Johannesburg - Though Toyota’s new C-HR is almost spot on in size and price comparisons to Nissan’s Qashqai, this radically sculpted crossover is, in our view, a more direct competitor to the cheaper and slightly smaller Juke in terms of niche appeal.

Launched in South Africa this week, the newcomer laughs in the face of Toyota critics who have for decades accused the brand of being deficient in stylistic abilities. A boring-looking car this is not, and if its puffed-out wheel arches, jutting light clusters and wildly creased panels don’t tickle your inner fashion guru, its embossed headliner, diamond-texture door panels and hovering soft-touch dash-topper will.

Toyota has stepped waaay out of its comfort zone with this one, and if the 86 coupe was a chocolate chip in the brand’s typically vanilla recipe when it launched back in 2012, the C-HR throws a dash of wasabi nuts, pop rocks and extra sharp lime cordial into the mix. It’s such a departure from the usual, that Toyota itself expects the C-HR to polarise opinion and at the Johannesburg-based media launch a staffer actually said “this car is not for everybody” while gesturing toward a table of older, ahem… veteran journalists.

In the same way as Nissan’s similarly shaped Juke, the C-HR makes no qualms about targeting a generation proficient in hashtags, likes and retweets. There’s an attention-grabbing look happening here, and while we’re not saying it won’t appeal to any of the older crowd, it’s unlikely a conservative buyer of the past six Corolla generations will rush out to trade into this wild looking new crossover.

Urban adventurer

It’s surprisingly spacious for passengers given its deceiving exterior dimensions, but the sloped rear tailgate glass does intrude on boot space. Same goes for a full size spare wheel which necessitates an elevated boot floor. Total luggage carrying capacity is 234 litres, which for reference is less than half what’s available in a Rav4. It’s also more than 100 litres less than the smaller Juke.

The C-HR gets 160mm of ground clearance so it falls in nicely with the current crop of urban adventurers, but front-wheel drive only means any bush excursions are better left to Toyota’s range of proper 4x4 SUVs. That said, it should handle gravel roads quite well with its high-ish profile 215/60/17 tyres and wishbone rear suspension. I only drove the new car on tar roads (though the ones around Cullinan are far from smooth) and its bump-soaking ride qualities were quite evident.

Interestingly, the C-HR is based on a derivation of the Prius platform and not the Auris as might be expected. A hybrid version is available overseas, but there are no plans for it to be introduced locally.

Relaxed driveability 

It’s been many moons since Toyota has offered a turbopetrol, especially in our market, and while it’s hardly a mega-boosted Supra engine under the hood, the C-HR’s new 1.2T VVTi-W does a signal a turn toward forced induction for the brand. On paper its outputs of 85kW and 185Nm might sound a bit wimpy, but in the real world it performs surprisingly well. It’s by far the smoothest revver in Toyota’s current lineup, and torque piles on early to make for a low-revving and relaxed driveability.

Toyota claims an average fuel consumption as low as 6.3 litres per 100km, but on our test route, which included mostly open highway driving, the trip computer showed closer to 9 litres per 100km. Acceleration is quoted at 10.9 seconds for 0-100km/h with a top speed of 190.

This 1.2 turbo is sold in various Toyota models in Europe as a Euro-6 class motor, but because the CH-R is built for global markets in Turkey it’s been tuned to handle less than ideal fuel qualities in this application. It’s possible that this downtuned version could be introduced in the Auris hatch at some point, but Toyota SA can’t confirm when.

Three spec levels

For now we’ll get the C-HR in three spec levels starting with a base six-speed manual. This version comes standard with a central colour touchscreen with USB port, remote central locking, power windows, an electronic handbrake with hill-hold function and a simpler air-conditioning system. An upper Plus adds cruise control, leather steering wheel (but not seats), rain-sensing wipers, a colour trip computer in the instrument cluster, dual-mode climate control, fog lights and a self-adjusting rear view mirror. The Plus comes with a choice of manual or CVT automatic transmissions.

Safety is covered by standard ABS brakes with EBD and stability control, but airbags are limited to one each for driver and front passenger. A higher spec model could be introduced later on (the C-HR comes with up to seven airbags overseas) but again, Toyota SA can’t say when.

PRICES:

C-HR 1.2T 6MT - R318 500

C-HR 1.2T Plus 6MT - R345 000

C-HR 1.2 T Plus CVT - R356 000

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