Wide-ranging safety features
Sizeable touchscreen, Apple CarPlay
Poor rear visibility
Acceleration only adequate
2019 Toyota C-HR
Bowing as an all-new model last year, the 2019 Toyota C-HR (Coupe High-Rider) shares Toyota’s new compact architecture platform with the latest Corolla hatchback and the Lexus UX. A bit late to the party, the Toyota enters the class chasing competitors that include the Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3, Jeep Renegade, Ford Ecosport, Chevrolet Trax, and Nissan Kicks, although all but the C-HR are available with all wheel drive.
The C-HR manages to throw a new twist on the rising beltline-sloping roofline look favored by a dozen and more crossovers currently being offered. As the lone extrovert in the subcompact crossover class – Nissan dropped the Juke from the US lineup in 2018 - the C-HR brandishes bold sheetmetal with origami-inspired creases and folds served up with a flourish of slits and upkicks. Anything but subtle, the appearance is certainly polarizing and may be disconcerting for some, but the fact is that the C-HR causes passers-by look twice and, after a week, we’ve grown rather fond of the stares it elicits.
The party begins up front, with a fascia that sports bold headlamp enclosures that wrap around the upper fenders and terminate at the centerline of the front wheel wells, while a sharp character line drops down aft of those, then rises as it continues along the sides, ascending sharply in front of the rear wheel wells where it blends into abbreviated quarter panels. The rear fascia is equally busy. Moving from top to bottom, it features an upper spoiler supported by fins, and aggressive dimensional taillights separated by a protruding lip spoiler that sits above bulbous rear quarter panels, with the whole lot resting above a protruding lower valance.
The wildly imaginative exterior is wrapped around an interior that offers plenty of head, shoulder, hip and leg room for front seat occupants. Instrumentation in front of the driver is set deeply enough that it’s unaffected by direct sunlight. Unlike the like-sized Lexus UX that relies on a mish-mash of controls in a bizarre setup on the center console, the 8-inch touchscreen on the C-HR is flanked by redundant buttons for all major functions including twin knobs for power/volume and tune/scroll. All infotainment systems should be this easy to use.
In back, six-footers will find plenty of headroom, while flipping and folding the seats creates 36.4 cubic feet of cargo space, as well as a flat load floor – a feature not typically found in this class.
At the same time, other than a slick bit of sculpting in the headliner over the front seats, imagination seems to have been left behind once you enter the cabin, as bits of silver trim do little to liven up an all-black interior that’s laden with average materials and a large dose of hard plastics - giving the surroundings a low-rent feel. In addition, the C-HR feels best for two, as rear seat passengers literally take a back seat dealing with odd rear door handles, door cutouts that make ingress and egress awkward, poor leg room – especially with taller front seat occupants - and a rising beltline and thick C-pillars that limit outward visibility. Finally, with just 19 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats, the C-HR falls well short of the segment-leading Honda HR-V's 24.3 cubic feet.
Under the hood
Unlike the Lexus UX, the C-HR has no hybrid variant, with a single drivetrain consisting of a normally-aspirated 144 horsepower 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that manages to generate 139 lb-ft of torque, mated to a continuously variable transmission.
It wouldn’t be out of place to expect this combination to generate some seriously lofty fuel economy numbers, but alas, the C-HR’s portly 3,300 pound curb weight and the laws of physics eighty-six those expectations to the tune of an EPA-estimated 27 miles per gallon in the city, 31 on the highway, and 29 combined – numbers eclipsed by the front-wheel-drive versions of the 2019 Mazda CX-3 and 2019 Honda CR-V (30 combined), as well as the 2019 Nissan Kicks (33 combined). We managed a somewhat mediocre, vehicle-measured 25.6 miles per gallon in a combination of city and highway driving.
On the road
Around town and on the highway, the C-HR delivers a smooth, composed ride courtesy of a beefy stabilizer bar and Sachs dampers up front, and a sophisticated double wishbone setup in back that outshines the cheaper twist-beam suspensions chosen by a number of rivals, resulting a fun-to-drive character many of them lack. And though hardly a back roads corner-carver, body lean is kept in check during cornering, while feedback through the steering wheel and brake pedal is surprisingly good. In addition, Toyota’s smallest crossover offers decent step-off as well as a better-than-expected level of engine refinement for the class.
Driver visibility out the front and sides is excellent, and at freeway speeds, the C-HR is unaffected by crosswinds, with the engine capable of delivering sufficient power for merging and passing without difficulty.
Unfortunately, the C-HR’s portliness means that acceleration following initial step-off generally falls somewhere between "languid" and "soon." In addition, quite a bit of wind and tire noise enter the cabin at freeway speeds, while CVT moan is readily apparent under anything other than gradual acceleration.
The base LE trim comes well-equipped with the usual power features (windows, locks, mirrors), along with LED daytime running lights (the headlights are halogen), heated outside mirrors, a noise-reducing acoustic front windshield, dual-zone automatic climate control, 4.2-inch TFT instrument display, leather-wrapped shift lever, rear cargo cover, keyless entry, an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen with Bluetooth phone and audio, Siri Eyes Free, Apple CarPlay, and Amazon Alexa capability, and satellite radio.
Stepping up to the mid-level XLE substitutes 18-inch alloys in place of the LE’s 17-inch steel wheels, along with “Toyota C-HR” puddle lamps, touch-sensor front door and rear hatch locks, smart keyless push-button start, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and optional two-tone R-Code exterior paint choices.
The top-trim Limited adds unique 18-inch alloy wheels, chrome exterior and rear bumper trim, LED fog lights, rain-sensing wipers, leather-trimmed front seats, and an 8-way power driver’s seat with lumbar support.
Unlike many rivals, the C-HR also features a number of advanced active safety features including forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning with steering assist, and automatic headlights with high-beam assist. XLE and Limited trims also come equipped with blind spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert. The result is that Toyota’s smallest crossover achieves an overall 5-star rating with the NHTSA, and a Top Safety Pick with the IIHS.
On the flip side, the C-HR misses out on the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ rating due to a Poor overall rating for headlight performance. Not only that, blind spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert – pretty much a necessity given the model’s poor rear visibility – aren’t available on the base trim.
2019 Toyota C-HR prices
2019 Toyota C-HR pricing, including a $1,045 destination charge, starts at $22,190 for the LE trim, and tops out at $28,585 for a loaded Limited model finished in a two-tone extra-cost color.
Our Silver Knockout Limited tester, with a base price of $26,000, was equipped with two-tone paint ($500), and Entune 3.0 Premium Audio w/App Suite ($1,040, Dynamic Navigation 3-year trial, Dynamic POI Search, Dynamic Voice Recognition, HD Radio, Entune 3.0 Connected Services, Safety Connect with 3-year trial, Verizon Wi-Fi Connect with 2GB 6-month trial, Destination Assist Connect 6-month trial).
A $1,045 destination charge brought the MSRP of our tester to $28,585 – a figure, it should be noted, that’s about the same as a larger, front-wheel-drive RAV4 in XLE trim.
The Bottom Line
Definitely a standout in a crowded segment, the Toyota's slick looks, smooth ride, and high level of standard safety features set it apart from the rest of the field. Holding it back, however is the lack of all-wheel-drive, cramped rear quarters, a noisy cabin at freeway speeds, and a CVT that drones when acceleration is anything other than leisurely, keeping it mid-pack in its class.