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Toyota's wild child SUV

AAP logoAAP 20/04/2017 Peter Atkinson

A stylish new compact SUV set to challenge the brand's conservative image. © AAP Image/Toyota A stylish new compact SUV set to challenge the brand's conservative image. Wow! What on earth has happened to dear old Toyota?

The famously conservative and hugely successful car maker has cast off its fuddy-duddy image with this striking new baby SUV. It feels a bit like your favourite Aunty Flo turning up for Christmas lunch in skin-tight hot pants.

Let's be honest, Toyota's powerful reputation for value and reliability is matched only by its rather grey, matronly image. Not that I subscribe to the rather harsh theory that Toyota's model range is essentially "whitegoods on wheels".

Their designs have taken on a far more aggressive, attractive tone of late, although it's fair to say that they still lean heavily towards function over form. That's hardly a criticism because Toyota does manage to sell almost 10 million cars around the globe every year.

But rarely do they get funky like this.

Toyota's new baby is called the C-HR - short for Coupe High Rider - and it's likely to turn plenty of heads. Not just for its audacious design but also the vivid colour palette and range of customisations Toyota has created for this cute little soft-roader.

Ironically, the last time Toyota got quite this adventurous with a new model was the original RAV4 (Recreational Active Vehicle) way back in 1994 - one of the very first pint-sized, city-focused SUVs. Even though the RAV is a much larger thing these days, it certainly set a precedent in this segment.

Even Toyota itself recognises what a radical departure this car is from the norm. They say it is the beginning of a push towards younger, image-conscious people "who take a more emotional approach to purchasing a car compared with our more traditional customers".

So it's not aimed at your Aunty Flo, then.

Enabling this change, in part, has been the company's all-new construction process known as Toyota New Generation Architecture. Toyota says it permits "greater styling freedom" than its traditional methods.

In the C-HR, seats and drivetrain are built lower down in the vehicle, allowing a sleeker, more aesthetic profile without reducing interior space, particularly headroom.

Toyota's new baby is called the C-HR - short for Coupe High Rider - and it's likely to turn plenty of heads. © AAP Image/Toyota Toyota's new baby is called the C-HR - short for Coupe High Rider - and it's likely to turn plenty of heads. The C-HR is roughly the same size as a Corolla hatch - 4360mm long, 1795mm wide and 1565mm high - yet feels bigger because of its elevated driving position and clever use of space - despite its coupe-like profile.

That's not its only ground-breaking trait. Beneath the bonnet will be the first turbocharged petrol engine Toyota has sold Down Under in more than a decade.

This small-capacity, turbocharged petrol engine is the company's first foray into force-fed engines since the demise of the MR-2 sports coupe in 2007.

While Lexus brand has recently embraced turbo technology, Toyota has steadfastly stuck to naturally-aspirated and hybrid-boosted engines in its passenger fleet. That changes with the C-HR.

On paper, the engine's a bit puny at just 1.2 litres, although its outputs of 85kW and 185Nm are enough to give the C-HR surprisingly sparky performance. That's particularly the case once the car is up and rolling.

While the front-wheel-drive entry-level model offers the choice of six-speed manual or constantly variable (CVT) gearboxes, the higher-spec Koba is an auto-only proposition.

While the CVT is smooth and efficient, this type of gearbox tends to slightly blunt performance and that's evident to a degree in the C-HR. It does offer a sports-shift function giving the driver the choice of seven simulated gears - but I suspect the conventional manual would be slightly more fun to drive.

That's one of the few criticisms of this snappy little machine, though. It's extremely pleasant to drive, sharp to look at (depending on your personal taste) and beautifully put together.

With a base price of $26,990, it goes head to head with the likes of Mazda's well-established CX-3 and Nissan's equally funky Juke at the lower end of the range; and pushes towards the orbit of some European competitors with its $35,290 flagship model, called the Koba.

That will buy you heated leather seats, smart entry with push-button start, LED headlamps, smart 18-inch alloys, power lumbar adjustment, satellite navigation, electronic park brake and dual-zone climate control.

Our Koba test machine also boasted radar cruise control with pre-collision assist and autonomous braking, as well as lane departure and auto-dimming headlights. All four functions rely on a screen-mounted wave radar sensor.

Seven airbags, stability and traction control, reversing camera, blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert complete a strong safety package.

The reversing camera is particularly important because that swoopy design and chunky C-pillar seriously compromise your view through the rear window. Even with the camera it's a chore to reverse-park - not ideal given it's nimble size and likely urban market.

Aesthetically, the C-HR really elevates Toyota's game in interior styling and presentation.

The wrap-around dash is finished in attractive soft-touch material, complemented by classy piano black finishes for its curvy, sweeping centre console that tends to wrap itself around the driver.

Cabin quietness is impressive, as is the way this little machine soaks up the bumps and road imperfections. And when cruising at the highway speed limit it is the picture of stability and serenity. In all, a very well-behaved little unit.

Buyers probably won't choose this car for SUV qualities. It feels much more like a hatch - along the lines of the CX-3 and Juke - but the Toyota will certainly impress with its excellent levels of finish and driving refinement.

Instruments are clean and easy to read, with a comprehensive trip computer and digital speed display among the highlights.

Toyota hasn't managed to throw off all of its traditions though - like the Corolla the C-HR's audio isn't particularly well integrated into the dash like most models these days.

Toyota boasts one more first with the C-HR - a co-called Nano-e air purification systemthat moisturises cabin air and neutralises odours, bacteria and allergens. The system, developed in conjunction with Panasonic, is claimed to be gentle on occupants' skin and hair by sending microscopic moisture particles into the chilled air.

Aunty Flo would love that.


HOW BIG? It's a baby SUV with roughly the same dimensions as a Corolla hatchback. But it's acceptably roomy with a generous 377 litres of capacity in the rear hatch.

HOW FAST? Despite its tiny engine, the C-HR is impressively responsive and even quite happy accelerating up hills. But the CVT transmission occasionally causes the engine to rev and road a bit.

HOW THIRSTY? Official consumption is 6.3L/100km for the manual version, while the All-Wheel-Drive model we tested is slightly thirstier at 6.5L/100km. Not class-leading, but pretty good for a zippy little machine.

HOW MUCH? Prices start at $26,990 for the entry-level, front-wheel-drive model with manual transmission. The top-spec Koba AWD, tested here, is $35,290 plus onroads.

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