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Toyota C-HR: Best of both worlds

Friday, September 11, 2020

THE 2020 Toyota C-HR is the brand at its finest — taking complicated high-level technology and bringing it trouble-free to the mass market, in this case, their Toyota Hybrid System (THS) or Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive (THSD).

First sold on the Prius in 1997, THS is a series-parallel design that separates the gasoline and electrical components differing it from competing systems. The benefit is that the internal combustion engine, electrical motor, and generator can operate in a more flexible manner over rival technology.

That out-of-the-box thinking has coalesced into the C-HR, starting with its styling. No one can accuse Toyota of being boring as the C-HR looks like it's straight out of a science-fiction movie.

The short angular shape and aggressive body lines flow well with the curvaceous front lights that swoop across the fascia and around a third of the side fenders. On first glance, the C-HR appears to be a coupé, but the sharp roof line that melds into a rear spoiler hides the high mounted rear door handles. Pushing the off-roader visuals is lower plastic trim that runs the length of the body. The C-HR isn't for the shy. For higher level extroverts, there is a separate paint scheme available for roof and body.

The bravado displayed on the outside is also found on the inside. Keyless entry makes getting into the C-HR a breeze where one is greeted by a massive matte-coloured character line stretching from door to door, across the dashboard and over the infotainment screen. It's a rather bold design choice which works with the futuristic tones of the cabin. The dash itself is just as curvy and sharp as the exterior lines, jutting out at key points to make reaching for specific controls easy. Soft-touch materials are at all contact points, with a stitched blue leather accent on the dash top. Seating is comfortable with three levels of heating. As a small sport utility vehicle, there is storage everywhere helped by the practicality of a rear hatch. Despite the outward compact size, there's plenty of space for all passengers. The infotainment screen is large, clear, and easy to understand. The sound quality matches the cabin's ability to keep out noises.

The driving experience is smooth since the vehicle starts under electric power and continues as such at low speeds. The THS has been simplified. There is a full EV mode, but it only operates under certain conditions relating to throttle position, speed and battery voltage. The rest of THS operates relatively invisibly, unless one is watching the control gauge or the power flow meter in the infotainment screen. Driving normally the C-HR will switch automatically between electricity and gasoline as it sees fit to drive the front wheels, charge the battery or do both. It regenerates energy while coasting and under braking. At low speeds, the gasoline engine will kick in to top up the battery. The control gauge, which replaces the traditional tachometer, shows charge, eco, and power. More familiar drivers can take advantage of this information to influence what the C-HR is doing using thoughtful throttle modulation.

The C-HR is helped significantly by having electric power. It's fuel efficient. Under acceleration, the already large-for-its-class 1.8-litre engine has the lower and upper end torque filled in by the electric motor for a very linear power delivery. Even better, the chassis is up to the task. The Toyota is compliant yet firm enough to be driven fast with confidence on twisty roads.