Toyota C-HR – My car of the year 2020

Ian Lamming looks back at a year to remember and chooses a car of 2020.

IT would be so easy to pick a posh model as the car of the year.

There is an undoubted thrill of driving something with a prestigious badge that goes way beyond whether it is actually any good to pilot. This feel good factor makes you sit taller in the seat so people can see who is behind the wheel.

But that would not be fair because this exotica is generally inaccessible to the masses and unlikely to turn up on most folk’s drives.

That said, both the Rolls-Royce Dawn and Wraith brought nothing but pleasure to me and those people who were brave enough to approach for a chat or a sit inside.

In motoring terms 2020 wasn’t a vintage year as new product launches were mainly cancelled – I still haven’t driven Aston Martin’s SUV, the DBX – and at the height of COVID all bookings were cancelled for 14 weeks.

Luckily for me I was locked down with a truly excellent Peugeot 208 which proved to be a brilliant car to endure the long period of incarceration.

When things started to ease Land Rover braved a socially distanced and carefully considered launch of the new Defender, a car simply too important to remain in isolation. It was well worth the effort of driving hundreds of miles to spend hours on and off the road in this excellent replacement for the iconic motor.

Porsche too can be applauded for bringing the new Panamera and Cayenne Turbo S out for a serious airing and what fine cars they proved to be, genuinely breath-taking in their performance, poise and packaging – and, indirectly, they bring me to my car of the year.

Sitting in the car park waiting for me to finish testing the brace of Porsches was a car a fraction of the price. My thoughts as I walked back to this mainstream SUV-cum-coupe, still aglow from the Porsche experience, were tinged with anticipated sadness as I drove home in something that felt rubbish by comparison.

So it is a true measure of the new Toyota C-HR then that it didn’t feel rubbish at all, quite the opposite, it felt great, which is startling given the company we found ourselves in.

The minute you climb inside its well-appointed cabin all is well. I persuaded a friend to buy one and he loves it. David is very much into self-reflection and meditation and he describes the C-HR as his ‘zen car’. “It just feels so peaceful, so relaxed, that it takes all the stress out  of driving and you are happy to cruise along at the legal limit,” he tells me.

He is absolutely right. Press the starter button and nothing appears to happen, save for a wave of the needles on the dash and a little green light illuminates saying ‘ready’. Stick the gearlever into D for drive and the C-HR pulls away in complete silence. It’s eerie at first but soon becomes wonderful.

Now you’d think a car this smooth and quiet would be boring to drive but it isn’t – far from it. For some reason the Toyota is completely engaging and feels so good on the road. The small steering wheel is so direct to operate and the C-HR feels sharp and confident through the bends. The ride really is stunning being both sporty and controlled and uber comfortable at the same time. It soaks up the shockwaves from lumps, bumps and deep potholes like no other. Grip is brilliant too and it feels self-assured in all conditions. When you do need a bit more performance the petrol motor and hybrid electric work seamlessly, together giving you all the power you need. Bumble around town or along narrow lanes and it runs mainly in EV mode. When you get back and check out the trip computer it is amazing to see average miles per gallon readings ranging from 60-99.9.

I actually run a C-HR, that’s how good they are, albeit the older model. Even two years down the road I love the fact this SUV sits high above the floodwaters and that its melded looks that blend SUV with funky looking coupe haven’t dated one bit.

Parked side by side with mine it becomes obvious the design has changed little. The fog lights have risen a few inches and the front end looks marginally remoulded around the lights. The back lights look different under the lenses but that’s about it.

My car’s minor faults have been addressed. The halogen headlights have morphed into brilliant LEDs and the radio enjoys a bit richer sound.

Inside, it’s more of the same, though there are some features I prefer. Loving the quilted seat trim Toyota. Being an old retro I also prefer the fact that the central display has moved away from pure touchscreen to a mix of dab, knobs and buttons. The on/off/volume control is a now a trusty knob and the primary functions are on buttons either side of the screen which, for me, are much more intuitive and easy to use.

Toyota could have quite easily changed for the sake of change but I’m so happy to report that new C-HR is a very mildly honed version of what was still a truly great car and well worth the accolade of my car of the year. It would have been easy to go for the posh but as you can see from the C-HR there really was no need.

Fact file

Toyota C-HR Hybrid Dynamic

Engine: 2.0 petrol plus electric

Power: 184BHP

0-62mph: 8.2secs

Top speed: 112mph

Combined: 54.32MPG

Transmission: CVT

CO2 g/km: 92

Price: £31,890.00 d