2017 a year for Toyota boom babies

Small hot cars are coming to the fore with Toyota at the moment.


ONE is being called the ‘new kind of hotness’ and the other, despite a faintly comical name, promises a degree of feistiness that cannot be laughed at.

Toyota is stirring up its small car standing with the sharp-looking CH-R, a sub-compact crossover just a couple of months from release here, and is also attracting interest by announcing a road-going version of Yaris World Rally Championship car – a project the local office is less interested in talking about.

While the C-HR is expected to turn heads on arrival around April simply on the strength of its ultra-angular five-door shape, Toyota New Zealand is also aiming to cause a big stir by introducing the 1.2-litre car for around $35,000 – thus pricing at the heart of the sector.

The Palmerston North-based market leader also assures the intention to employ a sharp price won’t dull the kit level. The only option is whether to buy in front- or four-wheel-drive.

The big pitch is recognition not only that the compact crossover market is a goldmine, having shown a threefold lift in sales in the last five years but, with 22 models now against 11 then, it is also a packed playzone.

As a late arrival, C-HR will be up against the Mazda CX-3, Honda’s HR-V, the Nissan Juke and Qashqai, Holden’s refreshed Trax, the Mitsubishi ASX and Suzuki’ s Vitara.

Steve Prangnell, Toyota New Zealand general manager of sales, explained more about the launch intention subsequent to the issue of a less expansive press release.

He enforces that this car presents more than just a pretty face – because it also presents further exposure to Toyota’s New Global Architecture (TNGA) that the maker assures is rigid enough to deliver on “the promise of advanced driving pleasure.”

Toyota says years were spent developing the driving performance and ride quality on some of the world’s most curvaceous and challenging roads, including the Nurburgring Nordschleife.

“The styling is good but it’s very, very premium. It’s on the new platform so it is seriously buttoned down in the way it handles.”

C-HR also delivers an all-new 85kW/185Nm turbocharged petrol engine, that drives via a continuously variable transmission here though it also marries to a six-speed manual elsewhere.

The engine for New Zealand is the smallest available to this car, but TNZ says it will do the job, being is extra-peppy for its size, citing that peak torque avails from just 1500rpm all the way to 4000rpm.

The engine is placed low and angled slightly rearward, securing a low bonnet line as well as contributing to a low centre of gravity which helps minimise body roll and movement during cornering, the brand attests.

The C-HR adopts Toyota Safety Sense, a full suite of technology designed to assist the driver and occupants including; a pre-crash system with autonomous emergency braking, all-speed adaptive cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beam and a reversing camera.

TNZ doesn’t yet want to discuss the exact specification but Prangnell’s admission that his operation has gone for the highest trim possible suggests we will have something akin to what is being called the Koba (after the car’s chief designer) in other markets.

Koba has comfort features such as heated seats, keyless entry and start, privacy glass and 18-inch alloy wheels. Other interior features include a 6.1-inch touchscreen display, a two-tiered front seat design, diamond-shaped switches that evoke the exterior styling, a theme that is also evident in the door trim panel, headliner and the analogue instrument dial needles.

Switchgear in the cabin is angled slightly towards the driver, according to Toyota, while an asymmetrical centre console design means controls are within relatively easy reach. 

This is part of what the car-maker calls its ‘sensual touch’ interior design concept that combines “high-tech functionality with a sensual and fashionable style”.

Further flourishes in the cabin that could appeal to the younger professional types that TNZ has cited as particular target customers include the use of clear blue illumination for the instruments and switches as well as satin silver and piano black trim.

Prangnell says a shape first exposed at the Geneva motor show in March and closely derived from a concept seen at the Paris show in 2014 has registered extremely well with target customers.

“Every market wants this car … and that will restrict its availability. We’re not aiming high for our first year because production is so limited. We’re only expecting to sell 350 this year, because of that.

“We’re aiming at a highly-contested portion of the segment but it’s going to be good to have something that sits under RAV4.”

TNZ says its desire to ruffle up the category is not just talk. “It’ll be mid-$30s, that car,” says Prangnell. “We’re coming in with one of the sexist designed cars in there.”

Even more honed is the Yaris hot hatch, expected to be badged Toyota Yaris Gazoo, named after the company's motorsport arm and set to go public shortly after the Microsoft-liveried Yaris World Rally Championship car gets down to business in the 2017 WRC, which kicks off with Rally Monte Carlo in January.

The road car is expected to tie with the WRC by taking a 1.6-litre turbo engine and though its expected 150kW and 271Nm is a more subdued outlay than the full out racer’s 279kW/426Nm, it would still be handy enough to meet the class average.

What’s the chances for New Zealand? It’s hard to say. TNZ spokesman Morgan Dilks says only that the local product team has “no comment at this stage” about the car’s local market potential.

Gazoo? Well, snigger at the weird name, but this performance moniker is serious enough. Gazoo involves in all Toyota’s big motorsport projects and is now set to become the in-house performance sub-brand at Toyota, akin to Mercedes’ AMG and the BMW M-Division.

Gazoo might also be involved with a version of the forthcoming Supra, a co-production with BMW now at an advanced stage.

A single image of the performance Yaris - in design sketch form - reveals all the hallmarks of the segment, with larger alloy wheels, a low ride height, low-profile tyres and bodywork upgrades that include a rear spoiler, as well as a three-door bodystyle.

Toyota’s return to rallying after a 17-year absence is serious enough. The team principal is Tommi Makinen, who won four WRC titles with Mitsubishi, and the drivers are Jari-Matti Latvala and Juho Hänninen, with Finnish driver and reigning WRC-2 champion Esapekka Lappi as test driver. 

The collaboration with Microsoft will include the development of a data analysis platform, as well as a cloud-based information-sharing system to allow team members to share content more efficiently.

Toyota and Microsoft will also work together to enhance communication with fans. The two companies have previously collaborated on Toyota Connected, a product development project that collects and analyses large amounts of date to improve products and customer service, and on systems that support the testing of autonomous driving technology.

The Yaris WRC effort will also be supported by partners Michelin, DMG Mori and Panasonic.