In the world of automobiles, Toyota is a brand that’s known for reliable engines and gearboxes that hardly ever break down. It won’t be surprising to find 15-year-old Corolla Altises still roaming Singapore’s busy roads in prime condition, boasting an average fuel consumption of around 16 km per litre, which is what some current-generation models can only dream of.
Call me old-fashioned, but the quintessential Toyota car is the 1995 Toyota Crown Comfort. Apart from its fame of being the olfactory model for taxis in Singapore from the late 90’s for over 20 years, the Toyota Crown Comfort is a comfortable and spacious sedan for both driver and passenger, together with a rock-solid 2.0L engine and a reliable 5-speed manual.
But like many other Toyotas out there, the Crown Comfort was not perfect. In fact, the caveats were a tad annoying. An ultra-lightweight steering wheel devoid of any force feedback robbed the drive from any real “on the road” feel, which made the drive plain boring and even perhaps potentially dangerous. In the motoring community, it’s not uncommon to hear drivers complaining about the lack of heft and cheap overall build quality both inside and out. The plastics used in Toyotas were hollow and inferior compared to other Japanese cars in its class.
However, 2018 is set to be the definitive year for Toyota, because it has largely put most of the bad rep to rest with the introduction of the Toyota C-HR in Singapore in January. The Toyota C-HR is an SUV that serves continental-level driving experience in most aspects.
The Toyota C-HR is quite the looker, with a fierce, grumpy onlook accentuated by aggressive styling evident in the long, sharp front headlights. The front grill is menacing, and sends a stern warning to whoever’s in its path. (“A turbo car is right behind you. Either you give way now, or be forced into it. You choose.”) This is unusual for a Toyota car, which usually carries a more approachable look.
Upon closer inspection, the Toyota C-HR actually strikes a resemblance to an armoured tank. You get a chunky feel especially at the rear of the car, where one will be convinced that this car is everything but weak. Look at the boomerang-inspired headlights and the protruding rear. Conservative is the last thing in mind.
Carrying on the no-nonsense design continuity of the car to the interior, the C-HR looks bold in the inside. You’d feel serious no matter where you look in the car – right from the edgy dashboard, down to the seats, which arch a little at the sides to tease what it’s like to sit in a bucket seat.
The Toyota C-HR is unlike any of its predecessors from aeons past in the department of build quality. The metal used everywhere in the car is dense and whole. This was most apparent when opening and closing the doors. There is a pleasant heft to it that reassures you that you possess a well-built vehicle that’s actually worth shelling out over a hundred grand for. The metal that’s used in the C-HR is so high quality that it provides a decent level of soundproofing from the outside elements and annoying tire noise. Everything relates back to the price – soundproofing for the asking price is unheard of until now, with the Toyota C-HR.
At the centre console lives a lively, useful and practical 7-inch centrally-mounted touchscreen, for all the usual media and navigation needs. It’s simple, easy to use, and very sensitive to the touch. Gone the days are when touchscreen systems depended on the likes of finicky, resistive touchscreens!
While one would be disappointed with the absence of Avante-garde material (such as Alcantara leather and the such) in the interior of the car, the plastics used inside the car are worth a good mention. How far Toyota has progressed in terms of its build quality is very obvious in the quality of plastic used. Not only are they much denser and markedly less hollow than previous generations, they are styled with the consistent ethos of seriousness along with the other parts of the car.
The Handling & The Drive
Fundamentally, the C-HR is an SUV, and well, SUVs are known to be clumsy at corners. However, the C-HR changes expectations in a very positive way. Because of very little body roll and a “grounded” drive feel, the C-HR tackles corners surprisingly well. This is big thanks to the C-HR’s SACHS MacPherson Strut Front Suspension and Double Rear Wishbone Suspension, which has angled strut bearings and a large-diameter stabilizer bar to help C-HR’s front end respond quickly and precisely when taking corners. We don’t see this often in chunky SUVs, but we sure are thankful for that.
Aside from the suspension, a notable mention is the steering. From past experiences, the steering was easily the worst part of any Toyota. Not only was the steering devoid of feel, they were ludicrously light too, so much so that steering with your pinky was actually possible. However, the steering in Toyota’s new kid changes impressions with its noticeably weightier and sturdier steering wheel. Despite the car being big in size, the steering was able to make the car handle precisely, through negligible steering play.
1.2L is puny by today’s standards, but hold your judgement. The petrol-turbo 1.2L variant of the Toyota C-HR is surprisingly punchy, and can be felt straight from the get-go. A turbocharged engine gives the driver an exciting surge of adrenaline, and the Toyota-CHR is no exception. Plus, it tops this off with a quiet engine (a major boon) – what’s there not to love?
The whole driving experience of the car is can be likened to eating candies; lovely in the initial stretch, but eat too much, and you’d start feeling sick. What I’m actually referring to is the smart features of the car. In my opinion, the smart features overly-pamper the driver, and could potentially numb the alertness of the driver in the long run.
One example would be the Blind Spot Monitor (BSM). It lights up a small portion of your side mirror whenever the car senses another vehicle passing you by from the side. This feature, while cool, eliminates the need for the driver to check blind spots and slowly rely on the tech wholesale. Also, the lights continuously flashing on and off at the corner of your eye can get annoying pretty quickly. I tried to turn the feature off, but could not find the way to. This is perhaps the most annoying thing about the drive on the Toyota C-HR.
Another example would be the Standard Automatic High Beams. Its intention to enhance visibility during nightfall is laudable. However, when in use, it activates high beam 90% of the time (instead of switching to the low beam), which I would believe highly annoyed other road users (and not to mention making me multiple enemies on the road). High beams should only be used in very select situations when it’s near pitch-dark, or just a subtle way to show the finger to an inconsiderate road user, period.
The Final Say
The Toyota C-HR will charm any driver looking for a punchy ride, fierce looks and excellent build quality from Toyota, and at a reasonable price as compared to the other competition. Go for it, and most certainly if you can look past the almost annoying “smart” features.
Photos by Kenneth Tan and Nigel Noah Chan of the DANAMIC Team.