Best of both worlds?

Toyota C-HR Dynamic Hybrid 1.8 CVT, Model on test: £30,760

I’ve driven a number of electric vehicles, and many, many conventional petrol engined cars, but my experience with hybrid drive systems is more limited. This Toyota would be my third hybrid and, so far, I have been impressed with the concept, but in reality there’s been something stopping me from signing up whole-heartedly.

To date I’ve driven a BMW i8 hybrid – more than £100k and only two seats, so not particularly practical… and a Lexus 4×4 hybrid, which was fantastic, with one or two minor reservations (but more of that in a later review), so what would I make of Toyota’s C-HR?

The design is fantastic. A real step up in the small SUV market in my opinion. It has some great features and sharp, angular-lines all over the body that make it look slightly space-like… as if it could dock with the international space station and not look out of place. It is a car that I was very much looking forward to driving – not least of which because it would be a potential contender for my own car when my current lease runs out. So there is a lot riding on this test.

From the outside, it looks great, it has a very spacious boot and room for five adults without issue. The cabin is a great place – some truly original layers of materials in and around the dashboard that look good and on the whole feel nice to the touch. There are a few points where the trim doesn’t feel quite quality enough for a car priced above £30k, but this could be forgiven and was not that much of an issue.

The central touchscreen control system was great – relatively easy to navigate, with some compelling graphics, especially around the energy delivery – graphics that change depending on how much engine versus electrical power you use, as well as showing when you are driving economically enough to recharge the onboard battery packs.

There’s a subtle blue lining around the interior – blue is Toyota’s signature colour for their hybrid cars – and this offsets the dark greys nicely to set the scene. The blue line flows around the dash, and screen and gives a funky futuristic feel to the driving experience.

On to the engine – okay, engines – assuming you count the relatively low capacity electric system as an engine in its own right. The electric system can be used (when fully charged) for limited town-based driving only, up to a maximum speed of around 28 or 29 miles per hour. Push the accelerator too hard, and the conventional petrol unit will kick in and tell you that you’ve been too heavy on the throttle to enable EV mode.

In fairness though, this car is a hybrid, so the electric system isn’t really designed to power the car on its own, but rather is intended to compliment the petrol unit, improve efficiency and reduce emissions. Which it does very effectively. But here’s the problem… the gearbox. For me, it just didn’t change gear when I wanted it to. I suspect the manual gearbox would have been more to my driving style, but the automatic system just didn’t measure up, and let down an otherwise great looking car.

I had high hopes for the C-HR, but I think that set a high bar to target and the SUV never quite lived up to my expectations. That fault may lie with me, or it may lie with the automatic gearbox, but either way, the experience wasn’t quite what I had hoped. I would have to drive the manual (and in fact the full-petrol model) before deciding whether to park one of these in my garage, but the automatic hybrid is unfortunately a no.

One other saving grace however was the ability to rewind the radio. Discovered by accident on the penultimate day of my review, I spotted the button and, having missed an interesting news story, realised I could simply back it up and listen again. Why this isn’t a common feature on every car I do not know – it can’t be that hard to store a ten minute buffer… but anyway…

To sum up, it’s a great looking car, and I truly hope the automatic gearbox was the source of the issues I had with the car and the manual would have sorted this. I really hope this is the case because I still think, whenever I see one of these in my mirrors, that it looks great and I want one… just not the automatic.

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