For simplicity’s sake, let’s say that GR (Gazoo Racing) is essentially the performance arm of Toyota. It’s the brainchild of their president, driver and petrol head Akio Toyoda who is determined to ensure that GR ‘build better cars’, however, the C-HR is a family compact SUV and despite being a popular model, when powered by a hybrid (certainly in our mind) should have no place wearing a GR badge. So to help clear up our confusion, Toyota NZ threw us the keys to take it for a spin.
With GR body kit styling, two-toned paintwork, GR badges, white brake calipers with GR logos, a black gloss spoiler on the rear that envelopes the LED light cluster and some handsome 19-inch alloys, the model’s GRness is hard to miss BUT with a standard 1.8L Petrol/hybrid motor (90kW/142Nm) married to an eCVT transmission virtually any other brand would call it a ‘line’ – or at least that was my initial thought.
Digging deeper into the spec sheet and I discovered that aside from making it more sporty looking, the GR team at Toyota had in fact crawled under the family SUV and reconfigured the suspension, the shocks, springs and centre brace have all received some attention, and the result is truly noticeable.
For me it was an ahhh moment, performance isn’t always about the power that drives the vehicle but also how it handles it, and the GR C-HR handles its moderate amount of power very well, particularly as it’s FWD.
Much of my week’s review was spent doing family ‘things around’ town with the family. A bit of shopping here a few household chores there and the compact SUV handled them all with a sporty look and with a fuel-efficiency that was displayed around the eary 5L/100km (the brochure says 4.3L/100km) and emitting 97g of CO2 per km, so all very nice.
But it’s when I ditched the family and headed for ‘them there hills’ that the smiles really started.
As I said, the power itself is a little hohum, the delivery is fine and the eCVT does what it does well, allowing a sense of extra off the line speed, but it’s the way the normally sedate SUV handles the corners that really impressed.
The 19-inch feet come with 225 sticky rubber, which when added to the suspension upgrades means that you can disregard the cornering speed ‘suggestion’ signs. The steering feels quick and responsive and the confidence it has to whip around the tightest of bends is giggle inspiring. It’s a feeling of being naughty, doing things that you know you shouldn’t really be doing, but getting away with it (all within the grounds of the law of course).
The GR C-HR’s interior is mostly the same as its mild mannered sibling apart from some rather supportive sports seats with GR badging. The side bolsters are great for keeping your lower back firmly seated, however, I would have liked the support to run a little higher towards the shoulders for when really enthusiastically tackling those tight corners – seriously, the GR C-HR can take it.
Having been behind the wheel of the new GR Supra and GR Yaris I must admit to have been expecting a LOT from the GR C-HR, and in terms of power and transmission there was a sense of being underwhelmed, however, if the core GR mantra of ‘building better cars’ is to be recognised, the upgrades to this compact SUV do that and then some. Looks alone make the GR C-HR stand out but it’s the thrill of taking the corners that (even when taken way under the national speed limit) really make you go ahhh!