In the eyes of consumers, Toyota just can’t seem to do anything right. When Toyota sold bland but super reliable cars, people said that Toyotas were for uncles. When they pushed the boundaries and made something otherworldly like the Toyota C-HR, people said the design is too extreme.
The bigger problem is its price. At RM 150,000 for a 1.8-litre naturally aspirated SUV, the Toyota C-HR is a lot more expensive than the Subaru XV (RM 117,788 – RM 130,788), which is slightly bigger, has a larger 2.0-litre engine and comes with all-wheel drive.
The Honda HR-V sits one segment lower but offers similar space, is a lot cheaper (RM 108,000 to RM 124,800), and even comes as a fuel sipping full hybrid.
Why is it so expensive?
Part of the reason is because the Toyota C-HR is imported from Thailand, which means it has to pay additional excise duties. The Ministry of Finance thanks you for your contribution.
In a land where the dominant Honda HR-V is ever present, the Toyota C-HR stands out. Not many can accept the polarizing lines but if you want to be different and still benefit from Toyota’s trusted after-sales and reliability, the Toyota C-HR is the one to have.
The C-HR’s rear half features coupe-like lines, similar to the HR-V but the C-HR executes the same concept with better ergonomics.
In the HR-V, your hands need to bend in an awkward angle to open the rear doors, the C-HR’s grab handles are easier to use.
The C-pillars also exaggerates blind spot but thankfully the blind spot monitor is accurate and doesn’t trigger prematurely.
If there is any criticism of the Toyota C-HR’s styling (polarizing looks aside), it will be concerns of how it will age. The equally sharp lines Lexus NX hasn’t aged quite well.
This particular demonstrator unit has clocked over 40,000 km and has been abused by years test drives, so its paint and overall condition is no longer factory perfect but it has held up well.
Paint thickness ranged between high 90s and 100s of micrometres while panel gaps typically were typically Toyota, nearly identical when the same points were compared against the opposite side - varying by no more than 1 mm.
The biggest bummer here is that for RM 150,000, you don’t even get LED head lamps.
The Toyota C-HR’s locally-sourced head unit (not a very good one mind you) and it’s the biggest letdown of the Toyota C-HR’s otherwise reasonably good interior.
It’s essentially an after-market 2-DIN head unit, thus explains the thick bezel around it.
User interface is good, the 6.75-inch touch screen responds fast, and it comes with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The problem is the calibration of screen brightness. It is irritatingly bright on long distance highway drives at night, even after adjusting the brightness to minimum.
That’s a shame because the sound system is one of the best in its class. Compared to the Honda HR-V – whose infotainment is just as bad, but for different user interface reasons – the Toyota C-HR’s speakers are powerful and clear.
The cabin materials are good but not RM 150,000 good. Touch and feel of the switch gear and controls are closer to that of a RM 100,000 car than a RM 150,000 car.
The instrument panel also lacks Optitron backlighting, and feels cheaper than even the Vios.
The storage space is lacking but the leg and shoulder room is generous in front and behind, even if the tiny rear windows make it seem tighter than it actually is.
In short, the Subaru XV feels more expensive inside, while the Honda HR-V is more practical, but the Toyota C-HR is more comfortable than any of these, at least when you are seated in front.
Driving performance and handling
Globally, the Toyota C-HR is offered with three engine options, none of it can match the Honda HR-V Hybrid’s 152 PS and 190 Nm or the Subaru XV’s 156 PS and 196 Nm, so performance is not the Toyota C-HR’s forte.
You can forget about the 1.2-litre turbocharged variant that recon car dealers sell. That tiny 116 PS engine is lethargic, despite the turbocharged image.
The 1.8-litre hybrid is pretty decent but the additional weight upsets the C-HR’s excellent ride and balance.
So this 1.8-litre naturally aspirated unit (140 PS/171 Nm) is actually the best of the lot, though naysayers will tell you otherwise.
It’s shared with the Toyota Corolla Altis (2ZR-FE), but tweaked to be compatible with Thailand’s E20 ethanol-petrol biofuel (hence the slightly different 2ZR-FBE engine code), meaningless in Malaysia but this is essentially a Thai specs car.
If you do drive your C-HR to Thailand, it’s OK to fill it up with E20 gasohol.
Performance is as expected, lacking. 0-100 km/h is done in 12.3 seconds (our own tests, non-controlled environment) while 0-100-0 km/h is done in 16.3 seconds. Not impressive at all.
Curiously, the Toyota C-HR drives better than the figures suggest. In gear acceleration, the crucial 60 – 80 km/h zone where you spend most of your driving in - is very responsive thanks to a good spread of torque.
Frankly, I am quite satisfied with its performance.
If there is any complain, it has to be Drive mode settings – Sport, Normal, Eco – which can only be accessed by scrolling through the menu using switches on the steering wheel.
The CVT is the best in the business. It’s quiet, responsive and holds just the right ratio when you are going downhill. Definitely better than Subaru XV’s CVT, which is its weakest link, but of course the Honda HR-V Hybrid’s 7-speed dual-clutch automatic is still the best overall.
The handling is also very good, you feel one with the car. It’s hard to explain but it really does feel like a Toyota 86 that has been adjusted as a daily commuter car. It lacks power but the steering and chassis communicates with you in a very direct manner.
You feel the road and tyre’s grip level very clearly through the steering wheel. The feeling is so organic that it’s hard to believe that this is an electric power steering rack.
Through the corners, you feel the car’s movement through your hips. You and the car move as one, there is no delay between any change in steering direction and the sensation you feel on your hips – the hallmark of every great handling car, irrespective of power output.
Don’t think of it as a performance car, but think of it as a daily commute driver’s car. Yes, there is a difference between the two.
It’s not a fast horse, but it’s a damn fun one to ride.
The Toyota C-HR’s cabin might not feel RM 150k, but its handling (already elaborated above) and ride comfort certainly matches the asking price.
The way the suspension is tuned puts MINI to shame. Why is it that Toyota can make a front-wheel drive that handles so well and yet so comfortable but all MINIs fast and slow, have such terrible ride?
In fact, it offers the most comfortable ride on any mainstream, daily commuter-friendly car we’ve tested recently.
The Toyota C-HR is proof that you don’t have to sacrifice ride comfort for good body control.
On the move, we measured the cabin’s quietness at 68 dB (real world, uncontrolled environment) when travelling at 110 km/h, but it felt quieter than the numbers suggests.
Its ride height is just nice, not too tall nor too low so getting in and out is easy.
The seats are very comfortable too, offering very good support at the lower thigh and shoulders. In fact, we would go on to say the seats are the best in the segment.
The electric parking brake’s Auto Hold is the best we’ve tried. It’s smart enough to know when you are parking or making a three-point turn and won’t engage unnecessarily. The Honda HR-V’s Brake Hold can’t that, requiring you to manually disable the function when parking.
We averaged 7.7-litre/100 km in real world driving conditions, which is slightly better than what we had expected from SUVs of this size and weight. On highways, 6-litre plus/100 km is possible.
Don’t buy the Toyota C-HR if you are evaluating it like how an accountant would. The C-HR makes little sense if value for money is what you are seeking for.
Instead, it’s car for those who want an icon that stands out, appreciate good handling, reasonably spacious interior, high seating position, easy to get in and out – basically all the attributes of a MINI Countryman, but with less power, a lot better reliability, and a much cheaper price tag.
The Toyota C-HR can never be a recommended purchase for those sensitive about price. For those group of consumers, the Honda HR-V and Subaru XV are much better options.
For the rest, the correct question is whether should you buy a Toyota C-HR now or wait for the Mazda CX-30? It's expected to match the Toyota C-HR's driving dynamics, but with a lot better features. It's safer than a Volvo XC40 too!