Toyota has for the longest time been rather conservative in its designs, attributed to the fact that many of its buyers are not inclined to stray away from the tried and tested, the much-of-a-muchness thinking convention, which has characterised most of its product offerings.
The 86 sports coupe has been the obvious exception. Its “Go Play” pay-off line resonated with the vehicle’s fun, rear-wheel drive nature, which was decidedly entertaining without being intimidating.
Of course, it remains somewhat of a niche product, catering for the enthusiastic driver, but it is an impressive proposition nonetheless.
Now the company is shedding its grey shoes approach by offering something edgy in its styling, perky in its performance and yet accessible to a wider audience. Welcome the C-HR crossover, the company’s first stab at the hotly contested compact crossover market, casted by talented advocates such as the Honda HR-V, Hyundai Creta, Mazda CX-3, Nissan Juke and Renault Captur.
The design takes a leaf from Lexus’ origami inspired theme as seen in its NX crossover, which sees creased, pleated lines that are a far cry from the company’s previous vanilla inspired styling.
It is a good looking car with its standard LED daytime running lights and vibrant hues like aztec green and cosmic blue, which have had a great number of motorists taking a second glance.
Cabin layout is great and the materials are of decent tactile quality, but the black colour scheme does dull the overall ambience.
The infotainment screen is of the older variety and not the modern unit fitted to the Auris or Fortuner, for instance.
Passenger space is decent up front although the rear quarters are not great for lanky individuals.
This means that legroom in particular is quite tight, but headroom, thanks to the lower rear seats, is actually good.
Boot space measures 377 litres, which is sufficient for monthly groceries or a handful of weekend getaway bags.
The boot itself could be bigger, and the full size spare wheel does eat into the potential luggage space as well.
Under the bonnet sits the company’s 1.2l turbo petrol engine (85kW and 185Nm), which has done duty in the Auris in overseas markets, but debuts locally in the C-HR. It will be the only engine derivative available here (at least for now), although overseas markets get a hybrid variant which, I suspect, would be too pricey to justify locally.
That said, the 1.2l turbo petrol is a peach – smooth and punchy, and it adds a quotient of driving fun that is complemented by a responsive chassis.
Much like Mazda has done with the CX-3, the C-HR has been designed with the driver in mind as it also manages to offer decent feedback from the controls.
Hurl it into a corner and it remains composed with neutral handling and weight transition.
The continuously variable transmission variant I drove first was good at low speeds and only began to drone once I pushed harder on the throttle.
However, there are steps engineered into the transmission to mimic a conventional torque converter automatic.
Personally, it was the manual that offered the smoothest and most responsive drive and it would be my choice of the two derivatives.
It is claimed to return 6.3l/100km, while the CVT weighs in at 6.4l/100km.
In addition, the models come well equipped, particularly in the Plus trim, which we drove at the launch and include an electronic handbrake, hill holder, cruise control and modicum of audio playback modes such as USB, Bluetooth, CD/DVD, even iPod and iPhone interfaces.
There has been a great deal of debate about whether Toyota would finally turn a corner and start to bring to market vehicles that will engender fun and desirability and, to be frank, since the 86 little has yielded that way until now.
Entering a segment takes some doing, but the Japanese manufacturer has brought a vehicle to the market that not only relies on the firm’s reputation as its main drawcard, but is great to look at, reasonably well packaged and fun to drive.
Toyota seems to have found its mojo with this one and we can only hope that this is a precursor for models still to come. Demand will undoubtedly be high, but it seems as though supply could be somewhat of an issue as only 150 units have been secured for launch.
With a starting price of R318500 rising to R356000 it is competitively priced and will be snapped up quickly, so let’s only hope that Toyota will be able to meet the impending demand.