Test Drives

Toyota C-HR review: Here at last

Borneo Motors has taken a long time to import the Toyota C-HR. Is the official version of the car worth the wait?

SINGAPORE — Remember when we all thought the Honda HR-V was radical looking? Now it looks more as if it was put on Earth to prepare us for this, the Toyota C-HR.

The newcomer is most definitely a family car built with real world practicality in mind (it has five doors and five seats) but looks more like it escaped from Toyota’s concept cars department.

Bodily, the C-HR is a mash-up of coupe, crossover and hatchback, and it offers a feast of interesting details. The rear door handles are mounted up high, for instance, and the sills of the car carve up into the flanks to make the body look less slab-sided.

The roof bleeds into a prominent spoiler, before blending with those wild taillamps that flare out so prominently.

To anyone who’s ever accused its maker of being boring and unadventurous, the C-HR is Toyota’s tongue, firmly out of cheek.

Mind you, as futuristic as the C-HR looks, you’re probably used to the car’s styling by now.


C-HRs have prowled the streets for more than a year, thanks to parallel importers and private-hire operators who put them on the road for Gruber drivers.

You’re only seeing one on CarBuyer now is because an official machine, meaning one sold by Borneo Motors, has only just become available.

It’s being sold here in two trim levels, both of which have a 1.2-litre turbo that drives the front wheels through a Continuously Variable Transmission — the basic Active model and, for S$17,000 more, the Luxury version that we drove.

The two-tone roof you see on our demo mule, by the way, is a S$1,000 option only available with the Luxury model.

There actually isn’t a huge amount of difference between the two; cosmetically the Luxury model is distinguished by its LED lamps front and rear, with winky style turn signals.

There are some differences in cabin trim, but the Luxury model’s leather upholstery is probably the more meaningful difference (the Active model has cloth seats).

The extra money also buys a keyless entry and button start feature, along with a navigation system.

In spite of the car’s bold looks, you shouldn’t expect fireworks from behind the wheel. The engine is obviously sized for economy, with a CVT chosen for the same reason.

But if you ask it to pull hard, the little turbo engine does try its best, and it can feel admirably peppy when your right foot is heavy.

If the engine is an eager beaver, the handling is less enthusiastic. Our test car wore Dunlop eco tyres that let go fairly early and protested just as readily, discouraging any sort of play as a result.

Mind you, that’s not to say the C-HR handles badly; even at the limit it doesn’t hold any surprises and carries itself in a benign, predictable way. It’s just a car that prefers to be driven sedately.

In fact, there’s a certain well-mannered aspect to the Toyota. It’s quiet in most situations, and the suspension doesn’t rattle occupants.

Crossover cars often feel jiggly, and sure enough the C-HR will let you feel more of the road’s surface than, say, a Prius, but it’s not an uncomfortable car to be in.

It’s not one for claustrophobes, however. The Toyota isn’t cramped inside but the back does make occupants feel closeted, thanks to the way the rear windowsills sweep up to meet the roof.

Things are much nicer up front, where there’s a driver-focused cockpit with controls that fall easily to hand, in typical Toyota fashion.

The boot isn’t huge but is expandable, yet overall the impression of the C-HR is that it places far more emphasis on style than room.

That pretty much gels with the car’s origins; it was created for the style-fussy European market, but ended up looking so good that the rest of the world clamoured for it, including our region.

(And in case you were wondering, it’s done well in Europe, nabbing roughly 9,000 sales a month to become the best-selling Japanese car in its segment last year.)

Safety Sense P: What is it and why do you want it?

Both versions of the C-HR from Borneo Motors come with Toyota Safety Sense P as standard. That’s an umbrella term for a group of active safety features designed to lower the chances of a crash, while taking a half-step towards self-driving tech.

The basic idea is that the C-HR’s driver is fully in charge of the car, but gets a gentle assist from time to time from.

It uses a camera and a radar sensor to “see”. That enables functions such as the Pre-Crash Safety System; If it thinks you’re about to collide with a slow or stopped car in front of you it sounds a warning to jolt you into action, and brakes for you if you continue to daydream.

Same thing if it thinks you didn’t see the pedestrian who stepped out in front of your C-HR while looking at his iPhone.

The camera sees lanes, so it enables a lane departure warning system. The radar sees the car ahead, so it adds active cruise control: the C-HR can automatically follow another car.

Blind spot monitors and a rear cross-traffic alert system are further safeguards against collisions, but Toyota is quick to point out that none of these features are actually meant to stop a crash; instead they minimise the chances of one happening, or minimise the consequences of one.

The C-HR is built on the same platform as the Prius, which is an extremely strong car, and it does come with seven airbags, so passive safety has been addressed. If you think seven airbags is too many, though, the Safety Sense P systems are there to help prevent you from needing even one.

In any case, to know what you’re getting it helps to think of the C-HR as the rebel in the Toyota family — it eschews the practical-but-plain approach of an Altis. Instead, think of it as a styling-driven car whose ability to carry five people is a bonus.

Maybe the real question is: how does the Borneo Motors C-HR differ from that of parallel importers?

Now that the Vehicular Emissions Scheme (VES) has kicked in (and kicked out incentives for the hybrid model), the C-HR Hybrid isn’t priced particularly attractively. Within Japan you can only buy the non-hybrid models with four-wheel drive, which is needless in our part of the world with this amount of engine power.

That leaves the official C-HR in a rather sweet spot: made in Japan but tailored to Singapore by foregoing four-wheel drive.If the C-HR’s wild styling is Toyota sticking its tongue out at critics, then, the local spec ought to have buyers sticking their thumbs up for the Borneo version.

Toyota C-HR 1.2 Turbo Luxury
Engine 1,197cc, inline four, turbocharged
Power 116hp at 5,200 to 5,600rpm
Torque 185Nm at 1,500 to 4,000rpm
Gearbox CVT
Top Speed 185km/h
0-100km/h 11.1 seconds 
Fuel efficiency 6.4L/100km
VES B Neutral
Price S$127,988 with COE
Agent Borneo Motors
Available Now

about the author

Leow Ju-Len
Leow Ju-Len is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 23 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.