Toyota C-HR designer wants proper performance variant

The man behind Toyota’s edgy C-HR is a performance freak, and he wants his compact SUV baby to morph into something properly swift. Is a C-HR GT4 on the way?

Toyota CH R GT 4 TRD Concept Side Jpg

The man behind Toyota’s edgy C-HR is a performance freak, and he wants his compact SUV baby to morph into something properly swift. Is a C-HR GT4 on the way?

HIROYUKI Koba is, in typical Japanese fashion, a fairly unassuming chap. Middle-aged with a neat haircut and wearing a grey suit with a Toyota pin on the lapel, he appears to have emerged from the same cookie cutter as most other Japanese car company execs. Beneath the surface, however, is a man driven by performance.

The latest entry on his curriculum vitae is Chief Engineer for the Toyota C-HR, Toyota's all-new compact SUV contender that will do its best to challenge the dominant – and similarly style-driven – Mazda CX-3. With just a 1.2-litre turbo with 88kW under the bonnet it’s not what you’d call a firecracker, yet Koba reckons it has significant performance potential.

Hiroyuki Koba

When talk turns to performance cars, Koba’s eyes light up. Behind the grey suit, Koba is a dyed-in-the-wool fast car freak, and he's eager to preach. In Australia for the first time to help launch the Toyota C-HR, Koba's visit was just two days long – he had to return to Japan by the weekend to steer his open-cockpit race car in competition at Suzuka.

A 30-year veteran of Toyota, a look at Koba’s resume and nothing really jumps out. His name is against SUVs, hybrids and a workman’s pickup. Money-makers, sure, but not the most exciting metal.

However, waiting for him back home is a last-generation Toyota Supra. Twin-turbo, naturally. In past years he's also owned two MR2s - a first-gen  AW11 and a second-gen SW20 – so the man is no stranger to fast Toyotas.

This passion has clearly rubbed off on the C-HR.

Toyota Gazoo Racing

Our first drive showed that besides dull (if authoritative) steering and a sedate powertrain, the C-HR handles sweetly and could, conceivably, be turned into a fairly swift hot hatch. Hustle it hard and you'll discover excellent suspension and a chassis that's surprisingly willing to rotate.

Asked by Wheels whether he'd like to put a drivetrain like that offered by the dearly departed Toyota Celica GT4 – a potent two-litre turbo AWD for those with memory issues – Koba perked up. “This kind of car I would love to do,” he said. “It is my dream!”

The bones are good. The TNGA platform – specifically the GA-C sub-architecture – that lies beneath the C-HR’s wild sheetmetal shows great promise in the C-HR.

And Toyota has spent money on things that this kind of car doesn’t necessarily need. Double-wishbone rear suspension instead of a torsion beam, rose joints rather than squishy rubber bushings, a predictive rather than reactive AWD system, downshift rev-matching for the manual – a compact SUV needs none of these features.

Hiroyuki Koba

You get the feeling that Koba spent a great deal of time in Toyota City boardrooms arguing for their inclusion, and we’re glad that he emerged victorious – the C-HR is a better car for it. When there’s already a veritable sea of compact SUV rivals – and many more coming – making performance a point of difference is a sound strategy.

But there’s definitely some significant headroom.

Is a fast one coming? Koba is playing coy for now, but having a bona-fide driving fiend at the helm of the project bodes well for the prospects of a C-HR GT4. With buyers migrating to SUVs in ever-increasing volume and Toyota currently lacking a proper hot-hatch in its line-up, a C-HR GT4 would allow the company to capitalise on the former while rectifying the latter, while also blazing a trail with the first mainstream high-performance SUV in the compact category.

If Koba-san gets his way, that is.


How are you finding our new site design? Tell us in the comments below or send us your thoughts at


Subscribe to Wheels magazine

Subscribe to Wheels Magazine and save up to 44%
Get your monthly fix of news, reviews and stories on the greatest cars and minds in the automotive world.



We recommend


GWM sales targets supply

Great Wall Motors aims to triple sales, deems supply no issue

Growing Chinese manufacturer reveals ambitious sales goals and expanded product pipeline

11 mins ago
Louis Cordony
Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.