Looks some might say only its mother would love are polarising but C-HR is proving popular

Looks some might say only its mother would love are polarising but C-HR is proving popular

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Consider a large slice of humble pie cut, served and eaten. Traitorous kids. Soon as Toyota last year started issuing early pix of the controversially styled C-HR crossover (people seem to love or hate it), I was convinced the high waistline would make the view out for little ('ish' in my case now) people. "Don't your designers have kids?" I fired at Toyota GB. "For the more conservative family, we have the RAV4," their soshul meedjah team tweeted back. Touche. I should have kept quiet. Finally, we get one in, the troop lines up for inspection, their first quick drive. No problem at all with the view out the back. So much for my problem with Toyota's waistlines (it also does this with the Aygo city car, unlike Peugeot and Citroen with their versions).

C-HR (Coupe High-Rider) is significant for being the second model, after the latest Prius, to be built on the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform.

"The example of C-HR is an object lesson in how Toyota is using TNGA to redefine its approach to vehicle development and manufacturing," the automaker said, also last year. "People love crossovers for their convenience, spaciousness and practicality but, until now, they've never been top of any wish list for driver appeal. The C-HR consigns dynamic compromise to history as a car that shows that you really can square driving enjoyment and strikingly stylish design with usefulness."

The automaker said the TNGA C-platform with designed-in flexibility allows for tailor-made changes to be made to suit the demands of underpinning a crossover model, including an optimised suspension layout. Wheelbase and track changes for the C-HR vs Prius: 2,640 vs 2,700mm; treads wider by 20mm front and 10mm rear. These changes reflect both the different packaging and handling requirements for the crossover. The target for the development team was to engineer a vehicle that offered the same dynamics as a very competent hatchback, ideally tuned to suit the fast and fluid style of European drivers.

"By securing these qualities, C-HR can inspire confidence and deliver genuine fun-to-drive performance," Toyota said. A key benefit of the TNGA C-platform is a low centre of gravity and, for the C-HR this key quality is lower than for any of its competitors. Direct benefits are gained in balanced handling, a more engaging drive and much less body roll than is often experienced with tall crossover models. A stronger sense of connection between driver and car is generated with a lower-set driving position, but with a raised hip-point to retain a commanding view of the road ahead, as favoured by crossover customers. Under the bonnet, TNGA allows for a rearrangement of components lower down in the engine bay, together with a lower cowl and suspension towers, further helping bring down the car's centre of gravity. There is space, too, for the engine to be tilted slightly rearwards.

TNGA also liberates vehicle design, enabling a lowering of the C-HR roofline by 55mm and the bonnet by 90mm, giving the crossover its distinctive coupe-like upper body. The inherent high rigidity of the TNGA platform – 65% more than Toyota's previous C-segment platform – provides a solid base for developing and tuning a suspension system that delivers excellent handling and ride comfort. By deploying a new subframe, engineers were able to use the Prius double wishbone rear suspension for the C-HR, with the addition of a new ball joint and shock absorber adjustments to gain crisper handling. The front suspension is an all-new MacPherson strut design, coupled with a large-diameter anti-roll bar that reduces body roll.

Given the number of family-friendly sporty hatchbacks out there, I doubt too many people will substitute a crossover if driving dynamics is a priority but, in usual family use and a cross-country trip to the office, the car proved to handle and ride well and you don't lose that slightly superior feel of riding a little higher than the masses with the attendant ease, for old bones, of getting in and out a higher hip point provides.

1.2 turbo

I had actually borrowed this particular car to try Toyota's reasonably new 1.2-litre petrol engine which is the only way to get four wheel drive in a C-HR - you also have to take the CVT automatic option (which can also be had with 2WD) and you can also order, as we sampled, a six-speed manual 2WD. The hybrid is 2WD only, unlike in some larger Toyota SUVs where an electric motor at the back sneakily gives you 4WD. But Toyota GB buyers love their hybrids and 2017 C-HR sales to the end of July showed 6,084 opted for the hybrid compared with just 2,669 for the alternative petrol offerings. The hybrid, late to the RAV4 party, also has taken over there with 3,539 to 1,911 petrol and diesel versions though, for all of last year, it was 4,494 hybrid to 4,068. Only when you get down to the smallest hybrid model, Yaris, is the electrified powertrain the sales underdog (and it's still about 40%).

I recently had a try of Toyota's new normally aspirated 1.5 in the latest Yaris, where it replaced the 1.3; the 1.2 turbocharged engine first appeared in the Auris where it replaced the 1.6. Nissan's done a similar trick with the Qashqai which I'd expect some buyers to shop against the C-HR (advantage hybrid to Toyota, of course).

Toyota said the 1.2T makes good use of design features such as vertical vortex, high-tumble intake ports and an exhaust manifold that is integrated into the cylinder head. It has direct injection, enhanced intelligent variable valve timing (branded Dual VVT-iW), a high tumble port cylinder head with an integrated exhaust manifold, a lightweight valve train, a variable control oil jet system and resin intake manifold and intake pipes. It is also, as is the newer 1.5, able to switch from the Otto to the Atkinson cycle when running under low loads. The turbo, the direct injection (which allows multiple injections) and the new VVT-iW work together to provide high torque at low revs, good performance and low fuel consumption. Maximum power output is 114bhp/85kW and 185Nm of torque is generated from 1,500 to 4,000rpm. With the six-speed manual, claimed 0 – 62mph acceleration time is 10.9 seconds and top speed 118mph. Official combined cycle figures are 47.9mpg econony and 135g/km CO2 emissions.

As with the 1.5, the 1.2T's high 10.0:1 compression ratio was made possible thanks to a series of technologies that improve control of the combustion process, allowing the risk of knocking to be avoided. The intake ports have been designed to generate a more intense flow and a 'vertical vortex',
and the shape of the piston has been optimised to improve in-cylinder turbulence. As a result, fuel and intake air mix faster and form a more homogeneous mixture. This leads to a higher combustion speed, which helps prevent knocking. The engine also was designed in such a way that the temperature of each individual part can be optimised. For example, the bottom of the pistons is cooled by oil jets and the cooling of the cylinder head is separate from that of the engine block. This allows the temperature in the combustion chamber to be reduced, while keeping the block itself hot enough to reduce friction. Direct injection makes a contribution as well, as it helps to dissipate the heat in the combustion chamber. Also, the charge air passes through an intercooler, which uses an independent low temperature cooling circuit.

A low-inertia turbocharger, the VVT-iW system and the D-4T direct injection work together to ensure strong torque delivery from low engine speeds. A new start control was developed for the stop and start system to ensure a quick and smooth engine restart. When the system shuts down the engine, it controls the stop position to leave the piston half way in the compression stroke. On restart, it applies stratified injection in the first compressed cylinder to counter vibrations. And by retarding the ignition, torque increase is kept in check, preventing the engine from revving excessively. This worked seamlessly and the engine itself is lively, pulls strongly from low down and cruises quietly.

Intelligent manual

I have driven Toyotas since the early 1970s and always found them easy to drive with good shifters and nice progressive clutches so assumed the C-HR was just more of the same. I have now learned the C-HR 1.2T is the first Toyota model to adopt a new Intelligent Manual Transmission, designed to work like a well-judged heel and toe action, which automatically increases engine revs when downshifting, ensuring a smooth gear shift.
The system also works when shifting up, reducing clutch shock to provide a more comfortable drive for both driver and passengers. I cannot say I noticed anything in particular so I'll call this the ideal tech - to borrow a Japanese rival's tagline from a few years ago, it just works.

Choices

Europe's C-HR is built in Turkey so the wide colour range is perhaps a little more muted than for those built and sold elsewhere - a bright yellow and aqua popping up in polarised comments I have seen on social media. There's no middle ground; people seem to either like or hate. Toyota GB offers Icon, Excel and Dynamic trims so take dual-zone automatic air conditioning, 17-inch alloys, Toyota Touch 2 touchscreen controlled multimedia system, front fog lamps, rain-sensing windscreen wipers and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror for granted, even at cheapskate (me) level.

Excel adds part-leather seat upholstery, heated front seats, smart (keyless) entry, parking sensors and Intelligent Park Assist, rear privacy glass,
18-inch alloys, a folding function for the door mirrors and a complement of driver assistance safety features plus navigation and access to on-line
services. That's the Nicely Equipped model. The Dynamic (as sampled) brings metallic paint with a contrast black roof, a specific 18-inch alloy design, privacy glass, LED headlights and fog lights plus a bespoke purple upholstery fabric. All have Safety Sense, a package of active safety systems. Various option packs can enhance various grades and add full leather trim and JBL sound.

Interior is nicely high tech with tablet style infotainment screen, some coloured trim highlights and subtle night lighting of cubbies. The traitors in back, happy with the view, still demand rear air vents, a lit tray table, USB ports, etc, (a standard set by Citroen's top Grand Picasso) but conceded they were comfy enough back there. Luggage space is adequate and the seats fold for extra space. A tyre repair kit with no apparent spare wheel option would annoy me.

As Toyota intended, this car is for someone wanting some attributes of the more practical SUV combined with something a bit more fun to drive and it appears the brief has been achieved. I like the polarising looks, too. Normally, I'd default straight to the hybrid option, a version I tried during my tenure of the 1.2, but the availability of the 1.2 with CVT and 4WD would give pause for thought. I wouldn't need it often but when it snows where I live never sees a plough/gritter. And friendly Toyota dealers offer winter tyre swap and store. Hmmmm.