Toyota C-HR 2019 (2wd), Toyota C-HR 2020 standard (2wd)
launch-review

2020 Toyota C-HR review

Australian first drive

Rating: 8.1
$29,540 $36,440 Mrlp
  • Fuel Economy
    5.4L
  • Engine Power
    85kW
  • CO2 Emissions
    141g
  • ANCAP Rating
    5Stars
A fresh face and a new hybrid option signal update time for Toyota’s outrageously styled small SUV.
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Since launch, almost half of the Toyota C-HRs sold have been the top-spec Koba model in two-wheel-drive form. Because of this popularity, only the Koba 2WD will be offered with a hybrid option in Australia.

You can still get two-wheel- and all-wheel-drive versions of the entry-grade C-HR and the Koba with a petrol engine, too, but as Toyota looks to build its hybrid momentum, the addition of the C-HR hybrid is important with the brand on track to shift 25,000 hybrid cars before the end of 2019.

The C-HR becomes the eighth Toyota hybrid available in Australia after the Prius, Prius C, Prius V, Corolla hatch, Corolla sedan (Toyota counts those as two separate lines for some reason), RAV4 and Camry. There’s more to come as well, with the Yaris hybrid due next year and Kluger hybrid expected to be rolled out in the future.

As part of a 2020 midlife update, the 2020 Toyota C-HR arrives in Australia fresh-faced with a new front bumper design, new LED headlights, and new alloy wheels in 17- or 18-inch sizes depending on the grade. The Koba also comes with a redesigned set of LED tail-lights to further set it apart.

Under the bonnet, the previous 1.2-litre four-cylinder turbo carries over in petrol models. It produces 85kW from 5200–5600rpm and 185Nm nice and low, from 1500rpm all the way to 4000rpm.

Drive is channeled via a CVT automatic with a pseudo seven-speed sports mode to either the front wheels, or on-demand all-wheel drive. A lack of significant sales of the previous manual variant (less than two per cent) means it’s been retired.

The new talking point is the hybrid model. In this case, the C-HR shares its naturally aspirated 1.8-litre engine and adjoined electric motor-generator set-up with the new Corolla hybrid. The petrol engine alone is rated at 72kW, the electric at 53kW, but the combined total is 90kW with 142Nm of torque.

Fuel use is, of course, where the hybrid shines – rated at 4.3 litres per 100km on the combined cycle compared to 6.4L/100km for the turbo engine. On test, (admittedly a brief rural drive route) hybrid consumption only snuck up to 4.9L/100km, with petrol models showing high eights in similar conditions.

On the road is where the two really show their differences. Externally, apart from blue-tinged Toyota logos and a handful of hybrid badges, there’s nothing to separate the pair.

Set off in the C-HR turbo and there’s silence at low speeds, along with a pleasant lack of vibrations. The turbo, meanwhile, offers low-level idle noise and the faint vibe of a running engine. Nothing offensive, just not as novel as the hybrid’s lack of theatrics.

Pull into a stream of traffic and immediately the hybrid feels more responsive and more flexible. Although on paper it lists a lower torque output than the turbo, the instant off-idle shove available from the electric motor creates a more pert and perky drive at low speeds.

Similarly, on the open road the hybrid version will surge ahead more readily if you need to squeeze the accelerator to overtake. CVT autos don’t always get glowing reviews, but the way the C-HR hybrid splits power between electric and combustion engines makes it responsive and smooth.

Under the same circumstances, the C-HR’s turbo engine takes a little longer to spool up, and the CVT auto isn’t as rapid in response. And while it will catch up after a moment, there’s always a feeling that the petrol motor plays second fiddle to the hybrid.

Neither engine is a powerhouse, and both are perfectly suitable for urban runabout duties, but for buyers driving the pair back-to-back, it seems the fuel-saver of the pair might also be the more rewarding drive.

The situation splits slightly when it comes to ride comfort. Despite trying to keep petrol and hybrid variants closely aligned, minor differences in suspension tune to counter the extra weight of the hybrid system do show.

Both handle well, are secure on the road, nimble, and easy to park. On country roads, the hybrid was the more forgiving of the pair, softer in its ride, and better able to fend off bumps and snags in the road surface.

If you’re really focussed on fine-edge handling, the firmer turbo will appeal. On choppy surfaces it settles more quickly, whereas the hybrid tends to bob and float about. This comes at the expense of comfort, however. The C-HR turbo feels its way across the surface and feeds that info back to the cabin.

Presentation on the inside earns top marks. Toyota hasn’t revised the C-HR in any meaningful way inside, apart from a new upsized infotainment screen (more on that in a moment). But with a bold appearance, clever use of texture and patterns, and decently impressive materials, there was little work to be done.

The major talking point is the new screen. At 8.0 inches, it shades the previous 6.1-inch unit it replaces, brings a cleaner interface (though still not the best in the automotive realm), and adds Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone mirroring at last.

The C-HR rolls on 17-inch alloy wheels and comes with cloth-trimmed sports seats, dual-zone climate control, LED head- and tail-lights, a self-dimming interior mirror, auto lights and wipers, satellite navigation, Bluetooth, all-speed active cruise control, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and a rear-view camera.

Pricing starts from $29,540 for the C-HR 2WD, with the AWD version adding an extra $2000.

If you’d like more, the C-HR Koba upgrades to dark-tinted privacy glass at the rear, two-tone 18-inch alloy wheels, leather-accented interior trim, heated front seats, driver's lumbar support, keyless entry and push-button start, a 360-degree camera, and a unique set of LED lights with different lighting signatures and scrolling indicators at the rear (previously these were found up front).

The C-HR Koba is priced from $33,940 for the 2WD turbo, $35,940 for the AWD turbo, or $36,440 for the 2WD hybrid.

Front seat passengers should be comfy enough. The C-HR’s driving position feels more like a regular hatch than a raised SUV, but the extra height gives a raised view of what’s ahead. There’s enough space to make yourself comfortable, though the lowered roof line makes itself known to taller passengers.

The rear seats themselves are comfy, but the dramatic rear design has some shortcomings. If you’re travelling with kids, they may struggle to reach the rear door handles, and once inside the tiny rear windows limit visibility and make travel sickness a very real possibility.

I’m usually not queasy on a car trip, but after an hour in the back of the C-HR and little to see out of, either from the front or the side, I’d started to feel considerably greener than when I got in.

Regardless of the powertrain choice, all C-HR variants claim a 318L boot. Not the largest in the class, nor the smallest, and versatility plays second-fiddle to the dramatic styling, obviously, but a split-fold rear seat grows space when required, and the hybrid batteries live under the rear seat to minimise their impact on cargo capacity. (NOTE: An earlier version of this review stated a 377-litre boot based on data supplied by Toyota, which has since been amended.)

As far as updates go, the changes made to the C-HR are really only very minor. Visually, it is a little sleeker, but from a distance it might be hard to pick the changes.

Fundamentally, Toyota’s small SUV hadn’t fallen out of touch. Amongst competitors it always was well featured, and drove with surprising alacrity not often seen in the small-SUV class.

Because of its form-before-function looks, the Toyota C-HR can be forgiven for opting out of the bargain-basement price war and aiming further upmarket. There’s plenty of standard equipment to offset the price, and amongst Toyota’s fleet-friendly range, the C-HR really does look and feel more premium and personal.

It needs to – amongst Toyota’s hybrid family, a Corolla hybrid hatch starts from a more reasonable $25,780, the larger Camry hybrid from $30,590, and even the cheapest RAV4 hybrid from a not much more expensive $38,140.

Those are fleet darlings, though, without the full equipment list of the C-HR Koba hybrid. In this instance, Toyota has a more discerning ‘style and lifestyle’ driven buyer in mind.

Like before, the C-HR won’t win all hearts, but it will continue to do well. The latest updates keep it looking fresh and give it a small but needed tech boost.

As for the new hybrid model, it shines as the best of the batch – frugal to run, yet more responsive to drive. Though it may be priced at a premium, it fills its aspirational intentions well.