So, Valentino has grown old. The marketing inspiration for the original 2016 Toyota C-HR, has grey in his beard, a significant other, perhaps even kids in tow and certainly isn’t cool anymore. Exit stage left Valentino (we always thought you were an irritating wazzock) and enter stage-right, Angelo - another Toyota marketing avatar, a digital whizz kid in cream linen, eau-de-nil pumps and with a chunky black G-Shock on his arm. In fact, he’s just about as annoying as Valentino, but that’s marketing for you.
Having joined a bit of an out-there market niche for stylish small SUVs back in the days before Covid (think Nissan Juke, but also VW’s T-Roc and Ford’s Puma) Toyota found it had lucked into a hit. Built in Turkey, the C-HR sold by the bucket load, but who to? Valentino (dreamed up when testing the original car in the Italian Alps) might not have bought the C-HR, but everyone else did. Toyota’s marketing department is like an echo chamber. It’s building a dream car for 30-year-old digital hipsters, but sells the product to wealthy 60-year-olds who wish they were 30-year-old super-connected hipsters, and so on ad infinitum.
So, when Toyota said it talked to customers about the changes needed for this mark II C-HR, just who exactly were they talking to?
Mark I C-HR reverse ferret
Certainly, anyone who’d travelled in the back of the original, where cramped conditions, lack of leg room, tiny side windows and an airless, pokey space would make even the most iron-stomached passenger feel car sick. The designers think they fixed that problem by moving the window back into the C-pillars behind the rear doors for this Mk2 Toyota C-HR, which also helps with the over-the-shoulder views.
The old Mark 4 hybrid system was a bit laggardly, too; slow to react and still with a rubber-band effect when you floored the accelerator. That’s been fixed with the new Mark 5 hybrid system, or so we’re told. And having sniffily told us, seven years ago, that “the environmental benefits of plug-in are largely illusory and there’s much more benefit in producing lots of small, fuel-efficient hybrid cars…” surprise, surprise, the new C-HR will now be available with a plug-in hybrid drivetrain.
The full line up
Engine options consist of 1.8-litre front-drive and 2.0-litre 4x4 hybrids, and a 2.0-litre, front-drive plug-in hybrid that was the only vehicle to drive on this very early introduction of near production-ready cars. The new C-HR goes on sale early next year, with the PHEV following later in 2024.
The PHEV engine is a 1,897cc, four-cylinder with adjustable camshaft timing. It runs in the Atkinson cycle for more efficient combustion, and produces 152bhp and 140lb ft. The two-motor hybrid system brings total power output up to 223bhp. As always with PHEVs, the fuel economy and CO2 emissions claims are total balderdash but, for the record, the WLTP figure is 314mpg and CO2 is 19g/km. The bigger lithium-ion battery is a 13.8kWh pack, which gives a claimed all-electric range of 41 miles, but when we climbed in the range readout suggested that 35 miles would be more realistic.
Prices aren’t given, but expect this PHEV model to cost close to £40,000.
The styling of the C-HR is as zany but more reconciled (and aerodynamic) than the first model, with better incorporation of features such as the front and rear parking cameras and radar. The wheels and tyres are larger, with standard 19in rims and optional 20in. That should increase the drag (and worsen the ride quality), but they’ve worked hard on the shape to improve the slipperiness.
The cabin is heavily revised with a comprehensively reworked digital instrument binnacle and touch screen. They’ve thrown the kitchen sink at the interface, with electronics that estimate range off the sat nav, and three driving modes that allow you to charge the battery on the run and hold the electrical charge for geofenced zero-emissions zones.
There are also Sport and Eco modes, myriad ambient lighting options and an endless series of switchable screen graphics, so even if nothing else changes you can kid yourself that the car is now an inter-stellar stealth fighter instead of a gussied-up Yaris. Fortunately, the software design team hasn’t been allowed an entirely free rein and there’s some logic in the controls, such as the way you toggle through from one screen to another and the heater controls are (mostly) kept out of the centre screen.
The cabin is upholstered with a variety of recycled plastic fabrics including some of the grained hard plastic, which aren’t unpleasant to the touch. Unfortunately, because in some cases the recycled plastics are bonded to a lot of different plastics, their recycling capability is the end of the road in the C-HR, so they’re not part of the circular economy. Equally overstated is the ‘vegan’ leather covering for the steering wheel, which is claimed to offer a 78 per cent CO2 saving compared to a proper leather upholstered wheel, where in fact the way that cows are accounted for in the ISO/EU totting up process means the food, leather, dairy, land conservation contribution of the beast is largely ignored in Toyota’s claims.
The new C-HR is 4,360mm long, 1,830mm wide and 1,570mm high, making it shorter but wider than the outgoing model (that might have something to do with the bigger wheels and tyres. Yet, in the front, the seats are narrow and pinchy on the hips and the leg space is tight with a massive centre console and interior trim which juts out and squashes you.
In the back there is certainly more leg room and even six-foot passengers will be able to sit comfortably, but they are low down in the car, views out are still mean and even the big optional sunroof doesn’t bring that much light into the rear. The boot looks reasonably large and the rear seat backs fold 60/40 per cent onto their bases to give a longer but heavily stepped load bed.
On the road
While you’re never exactly sure where the source of the motive power is coming from - battery, electric or generator - it’s pretty effective even if the engine gets a bit frantic when you go for that overtake. It pulls smartly away from the standstill with a distinct set of ‘gears’, which ape the feeling of a manual car. Unlike some PHEVs, the C-HR is no road burner with its 0-62mph of 7.3sec, but in urban and suburban driving it feels brisk and pleasingly gutsy, and if you get on the motorway the whole drivetrain settles down and fast cruising is relaxing apart from the tyre noise.
With MacPherson strut front and a multi-link independent rear suspension, along with new frequency selective dampers, the C-HR is improved on what went before but not by a big leap. While the initial bump response of the suspension is supple, it bounces from side-to-side on broken-edge pavement, tossing passenger’s head and there’s an audible bump response to sharp-edged imperfections.
It’s OK, but by no means outstanding. Part of that will be weight but Toyota wouldn’t tell us the kerb weight on this early drive so we can only guess at this point that it’s heavy. The original Mark I was about 1,450kg, and this car feels no less than 1,800kg.
Even so, the handling is positive, with a decent response to the steering, good body control and a degree of feedback to the major controls. There are times when this feels like feedback as described and executed by a visiting alien - ie. highly artificial - but I think that Angelo is going to be perfectly satisfied with the car even if it’s far from a hot hatch.
When they first appeared (on a Prius, actually), these plug-in hybrids seemed an ideal way of combining an electric and combustion-engined car, but the reality isn’t quite the panacea it first seemed. For some folk the idea of a car that can be trundled round town electrically then driven longer distances on hydrocarbon fuels seems like a good idea. But in the end, it is the tax breaks that make this car worth having and overcome the weight, cost and complexity of the arrangement as well as the potential to maintain sales five years beyond the cut-off date for combustion engines in 2030.
As a hybrid, the new C-HR marks a valuable revamp, with more room, better software and a slightly better driving experience to go with the attractive unusual looks, but as a plug in, unless you plan on running it through the books, this car is too complex, too heavy, too expensive and just too much.
Toyota C-HR Plug-in Hybrid
Body style: five-door supermini SUV
On sale: 2024
How much? Estimated at close to £40,000
How fast? 112mph, 0-62mph 7.3sec
How economical? WLTP Combined 314mpg
Engine & gearbox: 1,897cc, four-cylinder, naturally-aspirated Atkinson-cycle petrol, 152bhp at 6,000rpm, 140lb ft @ 4,400rpm. Front wheel drive.
Electric powertrain: two motor hybrid system with 13.8kWh lithium-ion main drive battery
Electric range: 41 miles
Maximum power/torque: 163bhp/153lb ft
CO2 emissions: 19g/km
VED: £0 first year, then £170 plus £560 luxury car tax for years 2-6
Warranty: 3 years/60,000 miles, with a year’s extension every time the vehicle is serviced at a Toyota dealership to 10 years and 100,000 miles
Renault Captur Plug-in Hybrid
With electric running of 30 miles and a 1.6 petrol engine to keep you going thereafter, the Captur is one of the strongest rivals to the C-HR even if it’s a bit smaller and doesn’t go quite as far on electricity. It feels a bit cheap inside, but it’s comfortable, good value next to the C-HR and is actually a bit brighter and more comfortable for rear passengers.
Nissan Juke Hybrid
Not a plug-in hybrid, but this full hybrid has similarly eccentric looks and also promises decent efficiency. However - similar to the C-HR - it suffers from poor rear passenger space so may not be the ideal family car if that’s what you’re after. It’s much cheaper than the C-HR PHEV, though.
Ford Kuga PHEV
The Kuga is technically a class above the C-HR, and is a fair bit bigger at just over 4.6m long, but it’s also a very similar price, covers a similar distance on electricity and its 2.5-litre petrol engine is remarkably efficient thereafter. Plus, it’s far more practical. The ride’s a bit firm, but this is more car for your money than you’re getting with the C-HR.