DRIVEN: Toyota C-HR 1.8L – about logic vs emotion

When was the last time a new model from Toyota created so much hype? Sure, car guys like the Toyota 86 and many within the same group are eagerly anticipating the new Supra, but if you haven’t already realised, there’s a real world out there with actual car buyers. And normal people really like SUVs.

But in a landscape already saturated with SUVs, how does a latecomer stand out? Go for broke, design-wise – that’s what Toyota did with the C-HR.

UMW Toyota Motor’s long tease of a nationwide pre-launch campaign drew massive interest from Malaysians, who flocked to showrooms and roadshows for a closer look at the Coupe High Rider (Compact High Rider and Cross Hatch Runabout are the alternate names, but I like coupes and we’ll stick to that). Local previews started in May 2017, culminating in a key handover ceremony last month, but appetite has been building since the C-HR’s debut in March 2016. Let’s not forget that a car-based Toyota SUV in our market is already a novelty in itself.

The bubble deflated somewhat when UMWT announced Malaysian pricing and specs. At RM145,500 for the single spec 1.8L, the C-HR is priced RM28,000 higher the highest spec HR-V 1.8L, and RM14,000 more than the 2.0L Mazda CX-3. The substantial price difference between the C-HR and the incumbent Honda can be explained by the CBU Thailand vs CKD factor, and the fact that the C-HR is a costlier product for the first buyer, which is UMWT. From what we hear, they’ve tried their best.

Honda salesmen must have let out a collective sigh of relief. At RM145k, a C-HR buyer can opt for a seven-seat Nissan X-Trail and still have change for a family holiday; while the starting price of the new Mazda CX-5, which is also a larger car, is RM10,000 less.

Priced as such, there’s little chance for the funky Toyota to top the sales charts, but failing as a value proposition says nothing about a car’s abilities and appeal. There’s plenty to like, as we found out over a weekend.

Now that we’ve got the elephant named ‘Value’ out of the room, let’s talk car. The Toyota C-HR isn’t the straightforward competitor to the Honda HR-V (and by extension, the Mazda CX-3) as most think. B-segment SUVs are based on B-segment hatchbacks, that’s the convention – the HR-V shares underpinnings with the Jazz, the CX-3 with the Mazda 2, the Renault Captur with the Clio; you get the drift.

The C-HR is different. This global model has no bones in common with the B-segment Vios and Yaris that we’re familiar with, but uses the modular Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform that also underpins the latest-generation Prius and the just-unveiled Corolla Hatchback, which is the third-generation Auris in Europe. These are fresh C-segment vehicles, and as we know, the higher up the car chain, the more sophisticated the underpinnings are.

Chief engineer Hiroyuki Koba revealed in 2016 that they started working on the project six years ago, and the original plan was to build the C-HR on an existing small car platform. Midway through the project, TNGA became available and they went for the best option.

It may have been the best, technically, but the decision would also improve TNGA’s economies of scale. The C-HR is the second model to use the TNGA C-platform after the Prius (a D-segment version underpins the new Camry and US-market Avalon) and the first ‘regular’ car to do so after the dedicated hybrid. It won’t be inaccurate to call the C-HR a “compact C-segment SUV” then.

The dimensions correspond with its larger frame. At 4,360 mm long and 1,795 mm wide, the C-HR is 66 mm longer and 23 mm wider than the HR-V. Against the CX-3, the footprint advantage grows to +85 mm and +30 mm. The Toyota’s 2,640 mm wheelbase is 30 mm longer than the Honda’s and 70 mm longer than the Mazda’s. It’s a heavier car too, tipping the scales at 1,405 kg, 138 kg more than the HR-V and 194 kg more than the CX-3.

The Toyota’s larger footprint is apparent when you see it in the metal. The width is made more apparent by a sweeping roofline that at its highest point, is 40 mm lower than the HR-V’s. The athletic stance is coupled to a muscular body that’s sculptured like no other compact SUV – those swollen wheel-arches are accentuated by deep creases that form a clear ‘V’ on the profile. Nice ab definition.

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