Toyota C-HR Review: stylish SUV is more practical than its predecessor
Toyota’s original C-HR put the cat among the pigeons back in 2016 with its wild looks and emphasis on hybrid powertrains back when most rivals were still resolutely petrol or diesel-powered.
Times have moved on, SUV styling has got more adventurous, and virtually every similar car now comes with a petrol/electric option. So Toyota has its work cut out to make sure the all-new second-generation C-HR still stands out from the crowd.
The first generation was one of the first SUVs that showed you didn’t need boxy styling to succeed in the segment, thanks to its wild diamond-dominated interior and exterior styling. Conscious of that, Toyota’s designers have stuck with a similar theme for this all-new version and the wider track and shorter overhangs give it an even more dramatic stance.
There’s a bolder front end with huge angular black wings that wrap around the low-set grille and deep leading edge. Sharp creases run back from the bonnet into the doors with their flush-fit handles. The rear doors bleed smoothly into the tailgate and rear panel, which in higher-spec cars is finished in gloss black and joins seamlessly with the black roof. At the very rear, the C-HR name is picked out in lights as part of the full-width light bar and the whole package is a striking and attractive one.
Inside, things are a little less dramatic. Where the old car leaned into the diamond motif with almost overwhelming enthusiasm, the new C-HR’s cabin is calmer and neater, with a step up in the look and feel, plus more technology and space. There’s a deep wing-style dashboard that wraps around onto the door tops and incorporates a 64-tone ambient lighting strip. This lighting can change colour depending on the time of day and - as part of the safe exit assist system - flash a warning red if you’re about to open the door into the path of a car or cyclist. That striking dash/door combo aside, the CH-R’s interior is fairly straightforward with a high-mounted 12.3-inch touchscreen (eight-inch on entry level cars) and simple physical heating controls integrated into a centre console that’s angled slightly towards the driver.
In a segment where everyone is using gloss black plastic and chrome-coloured trim, the C-HR’s more subdued matte finish is a pleasant change and there’s extensive use of sustainable materials that look and feel like a step up from the last model. The seat fabrics are made from recycled plastic bottles and the “leather” on the steering wheel is a more eco-friendly vegan alternative.
There’s also more practicality than before thanks to better thought-out storage spaces and a bigger boot, and the car feels more spacious. The presence of a massive panoramic roof helps the C-HR feel roomier and the door mouldings - which previously left rear passengers feeling like they were trapped in a shoe box - block less of the rear window than before. You’ll fit an average sized adult behind a driver of the same size, but the C-HR still feels less spacious than the likes of the Nissan Qashqai, Volkswagen T-Roc and Kia Niro, against which Toyota is pitching it.
The C-HR line-up went all-hybrid in 2019 and the new one is no different, utilising the same fifth-generation setup that already powers the Corolla. As with the Corolla, there are two variants, a 1.8-litre and a 2.0-litre. The 1.8-litre, which produces a total of 138bhp, is expected to account for the vast majority of sales and offers steady progress of 0-62mph in 10.2 seconds.
Alongside that, the 2.0-litre version puts out a combined 194bhp and knocks more than two seconds off the acceleration time. This is only available in the top two trim levels which means you’ll have to shell out at least £40,000 to unlock that extra performance.
That’s a shame because the extra power goes some way to addressing the sluggishness of the 1.8. Despite the input of the electric motor, a heavy press on the throttle is met with a very pronounced pause before anything happens and when it does happen, it feels every second of its 10-second 0-62mph time.
Cruise around at gentle throttles and lower speeds, when the car has more time to react smoothly to inputs, and things are much better but overtakes and steep hills do feel like a bit of an ordeal. That’s exacerbated by the quite noticeable noise of the engine and CVT gearbox working to get the power to the road that’s evident in both variants.
On the bright side, avoiding heavy acceleration quietens things down and gets the best out of the hybrid drivetrain which, during several hours of testing on country and urban roads, claimed to be running on electric power more than 60% of the time. Toyota says the 1.8 will return 60mpg, while the 2.0 will manage 57.6mpg.
Next year, the two full hybrids will be joined by a plug-in variant for the first time, offering 220bhp and around 40 miles of all-electric motoring.
The press material for the new C-HR makes much of the car’s supposed agility. The wider track, new chassis tuning and frequency sensitive damping all, apparently, lead to a driving experience more in line with the demands of European and British drivers. It’s hardly a revelation, though. Find a twisting stretch of road and the C-HR will carve along neatly enough but there’s still an element of body roll and nothing in the numb steering that encourages you to really engage with the car.
Toyota C-HR Premiere Edition
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol with electric motor
Top speed: 112mph
0-62mph: 8.1 seconds
CO2 emissions: 110g/km
The biggest upside of the clever new damping is an incredibly composed ride at any speed, even on the top-spec car’s 20-inch wheels. From cracked country roads littered with random speed bumps to cobbled urban streets, very little in the way of road imperfections make it into the cabin. As long as you don’t wring out the engine too much, it all equates to a fairly refined driving experience.
Like every new car, the C-HR has got more expensive and prices now start at £31,290. That’s for the Icon trim with the 1.8-litre engine. Above it, Design and Excel, are also only sold with the 1.8, while GR Sport only gets the 2.0, along with the one-year-only Premiere Edition range-topper.
All models get digital instruments, keyless entry and wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Toyota Safety Sense, with features such as adaptive cruise control, auto-dimming headlights and lane trace assist, is also standard across the range.
The £3,395 step from Icon to Design makes the wheels, instruments and touchscreen bigger - 18-inch wheels, and 12.3-inch instruments and touchscreen - and adds a powered tailgate, heated seats and dual-zone climate control, along with on-board rather than cloud-based navigation. Design is expected to be the best seller and it’s easy to see why. It has all the comforts and technology most drivers will ever need. For those that want two-tone paint, even bigger wheels, sports seats, a panoramic roof and ambient lighting, there’s a £3,495 step again to Excel, which also brings enhancements to the safety kit, before the £40,645 GR Sport adds the bigger motor and sportier styling. At £42,720, the Premiere Edition gets all the standard and optional Excel kit, leather upholstery and the unique Sulphur Yellow Bi-tone finished in the pictures.
The original C-HR was a bit of a trend-setter when it appeared and the second-generation marks a clear progression and improvement on its predecessor. It maintains the sharp styling, frugal drivetrains and focus on technology while improving on practicality and refinement. That said, its main rivals are more spacious and practical and a couple of previous shortcomings - poor infotainment and occasionally noisy engines - remain, meaning the C-HR can’t pull away from the pack.