SMALL TOYOTA MAKES A BIG IMPRESSION

By Sandy Myhre

Cars have become progressively bigger.  Look back ten years and see that what once was placed in the small car category is now sufficiently big enough to be classified as mid-size.

The same thing happened to what’s ubiquitously called the Sport Utility Vehicle.  It’s like car designers all clubbed together and injected their SUVs with enough steroid-induced bulging muscles to be banned from international track meets

But wait! The emerging trend is to downsize and we see it in the shape of the Peugeot 2008, for instance, the Holden Trax and, now, the Toyota C-HR – in what’s termed the SUV Crossover segment, bridging the divide between a sedan and a full-blown, grown-up SUV. In fact, Holden’s marketing strapline for the 1.4 litre Trax is “the not so serious SUV”.

Given the Toyota C-HR has a seemingly miniscule 1.2 litre petrol engine you have to wonder whether it could pull the skin off the proverbial rice pudding even if it is turbocharged. But, indeed, it does.  Seriously.

It handles the corners exceptionally well and, when asked, doesn’t muck about on the straights, either.  It’s no surprise that the vehicle dynamics were born from race-track testing, at Germany’s famous Nurburgring no less, and are the result of Toyota’s new global platform initiatives.

The exterior is sensationally eye-catching. Dramatic curving artistic bands line each side as the front was seemingly massaged into theatrical aerodynamic shape. Given the size of the engine it shouldn’t look this grunty or so imaginative but style-wise, the C-HR’s bold design is streets ahead of the too-often bland opposition.

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The rear door handles are cleverly placed near the roofline to give a more streamline effect.  Kids won’t reach them which might be a bonus.

It’s a pity, then, about the prosaic name. C-HR means “Coupe High Rider”.  Actually,  it’s neither a coupe nor is it particularly high-riding. Others suggest C-HR means Cross Hatch Runabout.  Either way it’s a shame Toyota couldn’t drum up something more imaginative and far more fitting as a descriptive nomenclature for what is a striking outline.

The cabin isn’t much bigger than a sedan about the size of a Yaris but sensible seat design means leg and head room seems more spacious. It’s the cargo space that will appeal to the young family sector buyers the company is likely to target.

All the controls are literally pointing towards the driver which is eminently sensible.  The large touch-screen display unit is a bonus not every car company thinks about.  We don’t all have Superman vision.

The specification list on the C-HR is as generous as the styling.  There are too many acronyms to list here but rest assured, you’re well covered to enhance your own driving and protect you from someone else who doesn’t manage these things as well as you do.

Both front-wheel and all-wheel drive options are available and both models have the tried and tested continuously variable transmission (CVT) seven-speed gear box.

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Yes, the C-HR will suit a young family but there’s an often-forgotten segment of the market Toyota, and other motor companies, would do well to consider targeting.  That’s women whose kids have left, or were pushed, out of the family nest.

These women have disposable incomes, many are mortgage-free and some have ditched a husband or two.  They are at last at liberty to choose what takes their fancy, and with disposable income to be selective. After years of buying “sensibly” because of kids, they don’t want a boring little sedan.

Compact SUVs are entirely suited to metropolitan, urban or rural lifestyles and the C-HR styling will have considerable appeal.

As a testament to how cool this car looks, in the week I drove the C-HR around the sparsely populated Far North and Bay of Islands of New Zealand, an unprecedented five women came up to ask what is was and could they have a look? That’s never happened before, even with a luxury car on test loan.

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Indeed, in a luxury Beemer or Merc they’re more likely to think you landed an up-market car by marrying well, you screwed your ex out of hard-earned cash, or won Lotto.

So, if Toyota’s marketing could be as bold and courageous as the styling of the C-HR, and if they specifically targeted this important sector, drive a chasm through the yawn-making sameness of car advertising (as they did with the “Bugger” adverts) the company could quite possibly discover a market they didn’t know they had.  Seriously.

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