with the manual transmission.
- Bold interior won’t be for everyone…
- …it is functional and easy to use
- Sat-nav could be clearer
In many respects, the inside of the C-HR is more extraordinary than the outside – again, especially for a Toyota.
Not only is the dashboard noticeably angled towards the driver, it feels rather lower and more spacious than you often find in crossovers. But most prominent of all is the Toyota Touch 2 infotainment screen, standard on every model, which sits proud at the leading edge of the dashboard in a distinctive asymmetrical frame.
While this is a detail that appears to be lifted straight from the original C-HR concept car, it works well in practice – placing what is a generously large screen high-up in the driver’s eye-line, making it easy to check without looking too far from the road. The bezel has fixed, touch-sensitive controls for ease of use, and we are happy to report these are responsive and frustration free.
Sat-nav is standard from middle-ranking Excel trim. This has some neat features but struggled with clarity when challenged by Spain’s – admittedly often complex – road systems on the initial launch event.
Much of the exterior is shaped to make you think of diamonds, and reinforcing this message there is a diamond motif throughout the interior – from the shape of the button clusters on the steering wheel and below the infotainment screen to the unusual cut-outs in the roof lining. It gives the C-HR a design consistency that has often been lacking from Toyota interiors.
Won’t be for everyone
Toyota is taking a bit of a risk with the C-HR’s interior, however. The design is so bold that it will potentially put off more conservative buyers – especially when dressed with the bright blue and dusky purple trim standard on the top-spec Dynamic model. More muted choices are available.
We like the layered design to the dashboard and the diamond-patterned door inserts, even if these are rather hard to the touch. But there are still large swathes of bland-looking plastics, which do make the intricacies elsewhere seem a little tokenistic.
- Toyota did development work in the UK
- C-HR deals with bumpy surfaces well
- Both versions are quiet and refined
Toyota has done development work on the car here in the UK – and promises that the particular challenge of our roads has been taken into account.
Indeed, on the rougher sections we've so far encountered, the shock absorbers exhibited a fine ability to deal with bumps quickly and comfortably.
The C-HR’s platform has been reinforced in key areas with the aim of making it especially rigid, which helps in these circumstances. It does also make for a rather heavy vehicle, though, with even the most basic 1.2-litre model weighing 1,320kg, and the hybrid 60kg more.
Our only criticism here is that the C-HR tends to shake laterally very slightly when driving over straight bumpy roads. This is a result of the relatively thick anti-roll bars, so it’s a trade-off between handling and ride comfort, but it’s also not a big cause for concern. Fundamentally this isn’t an uncomfortable car.
Once up and running, both versions of the C-HR are quiet on the move, with even the limited amount of wind and road noise (especially – depending on the surface) making the engine almost imperceptible.
The hybrid can, however, operate on electric power alone for short distances, giving it the ultimate advantage in this area – particularly useful if you have sensitive neighbours but often need to leave home early or return late. It is whisper quiet in EV (electric vehicle) mode.
Which wheel size is best?
We spoke to one of the chief development engineers, who reckoned the heavier hybrid was best on 17-inch wheels, while the sportier 1.2 enjoyed 18-inch wheels.
The hybrid felt slightly softer overall to us, so don’t think there’s major cause for worry either way – which is good news given that all but the entry-level trim come with 18-inch alloys as standard.