Toyota C-HR review: A sharper edged hybrid
The electric car is on the march. With Tesla showing EVs can be desirable, the Nissan Leaf proving they can work as practical family transport and even the London black cab going all-electric, there’s growing acceptance among consumers and politicians that electricity will be the fuel of the future, not petrol or diesel.
But that future isn’t here yet, and it’s still a fair way off. Electric vehicles don’t work well in cold climates, at sustained speed, or with a load of luggage and passengers in the car, and the charging network remains fragmented and patchy.
If you’re interested in an electric vehicle, then, but don’t want to take the leap just yet, what’s your alternative?
The popular choice has long been the petrol-electric hybrid, championed originally by Toyota with the eponymous Prius, but which has been steadily growing more popular in recent times.
But Toyota has a problem. The Toyota Prius, worthy as it may be, is about as far from being dynamic and exciting as London is from Sydney and about as appealing to younger drivers as a cold Greggs sausage roll.
Its answer to this problem is the Toyota C-HR.
Toyota C-HR review: A new kind of hybrid
Toyota’s funky crossover is the polar opposite to the staid Prius; the antidote to that car’s mini-cab drab. It has dramatically sculpted sides, brake lights that protrude like rocket pipes at the rear, and an aggressive stance that makes it look completely different to most cars currently on the road.
Yet under the bonnet – behind the rockstar haircut, the torn jeans and the automotive piercings – the engine is set up in the same way as the current Toyota Prius (unless you opt for the 1.2-litre petrol, which surely few do).
As with all hybrids, the C-HR has two motors. One 1.8-litre internal combustion engine with a CVT gearbox, and one electric motor. The electric motor operates 100% of the time, with the petrol engine helping out only when more power is required.
You can drive entirely on battery power at low speed if you have enough charge to do so, and the battery recharges when you brake and while the petrol engine is running.
In some ways, the C-HR delivers exactly what you might expect. It has low CO2 emissions of 87g/km, and it’s great to drive on electric power.
What it doesn’t do – at least for private owners – is offer low road tax or particularly noteworthy fuel economy. The new road-tax rules mean hybrids first registered after April 2017 are no longer cheap or free to tax as they once were: the Hybrid C-HR supplied for this review will cost £130 per year to tax. That’s just £10 per year less than the petrol version.
Plus, despite the hybrid engine, it isn’t hugely fuel-efficient for everyday driving. During my time with it, I averaged around 53-54mpg driving on mostly city roads and the occasional 50mph dual-carriageway stint. That’s a long way off Toyota’s quoted 72.4mpg on the combined cycle.
As for the driving experience, that’s mixed. In EV mode, which can be engaged by pressing a button on the centre console, the car is silent and the ride pliant yet firm. While cruising it’s reasonably quiet, too, and excellent build quality ensures you won’t be irritated by cabin rattles.
It feels composed and responsive in the corners, and picks up speed quickly – as long as you put it in Sport mode. There’s plenty of torque on offer for overtaking, too.
However, as soon as you put your foot down, the engine shatters the tranquillity with a coarse – dare I say it – unpleasant roar.
I enjoyed the car despite this, but it’s far from the refined experience you might expect from a car costing the thick end of £30,000.
Toyota C-HR review: Interior tech and driver assistance
Step inside the Toyota C-HR and you’ll find that the interior is just as bold and brash as the exterior. Colourful, textured panels adorn the inside of the driver and passenger doors, and a stepped, two-tone dashboard sweeps dramatically across the cabin.
Everywhere you look, there’s something interesting to look at, not least the large, 8in Touch 2 infotainment touchscreen that sprouts from the upper part of the dash. This is colourful and readable with a surprisingly useful range of capabilities, which I’ll get onto in a moment.
For now, however, I’m going to focus on its performance – or, to speak more precisely, the lack of it.
The simple fact is that, compared with the best systems around right now, Toyota’s system is slow. Really slow.
Its response to taps, swipes and pinches is glacial, the load times of the various screens will severely try your patience, and the capacitive touch shortcut keys that surround the screen suffer from the same inertia.
Is this 2018? Not in Toyota’s world. Touch 2 feels like you’ve just picked up a sub-£100 smartphone from five years ago and, believe me, I’m not exaggerating.
The good news is that, when you get used to the fact that tapping a button doesn’t result in an instantaneous reaction, it is quite effective. The graphics may not be particularly sharp or modern, but the menus are all sensibly arranged and easy to find your way around.
There’s no Apple CarPlay, Android Auto or MirrorLink support (and no option to add it either), but you can share the data connection on your phone with the built-in satnav so that it can get more accurate traffic data and access a bigger POI database.
The My Toyota smartphone app, meanwhile, gives you access to a small range of compatible third-party apps, although there’s no support for Spotify or TuneIn. And what you do get with the Toyota C-HR is plenty of safety tech as standard.
All models across the range – even in the most basic Icon spec – get Toyota Safety Sense, which includes adaptive cruise control, pre-collision with pedestrian detection, road-sign detection, lane-departure alert with steering control, and automatic high-beam headlights. All models are equipped with rear-parking cameras as well.
That’s a healthy selection and it’s good to see that all of it seems to work effectively. The adaptive cruise is particularly good. It operates in slow-moving traffic as well as at faster speeds, slowing you to a standstill or restart with a tap of the accelerator pedal.
Blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alerts and automatic parking are all optional extras and work equally effectively.
The premium JBL sound system isn’t the best I’ve heard, though. I found its presentation a little hard-edged for my liking, although it is competent, doesn’t distort at high volumes and does a solid all-round job. The big disappointment with Toyota is that, as yet, there isn’t the option to add full-time semi-autonomous driving.
Toyota C-HR review: Verdict
The Toyota C-HR is a bold car to look at and it represents a bold move on Toyota’s part as well. By squeezing its tried-and-tested, slightly boring, hybrid technology into a more dynamic, interesting package, it’s bringing a younger, more image-conscious audience into play.
And, for the most part, it works. It’s a good car to drive, despite the engine drone at high revs, it looks great and it’s generously equipped at all trim levels.
It’s just disappointing that the infotainment system is so sluggish and the optional driver aids don’t quite go far enough.