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Toyota’s updated hybrid just makes so much sense

Wednesday, 29th January, 2020 4:00pm

People still seem a little confused when it comes to hybrids, and it’s just possible that Toyota is itself responsible for that.

You see, the Japanese giant has taken to describing its hybrid cars as ‘self-charging’. This has angered many rival car makers, who claim that Toyota is muddying the marketing waters when it comes to plugin-hybrids and even fully electric cars.

The thing is, though, that it’s really a pretty apt description.

This updated C-HR crossover features the familiar 1.8 litre petrol engine with its hybrid system (as seen in the Prius and the Corolla) and it’s a closed-loop system — the battery (which is now a more modern lithium-ion power pack) is charged up either directly by the engine, or by waste energy from coasting and braking.

That power can then be fed back to the front wheels when the engine needs help, or for short bursts of running on electric-only power at lower speeds. Well, I say short but here again Toyota’s hybrid system muddies the waters a little.

You see, according to scientific studies, including one which was carried out last year by UCD, this hybrid system is so efficient that for around 60 per cent of the time (in mixed driving) and as much as 80 per cent of the time (in urban traffic) its 1.8 engine is powered down, and it’s trundling along on just the battery and the 50kW electric motor.

So does that mean that this C-HR is somewhere between 60 and 80 per cent of an electric car? Kind of, yeah.

Certainly it’s more affordable and generally easier on the stress levels than many electric cars. You just drive it like a normal car, and when it runs low on fuel, you just pump some more in. Except, you’ll probably be pumping in a little less than you’re used to.

We easily managed to do better than 5.3 litres per 100km (53mpg) and with a little care you could probably beat that in daily driving. The C-HR’s CO2 emissions (even under the tougher WLTP test) are just 110g/km, and as if that wasn’t enough, Toyota points out that its NOX emissions (the nasty gases at the heart of the diesel scandal) are just 3.6mg/km, against a legal limit of 80mg/km.

It’s also nice to drive. As ever with a Toyota hybrid, you do have to work around the CVT gearbox a bit. It still allows the engine to rev long and high when you want brisk acceleration (it’s the most efficient way, sadly) but you can work out little alterations to your own driving technique that mean you avoid the worst of that.

Besides, Toyota has added more sound-deadening panels to the C-HR, which does combat some of the engine noise (although they still allow too much road-roar through at times). On top of that, the faster-reacting lithium-ion battery means that the electric side of the hybrid system can bring a little more to the party, so again accelerating is less of a chore than it used to be.

The C-HR itself is nice to drive, too. When it was first launched in 2016, the C-HR gave notice that Toyota was serious about making mainstream cars that are fun to drive. Its then-new TNGA platform has since spread out to almost every other model in the Toyota lineup, but the C-HR remains a genuinely pleasant car to drive.

It must be said that its stablemate, the Corolla, is actually a little more rewarding to steer, but the C-HR still has nicely weighted steering, and a sense of balance and adjustability to the chassis that can paint a smile on your face through the corners. It’s really quite delightful.

The updates to the C-HR include the fact that the base-model 1.2 turbo petrol engine has been dropped (it’s now an all-hybrid range, which includes the new 2.0 litre 184hp version) while the styling has been mildly revised.

The headlights are new, as are the tail-lights, which are now connected by a slim strip of a boot spoiler.

Inside, there are no dramatic changes, but that’s a good thing.

The C-HR’s interior was always one of the best in the game, with intriguing diamond-shaped patterns everywhere, and great quality. Neither of those has changed, but the one useful addition is that the clunky infotainment system is now compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which is a big improvement.

While that’s good, the C-HR is still coming up a little short on interior space and practicality.

For a car that’s priced against the likes of the Nissan Qashqai and Hyundai Tucson, a 377 litre boot is rather small.

Meanwhile, the back seats are also tight, and the sharply-rising window line means that they’re also rather claustrophobic. If you regularly carry tall people and large bags, you might be better off going for a Corolla Touring Sports estate with the same frugal hybrid engine.

Of course, that’s to ignore the latent appeal of the C-HR itself. With that sharp-edged styling and the mere fact that it’s a fashionable crossover, it’s hard not to see this updated model being, once again, a storming success.

It’s well-made, good to drive, and economical. No confusion about any of that.

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