2017 was the birth year commercially for the C-HR, a sub-compact SUV that was originally supposed to be produced under the banner of Scion, the now-defunct Toyota division that had been created to seduce the millennial generation. Since then we’ve continued to wonder how such an original, strange and daring car could have been brought into the world by such a staid company as Toyota!
I mean, we’d always known that Toyota would step into the category of sub-compact SUVs at some point, we just never thought it would produce a vehicle that so wilfully placed style and visual pizzazz ahead of reasonableness.
A design like no other
The 2019 C-HR (for Coupe High-Rider) gets a few modifications for its second year on the market, notably in the form of design tweaks, updates to the finishing and, especially, new technologies.
Overall the look is just as stylized, aggressive and sporty as before, and is dominated by sharp angles and a sloping roofline. I also amused myself asking people to head over and open the car’s back doors. Two times out of three, there was a slight hesitation as they searched for the door handles, recessed and located on the upper rear corner of the door.
Those doors handles may be discreet, but much more evident when approaching the C-HR from either end are the imposing LED headlights on the one hand and the bulging rear lights that practically detach from the back end on the other. In between, there’s that sloping roofline. It’s an unusual, stylized look, to say the least, but unless you take a real dislike to it from the get-go, it’s pretty cool. Plus, it’s this very freakishness and uniqueness that ensures the model is immediately distinct from all others in its segment.
On entry, the first sensation is delivered by the sporty yet comfortable seating (leather in the case of my tester). Only the relatively small size of the cabin betrays the fact you’re sitting in a mass-market sub-compact SUV and not a sports car.
The Limited version offered black leather seating, also available in maroon, as well as a leather-covered gear lever and special lighting for the vanity mirrors.
Visibility out the back is limited first off by the largish headrests of the second-row seats. That’s fixable by setting those headrests in their lowest position, though that does mean every adult passenger needs to readjust them every time they get back in there. But there’s a bigger problem lurking behind them, and that would be the very restricted sightlines out the back window. The C pillars are big, the window isn’t, and that’s where you know the price that had to be paid by the engineers at Scion/Toyota for the sloping roofline and angular lines of the exterior.
The cargo space available in the rear is not actually bad for this type of vehicle. Seats-up capacity is 538 litres, and that increases to 1,038 with the back seats folded down (an easy manoeuvre using levers on the seats).
Overall, the cabin is a nice place to be, with the seats comfortable, the finishing not too cheap (though no one would mistake this for a high-end interior) and the ride relatively quiet.
In 2019 the C-HR gets Apple CarPlay integration, which should make the car’s target demographic happy, but still not Android Auto, which won’t. There’s also the new Entune 3.0 infotainement system that enables linking the Scout GPS system to the central screen. There’s also Entune App Suite Connect, which incorporates several apps that allow you to monitor things like the weather and traffic. A new 8-inch touchscreen with integrated backup camera is part of the product offering this year.
Other standard features include automatic daytime running lights, adaptive cruise control with all the active and passive safety functions you would expect to find, an acoustic windshield and dual-zone climate control.
The mechanics: some dissonance!
Some potential buyers might find the perfectly adequate output of the new 2019 C-HR falls short of expectations, especially considering the sporty design of the model. The only powertrain on the menu is a 2.0L 4-cylinder that generates 144 hp and up to 139 lb-ft of torque.
Those kinds of numbers aren’t exactly earth-shattering, and for sure the C-HR is not the snappiest car on the road. That said, it does offer a positive driving experience and is particularly agile when cornering. This is thanks in part to the stiff frame provided by Toyota’s TNGA architecture, as well as to the suspension system (Macpherson struts in front, multi-link in the back) that helps keep the car on the straight and narrow in challenging situations. The transmission is a continuously variable unit whose main benefit is to help with fuel economy.
One element not found in the 2019 C-HR is all-wheel drive, unfortunately. While for some motorists this lack isn’t really much of one, for others it could be the factor that compels them to turn towards a competing model like the Mazda CX-3 or Hyundai Kona (see our new ranking of the Top 10 most affordable AWD vehicles available in Canada in 2019).
In terms of that fuel economy, the C-HR is about average for the segment, with official totals of 8.7L/100 km and 7.5L/100 km in city and highway driving respectively. In my period driving the car, I managed 9.2L/100 km in mainly city driving, which for wintertime is more than respectable.
No all-wheel drive, but…
As mentioned, the lack of AWD might be a deal-breaker to some, but it’s worth keeping it in perspective. The C-HR handles well even on slippery roads, which I was able to confirm after driving it for a week in mainly snowy and icy conditions. At reasonable speeds for the conditions, the wheels don’t easily lose traction, even on ice. The vehicle’s TNGA platform and the panoply of technologies in place – a number of them new, as mentioned – are a real asset that help the vehicle deliver a safe driving experience.
The steering is direct if a little light to the touch, and acceleration is acceptable given the middling output of the powertrain. Its nimble handling meanwhile makes it well-suited to urban driving. While the lack of power to match the aggressive exterior may disappoint some, the 2019 C-HR offers a lot of value, and its reliability is another plus worth taking into consideration.
A highly original look, which is all the more impressive given its maker is normally staid Toyota
Front seats very comfortable
Quite a bit new and upgraded tech for 2019
Great handling, very agile in urban traffic
Good fuel economy
That Toyota durability
No all-wheel drive in the product offering
Performs less sportily than it looks
Rear visibility is pretty awful
Rear seating area a bit cramped
Still no Android Auto compatibility
Overseas markets get a hybrid-powertrain version; it would look good on Canadian roads, we think