2019 Toyota C-HR Review
As sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) continue to populate the landscape, it’s inevitable that automakers look for new niches and variations to draw in customers. In recent years, luxury brands such as BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi have successfully introduced sport-utility coupes that combine the raised driving position and brawny look of traditional SUVs with the fastback roofline and more personal driving environment of a sports coupe. They’re not for everyone, but have found a modest but steady stream of buyers leaving hatchbacks and sedans.
Introduced for the 2018 model year, the Toyota C-HR is one of the first entries to go the sport-utility coupe route at the entry-level end of the price spectrum. The big idea: big styling in a small package. It’s working. In recent months, the C-HR has been outselling the Toyota Prius, Honda Fit, and Nissan Kicks, just to name a few.
For this review, we evaluated a 2019 Toyota C-HR Limited equipped with the Entune 3.0 Premium Audio system, two-tone paint, and accessory door sill protectors, wheel locks, and carpeted floor mats. The total price came to $29,073, including the $1,045 destination fee.
What Owners Say
Before discussing the results of our 2019 Toyota C-HR evaluation, it’s useful to comprehend who the buyer is for this small SUV and what they view favorably and unfavorably about it.
A full 61% of C-HR buyers are women, compared with 57% among small SUV buyers and 39% across all segments. And C-HR buyers are young, with 62% from Gen X (those born 1965-1976), Gen Y (1977-1994), or Gen Z (1995 and later), compared with just 50% for the segment as a whole.
Given its evocative design, it’s no surprise that C-HR buyers are more likely to agree that they prefer to buy a vehicle that stands out from the crowd (87%) than buyers of small SUVs in general (69%).
But C-HR buyers also display a practical side. They are more likely to agree that fuel economy is a first consideration than compact SUV buyers as a whole (77% vs. 72%) and are more likely to agree to pay more for an environmentally friendly vehicle than compact SUV buyers overall (64% vs. 58%).
C-HR buyers indicate their favorite aspects of the small SUV are its fuel economy, driving range, transmission smoothness, and exterior appearance. Conversely, buyers of the C-HR say their least favorite things about it are the small SUV’s rearward visibility, rear-seat room, cargo space, and ease of loading/unloading cargo.
What Our Expert Says
In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own assessment of how the 2019 Toyota C-HR performs in each of the 10 categories that comprise the J.D. Power 2018 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.SM
Even though 40% of C-HR purchasers categorize themselves as practical buyers, an overwhelming majority also agree that they want a vehicle that stands out in a crowd. The 2019 Toyota C-HR obliges with a sleek, aerodynamically suggestive 4-door hatchback upper body riding on a larger SUV bottom with bold, jutting wheel flares and body sides—a proportion not unlike that of the 2007-2012 Dodge Caliber. A sharply raked roof and hatchback combine with a tall, bobtail rear to create a unique “Prius on steroids” look. Even though the C-HR is only 1.3 inches longer than a Corolla Hatchback, it stands 4.5 inches taller. Optional two-tone paint with a white or black roof section is available to add further curb appeal. Among the C-HR’s interesting design details are roof-pillar-mounted rear door handles at neck level.
Almost equally as expressive as the C-HR’s exterior is its cabin. Particularly up front (which Toyota dubs the MeZONE), the C-HR looks and feels upscale for this price class, with a clean and modern layout. There are soft-touch materials covering most surfaces and nicely padded front door and console armrests. Piano black trim accents with subtle, multi-colored sparkles shimmering in the sunlight adorn the dash, door trim, steering wheel, and console in XLE and Limited trims. Subtle, abstract diamond shapes appear in the climate control panel, speaker surrounds, and even in the headliner.
Depending on where you’re sitting, the C-HR’s chairs are either comfy or very cozy. Coverings are premium cloth with leather available in Limited trim. Up front, the C-HR’s manually adjustable bucket seats are supportive and good for long stints. Power adjustability is not offered, although heated front seats and driver’s seat power lumbar are on the Limited trim.
Rear-seat space is limited and not a place in which full-grown adults may want to spend much time, despite three sets of seat belts back there. Despite the sharply sloped roof, rear-seat headroom is not bad courtesy of a carved-out area in the headliner. Legroom is less than optimal back there, but thanks to the rear of the front seatbacks scalloped out a bit and with a little cooperation from front-seat occupants sliding their seats forward an inch or two, knee room is tolerable. Aiding rear-seat ingress and egress, the lower part of the rear door trim is relieved, making the door opening effectively wider when the rear doors are open.
Climate Control System
Standard fare on all C-HR SUVs is dual-zone automatic climate control. That’s a premium feature that can be extra-cost in some other small SUVs and allows the driver and front passenger to adjust temperature individually. The panel’s buttons and toggle switches, however, are a bit on the small side. Rear-seat passengers do not get their own climate control adjustments.
The big news for 2019 is the addition of Apple CarPlay connectivity to all versions of the C-HR. Toyota is finally phasing in this popular feature that lets owners customize the dashtop-mounted flat-screen display to look like the one on their iPhone. Android Auto connectivity, however, is not available in the C-HR as of yet.
Available in C-HR XLE and standard on Limited trim is an Entune 3.0 Audio Plus system that upgrades from a 7-in. to an 8-in. touch-screen display, an AM/FM/HD stereo with 6 speakers, Aha streaming, and satellite radio. Optional is Entune 3.0 premium Audio with dedicated navigation and in-car Wi-Fi by Verizon.
System inputs are simple and direct via touch-screen tiles, shortcut hard buttons flanking the screen, steering wheel controls, or analog volume and tuning knobs.
Storage and Space
It helps that the C-HR has a big hatchback opening for loading and unloading, but the 19 cu. ft. of cargo space available under the cargo shade when the rear seat is up is fairly shallow. The lack of cargo space appears as one of the C-HR’s top ten weaknesses in the 2018 U.S. APEAL Study. More slots for odds and ends are available under the rear cargo floor and in pockets around the temporary spare tire. Drop one or both of the 60/40 split rear seatbacks and cargo toting opportunities improve measurably. But still, the C-HR’s 36.4 cu.-ft. maximum cargo capacity pales compared to the 65.5 cu. ft. available in the diminutive Prius.
Up front, storage solutions for small items is decent with a large and deep tablet-swallowing center console bin, storage bins in the front doors, and a small shelf for a phone at the bottom center of the dash. The C-HR’s front cupholders, however, are oddly placed in the center console and so deep that short coffee cups are hard to retrieve.
Visibility and Safety
The C-HR’s defining design element is its steeply raked rear hatch that would seem to ruin rear-seat headroom but doesn’t. This is because the car’s body sides and beltline rise dramatically to create a cozy sitting room with more space than you’d guess but poor sightlines to most of the outside world. According to J.D. Power research, C-HR buyers rate the vehicle’s rearward visibility from the driver’s seat and when changing lanes as its top two weaknesses.
Helping to mitigate this shortcoming is a standard reversing camera and the C-HR’s standard Toyota Safety Sense-P suite of advanced safety and driver-assistive technologies. It includes full-speed-range adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic high-beam headlights, and lane-departure warning with steering assist. This last feature helps keep the C-HR from drifting out of its lane but only works well on straight stretches with well-defined white or yellow lines; it can be turned off when not needed using a dash switch.
XLE and Limited trims add blind-spot and rear cross-traffic monitoring, two driving aids that come in extra handy considering the C-HR’s limited rear sightlines.
The view ahead is an entirely different proposition. The C-HR’s forward sightlines are excellent due to a large windshield, thin front roof pillars, and front quarter windows with free-standing side mirrors.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the 2019 Toyota C-HR “Good” ratings for small- and moderate-overlap front impacts, side impacts, roof strength, head restraints, and seats, but gave it a “Poor” rating for weak high-beam headlamps and low beams with excessive glare. As a result, the 2019 C-HR does not get an IIHS “Top Safety Pick” rating.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) rated the 2019 C-HR 5 stars (out of 5) overall.
One might think with an exterior appearance as extroverted as the C-HR’s that its performance would also be thrilling. But with 144 horsepower under its hood and 3,300 lbs. to move down the road, the C-HR isn’t as rambunctious as it looks.
The 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine in the C-HR isn’t the same one that powers the spunky Corolla Hatchback. The C-HR’s 2.0-liter has lower compression and lacks the D-4S dual fuel injection and dual VVT-I electronic variable valve timing that helps tune the Corolla’s output to 169 horsepower.
Mat the accelerator and the C-HR picks up the pace at a modest rate. Good soundproofing and an acoustic windshield help keep the sound and fury of a busy 4-cylinder hooked to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) at bay. Switching to Sport mode allows the driver to manually control the transmission by tap-shifting between seven simulated gear ratio steps.
With the C-HR, Toyota’s focus from the start was achieving good fuel economy. The APEAL Study backs that up as fuel economy and driving range were listed as the vehicle’s two top strengths. That said, an EPA-estimated fuel-economy rating of 27/31/29 (city/highway/combined) mpg, while decent, isn’t as noteworthy as the larger, roomier, and heavier front-drive 2019 RAV4’s 203-horsepower 2.5-liter performance of 26/35/30 mpg.
During a week’s test of the 2019 C-HR and driving mostly on residential suburban streets and 55-mph two-lane roads, I saw an average 28.2 mpg as indicated by the vehicle’s trip computer. That computes to a 372-mile driving range with the car’s 13.2-gallon fuel tank.
Aside from the slightly elevated driving position afforded by the vehicle’s higher ride height, the C-HR drives like a compact sedan or hatchback. It benefits from riding on the Toyota New Global Architecture C-platform, which gives it increased structural rigidity for a solid feel, and a lower center of gravity for improved kinematics, according to Toyota. Variable-boost electric steering is light-effort around town and firms up nicely at highway speeds. Beefy 4-wheel disc brakes give confident deceleration. Considering the C-HR’s relatively short wheelbase, ride motions are pleasantly supple and never abrupt or choppy. And at just 171.2 inches bumper to bumper, the C-HR can squeeze itself into parking spaces the 11.1-inch-longer Corolla Sedan cannot.
Taking a look at J.D. Power data, it’s evident that buyers for the Toyota C-HR are seeking a small SUV with a big personality, but one that will give a trouble-free ownership experience and deliver safety and comfort at a reasonable price.
The fact that the C-HR doesn’t offer all-wheel drive in an SUV segment where that is a given doesn’t seem to hurt its appeal. The C-HR delivers a major dose of style, front to back, top to bottom, inside to out there. Way out there. Plus rear-seat space for the occasional aft compartment denizen and cargo flexibility for the odd large item.
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