The Toyota C-HR is a funky-looking small SUV unashamedly aimed at a youthful buyer.
Launched locally in 2017, it was given an update for the 2020 model year that brought minor exterior design tweaks, a top-spec hybrid variant, and the fitment of an 8.0-inch touchscreen with long overdue Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality.
The C-HR range is made up of three variants – the GXL, Koba and GR Sport – with power coming from either a 1.2-litre petrol engine or a 1.8-litre hybrid mated to an automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT).
The entry-level GXL is available with either two- or four-wheel drive – but in petrol form only, while the Koba can have either petrol or hybrid in FWD but petrol only in AWD, and the GR Sport comes with just 2WD and hybrid power.
2021 Toyota C-HR GR Sport review
Fettled chassis, big wheels, sport tyres and a badge that promises a bit of aggro. Except the other badge says hybrid. Is the C-HR GR Sport a lie?
I’ve always viewed the Toyota C-HR as a terrific car with a problem, a problem that needs a little bit of context. It’s clearly and squarely aimed at young people. Also aimed at young people, at the very least to generate interest in Toyota, is the GR brand.
These badges are on the rumps of the excellent Supra, the forthcoming 86 replacement, the GR86, a few race cars that win little-known races like, say, the Le Mans 24 Hours and the three-cylinder screamer that is the Yaris GR.
The problem with all this youth focus is that I don’t see many young people in Toyota C-HRs. To me, they appear to be bought predominantly by the people who bought the Rukus, itself aimed at yoofs and instead bought by Toyota adherents who are rather older than Toyota might hope.
I mean, a sale is a sale and the C-HR does alright thanks very much, but as cool as it looks, young folks aren’t exactly treading on each other to buy them. It’s a problem all car companies face as young people have a lot more things competing for their meagre incomes. And they all know how powerful that first car brand imprint is. My first car was a Honda and I still like Hondas, despite, well, you know.
When it first arrived, the C-HR had a deeply ordinary media system, a high-tech but slow choice of either a 1.2-litre turbo or (later) the hybrid engines and it wasn’t nearly as exciting as it looked. Never a company to give up easily, Toyota is having one more go to attract a younger audience by making a very genuine attempt to make the C-HR cool. And the C-HR GR Sport is what we’ve got. The GR badge promises excitement. With a hybrid badge on the boot. Hmmm.
Pricing and Features
At its core, the GR Sport is based on the now entry-level GXL 1.2-litre turbo that starts at $30,915 before on-road costs. That means you get a six-speaker stereo, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, front and rear parking sensors, active cruise control, sat-nav, LED headlights (upgraded to “high grade” for the GR Sport), fake leather on the steering wheel, shifter and seats, power windows and mirrors, reverse cross-traffic alert and a space-saver spare.
The 8.0-inch touchscreen is better than it used to be but it’s still well below par for a company the size and weight of Toyota. It has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto but the hardware is very ho-hum, with a stretched, washed-out look and a bitty sat-nav display that partly redeems itself with a clever breadcrumbs feature, meaning that when I got lost I could retrace my steps.
So for a hefty jump to $37,665 + ORC, matching the price of the top-spec Koba hybrid, you get the hybrid engine (more of that later), a new Yaris GR-inspired front bumper that looks terrific, 19-inch alloys wrapped in Yokohama Advan Fleva tyres (not the low rolling resistance nonsense on the other cars), white brake calipers and a few GR badges inside and out. The GR Sport treatment also lowers and stiffens the car and, again, more on that later.
Only Hornet Yellow is a free colour, with Ink Graphite, Crystal Pearl and Feverish Red adding $500 to the cost. If you want a black roof, it’s $775 with the yellow and $1350 in combination with the other colours.
Toyota is having one more go at attracting a younger audience and the C-HR GR Sport is what we’ve got. With a hybrid badge on the boot. Hmmm.
The C-HR comes with seven airbags (including a driver's knee airbag), ABS, stability and traction controls, blind-spot monitoring, high- and low-speed auto emergency braking with pedestrian detection (day and night) and cyclists (day only), forward collision warning, lane departure warning, lane-keep assist, lane trace assist (this keeps the car in the centre of the lane with gentle steering help), speed sign recognition (which can also change the cruise control speed if you want it to) and reverse cross-traffic alert.
A nice little addition is intersection assist, which tries to stop you from getting wiped out at junctions by traffic you haven’t seen.
The youngsters get three top tether anchors and two ISOFIX points. The C-HR scored five ANCAP stars in 2017. The rules have changed somewhat since then, however, and it’s unlikely it would keep that rating if tested again today due to some ANCAP vagaries.
Comfort and Space
If you didn’t already know, C-HR stands for “Coupe – High Riding” which is, you know, a pretty terrible name. However, the interior space is definitely reminiscent of a coupe. While it does have the cabin volume of a compact SUV, the styling very much dictates how it feels inside.
At first, it does feel a bit strange to be sitting so high but the view out the front over the broad, stubby bonnet is good and the big side windows ensure it’s easy to place. It all sort of falls apart a bit, however, when you want to look over your shoulder. The pronounced upsweep of the window line shrinks the rear side glass, with a small, shallow opening section and a little quarter window. Basically, you can’t see much out of there and it’s the same for rear seat occupants.
If you are in the front, you have two cup holders separated by the shifter and function buttons for things like the handbrake and auto hold. There’s nothing wrong with that, especially as the GR Sport is only available as an automatic, so you won’t be knocking over your chocolate thick shake with your elbow when you’re shifting into second.
I really like this interior, with its elliptical motifs scattered around the place, most inventively in the headlining. It feels beautifully built and is one of the first Toyotas to rid itself of the common switchgear that hadn’t changed since (seemingly) the mid-90s.
The piano black of the console might try your patience if you don’t like dust or fingerprints and the screen’s housing and buttons do appear a little cheap, but that’s the only blip. Even the Toyota parts bin steering wheel is fine.
The rear seat is quite dark because of the already-discussed window line and it does mean it’s hard for smaller kids to see out of, or even adults of my height at 180cm.
There is room, though, and it’s quiet and comfortable. Even though the doors looks small, it’s reasonably easy to get in and out of, although loading kids into baby seats might be more difficult. It’s actually easier to get into than a Corolla hatch, which has a tiny aperture.
A lack of rear central armrest means no cup holders in the middle so it’s a bit sparse back there, especially without rear air vents. Having said that, there’s a little surprise and delight feature when it comes to cup holders – they’re built into the door armrests and make a lot of sense.
The boot is an acceptable 318 litres and there’s no official figure for the space with the seats down, but I’d say it’s around 950 litres.
On the Road
There was a collective intake of breath when we heard a C-HR GR was coming because the regular version is actually a good car to drive.
The 1.2-litre turbo fails to be exciting because it’s so slow, battling with breathless cars from a segment down. The base car’s chassis, though, is sweet and you know there’s plenty of scope for more power.
And, oh, yeah, did we get more power. Just not very much of it. It’s kind of baffling that Toyota didn’t go raiding its absurdly large portfolio of engines for something a little more appropriate.
We weren’t expecting a supercharged V6 or anything nuts, but a 90kW hybrid with a CVT – lacking even paddleshifters – doesn’t really fit with the R in GR. And certainly doesn’t supply any grrr. I mean, it’s slightly quicker than the 85kW turbo four, but that’s like saying Joe Biden is less smug than Donald Trump.
The upside of the hybrid is the little electric jolt you get off the line, with the 1.8-litre dutifully kicking into life and the CVT tightening up so you can streak to 100km/h in, er, 11 seconds. The second upside of the hybrid is that even with me trying to extract as much as I could out of it, it drank abstemiously at the rate of just 5.5L/100km and unlike the turbo, it uses 91 octane. Look, you can’t argue with that.
I could complain about this for many more words, but speed has never been the point of the C-HR. It is what is. So now we turn to the chassis. Spring rates are up, anti-roll bars sturdier and the ride height is down by 15mm, making a mockery – a mockery I tell you – of the “high riding” bit of the name. Okay, not really, it’s still reasonably high. Instead of the mithering low rolling resistance Dunlops fitted to the standard cars, the 19-inch alloys wear more aggressively treaded Yokohama Advan Flevas, which are a middle specification sports tyre.
Having fun in the C-HR is all about the momentum you can maintain as you make your way along your favourite bit of road.
These changes have certainly done the trick. Having fun in the C-HR is all about the momentum you can maintain as you make your way along your favourite bit of road. It hangs on for dear life where the standard car’s front tyres would squeal (entertainingly, it must be said) and wash into understeer.
The grip is much higher, mostly down to the tyres, but the improved body control and better steering feel mean you feel like you’re really pushing on. While the hybrid’s torque has well and truly fallen off by the time you’re really into it – and it’s never a fan of hills – you can get more physical with the GR and push it through the corners.
It’s just that it’s the wrong engine. I’d have cheerfully swapped for the potentially slower 1.2 turbo with paddleshifters or, better still, a six-speed manual to give me better command over the engine and just to have a bit more control.
In the daily suburban grind, the C-HR’s ride has lost none of its finesse, which is greatly cheering to me. That is one of the car’s great strengths; a cushy, quiet ride as you get around. Yes, it’s firmer, but the quality is still very high and even with the big wheels, it remains composed at all times. It’s quite impressive, really.
The hybrid is obviously more suited to urban errand-running than performance driving, so it will be entirely unintimidating for anyone who might just buy it to feel a bit racier than in the Koba.
Toyota offers a five-year warranty with unlimited kilometres and if you stick with Toyota’s servicing regime, the driveline cover goes out to seven years and the battery has a ten-year warranty. So far so good. What’s the catch?
Well at $200 for a service every 12 months or 15,000km, there doesn’t appear to be a catch. That’s an absolute bargain by any measure and I have no idea why nobody else can do it this cheaply. The C-HR itself is not massively more expensive than its rivals and none of them offer a complex hybrid powertrain.
On the face of it, the C-HR GR is a puzzling car. It isn’t all show and no go – the tauter, grippier chassis is genuine substance in an already impressive package. The styling tweaks are subtle yet effective and the price isn’t bonkers, even though it could – and probably should – be lower with the turbo engine and the option of a manual.
The GR brand’s target market isn’t going to take a single bit of notice of this car. And that’s when it suddenly makes sense. It doesn’t matter that it’s not a hissing, spitting sports car and even if it was, the kids would stay away from it in droves.
While I can drone on about its performance not befitting the GR badge, that’s complete nonsense, like people whingeing about M Sport badges on a 118i. The GR Sport badge is about putting a smile on your face, a little bit of a halo effect and a car you know is different to Bev and Greg from number 22’s white GXL.
In the end, I guess, a sale’s a sale, whether it’s a Boomer or a Zoomer. The Zoomers have the GRs Yaris and Supra and 86 to dream about. I don’t mind that this car exists and it’s good that it exists and I am not going to get mad about it.
2021 Toyota C-HR GR Sport Specifications
Things we like
- Subtle GR Sport bodykit works well
- Chassis tweaks just right
- Thrifty to run
Not so much
- Not sure hybrid was the right choice
- No manual option
- Dark rear seat
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