Things don’t get much simpler in the Toyota C-HR range than this entry-level model refreshed with a midlife update for 2020.
At a budget-friendly $29,540 (plus on-road costs), our test car is the cheapest C-HR money can buy, even if it is $550 more than the model it replaces. The only option, as is the Toyota way, is the Bionic Bronze paint that commands a $500 premium over the only ‘free’ paint available in the eight-colour palette, Hornet Yellow.
It’s a simple range, the C-HR, with just five models competing for attention. As well as the 2WD auto on test here, an additional $2000 will land you in an AWD version.
Then, there’s the top-spec Koba variant available both in 2WD ($33,940) or AWD ($35,940) variants. And new for 2020, the C-HR range now features a hybrid for the first time, the Koba 2WD hybrid that asks for a range-topping $36,440.
Here, though, it’s the price-leader, with its 1.2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) sending drive to the front wheels.
The cosmetic changes are minimal, at best; a newly designed front bumper and revised LED headlights, while the rear end scores redesigned LED tail-lights. There are also new 17-inch alloys in a twin-spoke design to help differentiate your new C-HR from those that came before.
Inside, the midlife update is a bit more in-your-face, with the C-HR’s old (ancient) 6.1-inch infotainment screen replaced by a new 8.0-inch touchscreen that does, for the first time (hooray!), include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Welcome to the digital age, Toyota.
Additional standard equipment includes sports seats (finished in cloth), a leather-wrapped steering wheel, auto headlights, dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, heated and powered folding door mirrors, and an electric park brake.
The infotainment system is the big winner with its bigger touchscreen and smartphone mirroring complementing inbuilt satellite navigation (with SUNA live traffic), Bluetooth connectivity, voice recognition, AM/FM radio (although no DAB) and a standard six-speaker audio system.
In terms of safety, the C-HR scores a five-star ANCAP rating awarded back in 2016. There’s autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning, auto high beam and a rear-view camera. The airbag count is seven.
It all adds up to, even in this base spec, a fulsome Toyota C-HR. Stepping into the higher-spec Koba variant adds little other than artifice, with keyless entry and start, a panoramic-view camera, leather-accented seats, and front-seat heating the big ticket items. If you can live without those items, the lower grades, whether 2WD or AWD, will serve your needs well.
Slip inside the C-HR and you’re greeted by a well-appointed albeit dark cabin. It is, in short, a sea of black: from the cloth trim on the seats, the liberal use of black plastics (both hard and a smattering of soft) to the headlining, it’s darker inside the C-HR than a Goth nightclub in West Berlin circa 1984. The high beltline doesn’t help, nor the small windows on the rear doors.
That said, it’s a well-resolved interior, the dash featuring some nice sculpted lines that demonstrate Toyota put some thought into design. The infotainment screen towers from the dash, while the welcome addition of smartphone mirroring is a boon to the user experience.
The front seats are comfortable enough, with contours and bolstering that hug as well as add visual appeal. The cabin is reasonably appointed with storage. There are two oddly shaped cupholders (one towards the rear of the centre console and one forward of the gear lever) that serve double duty as bins to hold odds and ends.
The bin in the centre console is deep (Toyota claims a 4.2L capacity), while the door pockets will take a 600ml bottle comfortably. There’s just a single USB point.
The second row is decent enough in terms of comfort, if not earth-shattering. The biggest gripe is, of course, the lack of visibility thanks to the C-HR’s high window line and relatively small glasshouse out back. Kids will – and from experience do – hate it. We’d venture, though, not a lot of families are buying the C-HR as their primary vehicle, its positioning aimed squarely at a youthful market. Still, it’s worth mentioning.
Second-row amenities are slim, with a cupholder nestled in each door. There’s no fold-down armrest, either. Spacious back there? Not really, but it’s adequate.
Translating the C-HR’s unashamed youthful and urban style to the road brings little in the way of surprise. The 1.2-litre turbo four (and you know it’s a turbo because the large badges on the tailgate and the front guards remind you) with its 85kW (at 5600rpm) and 185Nm (1500–4000rpm) is exactly as you’d expect hauling the 1440kg kerb weight C-HR around town.
It’s willing enough in the urban jungle, offering sprightly take-offs from standstill and perky enough to plug the gaps in traffic as needed.
The CVT is refined and effortless, displaying none of the laggy – or slurry – nature we’ve sometimes experienced with transmissions of this type. The ‘shifts’, or transitions, are seamless, and barely noticeable on the move.
The only minor issue is the tiniest hint of hesitation – or lag – at low speeds, not from standstill, but from crawl speeds below 10km/h. It is but a moment, and once up and running, the CVT works away nicely.
The C-HR’s on-road manners are decent, too, without being exceptional. Toyota’s suspension tune for the urban warrior does enough to ensure mostly smooth running over patchy roads and pockmarked streets, aided and abetted no doubt by sensible 17-inch wheels shod with forgiving 215/60R17 rubber.
Crappy roads are dealt with smoothly enough, while larger bumps can, and do, induce some wallowing before the C-HR settles down, but all within acceptable levels of comfort.
The cabin, too, remains largely isolated from road and wind noise, certainly around town, but once out on the highway at 110km/h, the struggles of a city-focussed crossover powered by a 1.2-litre mill become noisily evident.
Worthy of a mention, but again, well within the boundaries of what is acceptable from a vehicle of this mien and at this pricepoint.
The C-HR’s 318L boot is acceptable in size, if not ground-breaking. Folding the second-row seats frees up some space, although Toyota doesn’t offer a figure.
Toyota claims the C-HR will drink 6.4L/100km of 95RON on the combined cycle. Our week with the little crossover, spent mainly on urban duties, returned a figure of 8.1L/100km, close to Toyota’s urban claim of 7.9L/100km.
Servicing is required every 12 months or 15,000km, and as is the Toyota way it remains affordable. The first four scheduled services – that’s four years and 60,000km – will set you back just $200 a pop. That includes the replacement of brake fluids, oil and oil filters, and air-con filter, as well as a comprehensive list of items to be inspected. Toyota's warranty for the C-HR is five years/unlimited kilometres.
Toyota shocked the world when it revealed the C-HR in 2016 at Geneva. Its obviously style-led design was a quantum leap for a brand that strayed into the staid. But, as the brand has subsequently demonstrated with the new Camry, new Corolla, and more recently the Supra, the C-HR signalled the start of a styling renaissance.
The C-HR continues to fly the flag of this renaissance – a youthful, urban and funky take on the small-SUV segment. It matches its form with functionality, a willing if not thrilling drivetrain, and a comfortable (albeit dark) and well-designed interior that wouldn’t look out of place inside a certain luxury brand also owned by Toyota.