Road Trip with a Toyota C-HR

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Toyota has joined the compact family car/crossover party with the C-HR. Is it merely a style statement for those stepping up from a Yaris, or a genuinely useful lifestyle vehicle for the sub-RAV4 crowd? We took the Toyota C-HR on a 900 km road trip to find out.

By Wayne Batty. Photography by Peet Mocke

Just for kicks, let’s start with a cliché: the rise and rise of the compact crossover is currently in its unstoppable phase. Hatchbacks in high heels dressed in sassy frocks – who can resist? We certainly can’t. Just look at the line-up already: Juke, Vitara, HR-V, CX-3, Mokka X, Creta and now the C-HR, Toyota’s new adventure in Hi-Ri. (Thank you REM) Yes, Creta is a terrible name, but it’s certainly more creative than Coupe High Rider, but I digress…

Toyota's unconventionally designed C-HR may have a boring name, but its looks are anything but humdrum. 

Paradoxically bland moniker aside, the C-HR is the Japanese company’s most adventurous mainstream model in aeons, perhaps ever. Apart from the unnecessarily contrived rear door handles (Were the designers playing Shutline pick-up sticks?) and the consequently pathetic rear three-quarter visibility, the abundance of slashes, curves, creases and vents somehow all work together to create a visual cohesive. And for once the much-used ‘coupe-like roofline’ descriptor is actually quite accurate.

It’s so energetically shaped just looking at it makes you want to join a hiking club, become a cross-fitter or buy one of those coil-over-shock downhill mountain bikes, which, by the way, would be a stupid idea. No, not because you’re likely to pierce a rib cage or pop a collar… bone, but because the boot will barely fit a full-face helmet, chest guard and knee pads. Don’t even think about trying to squeeze a wheel in there without first tipping the backrests forward. Blame local demand for a full-size spare which significantly raises the boot floor, robbing much of the potential cargo volume.

Some of the interesting details you don't normally get to see. Rear roof spoiler appears effective from this angle. 

So the C-HR is more style than lifestyle, but that won’t stop it from flying out of dealerships. What makes us say that? Well, we took Toyota’s adventurous C-HR on a little adventure and this is what we discovered…

Photographer Peet Mocke and I left our surprisingly inexpensive "boutique" hotel in Port Elizabeth and headed west along the misleadingly named Seaview Road – I checked, no view of the sea for 20 km. Eventually, turning left onto Elizabeth Road proved a masterstroke as it led us to a spectacular, rock-strewn coastline. Very familiar to Ironman participants, the road’s rolling hill topography led us down to Maitland Mouth and our first stop of the trip. Marvelling at the incredible beauty of the area’s magically misty beach, unspoilt river mouth and monster dune, I had already formulated a strong opinion of the C-HR.

The jagged coastline just outside of Port Elizabeth matches the jagged lines of the C-HR's rear lights, sort of...

For starters, the ride is properly absorbent and the handling very accomplished. Then there’s the way the car maintains momentum after you’ve lifted, almost as if it has a ‘coasting’ function that uncouples the drivetrain. Perhaps that’s down to the clever transmission and a pretty hefty kerb weight of 1410 kg. As for the transmission, if you weren’t paying attention to the salesperson and you also never floor the throttle pedal you’re unlikely to realise you’ve bought a CVT. Give it full beans though and the tell-tale signs of transmission ‘slip’ make an admittedly less intrusive noise than CVTs from the naturally aspirated era. That’s all down to the torque of the turbocharged engine. Yes, Toyota has re-joined the boost party, and they’ve made a pretty solid fist of it too.

Is that a Superman symbol on the wall behind the C-HR? There certainly is more than a hint of sci-fi appeal to the Toyota.

Outputs of 85 kW and 185 Nm from its 1.2-litre engine capacity are competitive though the motor only hits peak torque peak at 4 000 rpm. Driven sensibly you’ll hardly notice the torque delivery isn’t quite a match for Germany’s finest. What you will notice is that the brakes lack initial bite, especially considering the aforementioned sense of reduced engine braking.

Leaving the beach, we followed the mostly deserted Draaifontein Road stopping briefly below the N2 for a photograph or two. It’s amazing how much traffic you can avoid if you make the time to wander. Pretty soon we were barrelling down the old, tree-lined R102 compensating for the slight vagueness in the steering, the C-HR needing a fair bit of right ankle encouragement to get up to speed but happy to maintain it once there. After using the old single-lane bridge to cross the Gamtoos River, we stuck with the R102 past Jeffreys Bay with its vast array of wind turbines right up to the Elands River Bridge before being forced to join the N2 toll road.

Heading out of Jeffrey's Bay; wind farms are strewn across the blustery landscape

As beautiful as the "garden route" is, long stretches of straight-ish freeway do not make for great road trip material. Thankfully we needed fuel. What, already? Bizarrely, the C-HR wouldn’t do more than 460 km on a tank. And that was filling up only when the remaining range on the trip computer hit single digits. At the time I put it down to a very small fuel tank when in fact it has a 50-litre capacity. Go figure.

In an attempt to avoid the frustration of the N2’s unnecessarily slow speed limits between Knysna and George, and in the spirit of adventure, we turned right onto the R339 in the direction of Uniondale and revelled in the C-HR’s handling fluidity along fast, flowing, tree-lined roads. The tarmac doesn’t last long though, replaced by the well-maintained dirt road of the Prince Alfred Pass. This twisting, writhing section of road – 68 km of Thomas Bain’s finest work – offers up a spectacular array of scenery cutting through dense forest and majestic mountains. Once again the C-HR proved it has a proficient set of underpinnings in the form of the company’s newest global platform, an architecture already seen on the latest Prius. The ruts and corrugations also allowed a thorough test of the interior build quality with the C-HR remaining rattle-free throughout.

The tree-lined roads make for a spectacular driving scene on the way to Uniondale.

From a style, design and material choice point of view, this is the best cabin in Toyota’s entire lineup by some margin. Yes, there are a few minor issues such as the double-din aftermarket look of the touchscreen infotainment system, but notice instead the pyramid textured door panels, the stylised recesses in the roof lining and the stitched leather-effect dashboard. When last did you sit in a Toyota and notice the details? What’s more, despite being very differently shaped humans, neither of us experienced fatigue or back pain after spending around 900 km in the cloth-covered seats – nope, you can’t have them in leather.

Filling up again in Uniondale, we steered the Aztec Green Japanese battle bug in the direction of Oudtshoorn and the Route 62 towards Cape Town, happy to classify the Coupe High Rider as an extremely likeable travelling companion for 2 with luggage, or 4 with toothbrushes and towels.

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