Subtle updates fettle a sexy Toyota

I really enjoy this C-HR – not only is it daring and excitingly different, but it finally paves Toyota’s way into the future. We have often moaned about the market leader’s attitude towards engines – it relied on increasingly outdated technology to power its smaller cars for way too long.

Not that there’s anything wrong with those old normally aspirated lumps of iron, but the market has moved on very quickly and they are now, well let’s just call it passé. First the Europeans turned to downsized litre or so engines – three and four pots, turbocharged and not. Not only did those cars bring newfound frugality, economy and cleanness of running to the market, they also rewrote the small car performance record books.

Add that extra conundrum of South African high altitude – where most of you live – and the equation is even further exasperated. The Koreans were quick to respond and they too, started delivering great little downsized mills in their more upmarket small cars and even the Indians were at it before Toyota twigged. Which is a pity, because its cars were exposed.

See, Europe has instituted increasingly more rigorous emissions laws and to meet them, the likes of Volkswagen, Renault, Peugeot and Fiat had to respond – and they did so in a way that revolutionised the small car world.

Happily, Toyota has now also responded, and this CH-R was the first new one to come with a downsized turbo engine. It was worth the wait. You’d never believe CH-R was propelled by just a 95kW 185Nm 1198cc turbo petrol inline 4-cylinder engine – it feels as good as the 2.1-litre in the RAV 4 and it performs as well too – especially at reef altitudes where it will easily outperform that old petrol lump. And don’t even bring the petrol pump at your local garage into it.

So, this is a monster step forward for Toyota – a little late but still. Even better is that this little jewel is also finding its way under other new Toyota bonnets – starting with Corolla.

What about the rest of CH-R? Well it has a CVT, which is not our favourite gearbox, but it’s among the better of them and this top-end luxury version has a splendid level of specification that stretches as far as Toyota’s most recent fad – a blacked-out roof. I think it looks pretty cool. We have covered the funky looks already, but it’s also cool inside – a tad dark perhaps, but funky is a good word to describe that cabin too.

CH-R must compete in among the hardest-fought niches in the motor industry today – one that calls for carmakers to be daring and methinks Toyota has succeeded in that, most of all, besides the technological step its engine takes, the CH-R’s lack of fear in defining itself as so different is another great virtue. Rather un-Toyota like it makes us wonder how much further the giant will let its hair down in other areas…?

And then there’s the clincher – it’s a Toyota and in this market, that means it’s a winner already. Just where the traditionally conservative Toyota buyer stands with this is a most interesting poser but judging by the number of them we see on the road, maybe that just doesn’t matter after all? – Michele Lupini

Images – Giordano Lupini

QUICK TEST: Toyota C-HR 1.2 Luxury
Engine:    95kW 185Nm 1198cc turbo petrol I4
Drive: CVT automatic FWD
0-60km/h: 4.69sec
0-100km/h: 10.84 sec   
0-160km/h: 29.71 sec
400m: 17.3 sec @ 121km/h
80-120km/h:          7.03 sec       
120-160km/h: 14.74 sec
VMax: 185km/h 
Fuel: 6.6 l/100km
CO2: 144g/km
Warranty/Service 2y unl/6y 100Kkm
RATED:                    84%