The distinctive-looking Toyota C-HR compact SUV has become so familiar on UK roads that it’s hard to believe it debuted just over three years ago.
In that time it’s done very well for Toyota, more than 400,000 sold across Europe, while also boosting hybrid credentials – between them, Toyota and sister brand Lexus currently claim almost half of what is known as the ‘alternative fuel’ sector, but they are now under bigger pressure as just about every other brand electrifies its cars in some form.
The C-HR has received broadly positive reviews from the UK motoring media over the last three years. According to The Car Expert’s unique Expert Rating scale, it currently holds an overall Expert Rating score of 76% based on more than two dozen reviews from some of the country’s top automotive websites. That puts it near the top of the heap in a large and very competitive field of rivals, but still some distance behind the class leaders.
So now in showrooms is a revised Toyota C-HR, here to take on all those new rivals. It has mildly changed looks outside and in, has answered consumer demands for proper smartphone integration and crucially, can now only be bought as a hybrid – though you do now have a choice of two…
What’s new about the Toyota C-HR?
The new Toyota C-HR is an update, not an all-new model so the basics remain the same as previously. The most significant change is that there is no longer a 1.2-litre petrol option, but there are two hybrid choices – a more powerful 2.0-litre version joins the existing 1.8-litre.
It’s not just about a new engine, however. Toyota claims better driving dynamics, while there have been some modest changes to the exterior looks, as there always are on updated models. The interior has had a makeover too, though most notable here is the fact that you can now plug your smartphone properly into the car.
How does it look?
When first launched the Toyota C-HR scored on its visuals, which were rather different to the small crossover heard, boasting a coupe-like body shape (the name apparently actually means ‘Coupe High-Rider’) and sharp, bold lines. All this remains but with a few enhancements.
Up front there is a new lower spoiler and bumper in the body colour, accommodating a grille that has been opened up. The fog lamps are placed within its extremities, while the indicators are now incorporated into the daytime running lights in the pencil-slim headlamp clusters.
At the back a spoiler mounted at the base of the screen and finished in piano black neatly connects the redesigned LED lamp clusters. And if you choose the new 2.0-litre version you get chrome detailing in the rear diffuser.
Finally you can choose three new body colours, ‘Celestite Grey’ (and which Toyota confusingly describes as “a bluish silver”), red and orange.
What’s the spec like?
Four trim levels are available on the Toyota C-HR, while if you are lucky you may also still find one of the 500 ‘Orange Edition’ launch limited-edition variants at a showroom. Base model is the Icon, only available with the 1.8 hybrid drivetrain and costing from £25,625. Even at this level the new touchscreen is standard with its smartphone integration and a rear parking camera, as is adaptive cruise control, dual-zone auto air con and a wi-fi connection.
All versions of the car also get Toyota’s Safety Sense suite of active safety systems as standard, which includes autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection. Crash-tested by Euro NCAP in 2017, the C-HR gained a five-star rating.
The Design is offered with either 1.8 or 2.0 engine, from £28,005 or £29,645 respectively. Highlights of the upgrades include bigger alloys, front and rear parking sensors with auto braking, built-in navigation, heated front seats and keyless entry.
Most buyers are expected to opt for the ‘sister trims’ of Excel or Dynamic, again with either engine. The Excel costs £30,110/£31,750, the Dynamic adds £140 to each price. The differences are really only visual – both get enhanced active safety with blind-spot monitor, lane-changing assistance and a rear cross traffic alert with braking.
Adaptive LED lamps are fitted front and back, with LED indicators, sequential on the Dynamic which also gets a different alloy design to the Excel and a black two-tone roof. You get leather upholstery on the Excel, ‘Dynamic’ fabric on the Dynamic, and puddle lights on the door mirrors of both.
What’s it like inside?
The big news inside the Toyota C-HR is a new multimedia system, because it answers a major criticism at the launch of recent new models from the brand. While it’s the same basic unit as launched on the Corolla and RAV4, with the addition or physical buttons which are easier to use, it now crucially includes proper smartphone integration so we can expect this change to roll out across the Toyota range pretty quickly.
What this means is that you can now plug in your phone and get full Apple CarPlay or Android Auto services, which of course will mean you don’t need the in-built ‘Enhanced Go’ navigation that’s offered from Design models upwards. If you do use the built-in navigation you do get over-the-air updates every six months, rather than having to go to a dealer. Each new car includes a three-year free subscription to these updates but we’d recommend using the navigation in your phone – the in-built Toyota system appears pretty last-generation compared to rivals.
No change to the body means no change to the interior space. This means plentiful room up front, but thanks to that shapely rear slope not a lot of headroom in the rear. The boot is very small too, at a mere 355 litres.
What’s under the bonnet?
So it’s an all petrol-electric hybrid powertrain choice, the 1.8-litre unit offered on other Toyotas now joined by a more powerful 2.0-litre version – though Toyota expects three-quarters of buyers will opt for the 1.8.
The fourth-generation 2.0-litre hybrid has seen some major development, the base petrol engine coming from Toyota’s latest powertrain family. It’s combined with a smaller, lighter hybrid system, though with a larger battery pack, the greater number of cells giving it more energy too cope with the more powerful electric motor and to more efficiently harvest energy recovered during braking.
Combined output of the 2.0-litre hybrid is 184hp – Toyota says this is 50% more power for a fuel consumption increase of 10% – the car will do the 0-62mph sprint in 8.2 seconds while returning around 52 mpg and CO2 emissions of 118 g/km (WLTP figures).
The 1.8 hasn’t been ignored – a smaller, lighter but more powerful lithium-ion battery has been added, which Toyota says makes the car more natural to drive while returning a 0-62mph time of 11 seconds, around 57 mpg and 86 g/km of emissions (again to WLTP standard).
As mentioned, you can’t get the plain 1.2-litre petrol-engined C-HR in the UK any more, though you can in Europe, and in Eastern Europe there’s also a non-hybrid 2.0-litre variant.
What’s it like to drive?
The lingering disappointment one felt when previous C-HR was that it didn’t quite have the pace to go with the bold looks, and the new 2.0-litre model addresses this. No, it’s not suddenly become an SUV rocketship, but it does feel eager when one accelerates hard, helped by the instant torque that electric adds to the drivetrain.
Of course what is basically a CVT gearbox remains, so you do have to use that right foot to get the most out of it, but do this and you notice another improvement in that the whine that has been a feature of Toyota hybrids in the past is not nearly so intrusive. We are told that improving the NVH was a priority for the makeover artists and they have certainly succeeded in this respect.
Not that most C-HR owners will be thrashing their car along very often and in the typical conditions of the morning commute, cruising on a motorway or a not too-hurried jaunt across the countryside, the car is an excellent companion, as refined as anyone could wish for. There is some wind-noise at motorway limits but not annoyingly so.
Apparently another customer-focused area of attention for the revamp was to improve the C-HR’s driving dynamics and there are no complaints here – the car copes very well with all but the worst road surfaces, while the steering is light but precise, adding to the general ease of driving the C-HR.
You need to think carefully before choosing the Toyota C-HR because it’s one of the more expensive cars in its class – but it makes up for this with cheaper running costs than many rivals. It scores too on being easy to live with and being of generally good quality, though if you regularly carry tall rear-seat passengers or lots of luggage this won’t be for you.
Toyota expects the C-HR to go on stealing customers from other brands, including premium ones. Maybe it will, though former Audi or BMW customers will likely choose it more for its distinctive looks and perhaps the hybrid drivetrain than any major financial saving.
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Model as tested: Toyota C-HR Dynamic Force
Price (on-road): £29,645 – £32,595
Engine: 2.0-litre petrol plus 80kW electric motor
Gearbox: CVT automatic
Power: 184 hp
Torque: 202 Nm
Top Speed: 112 mph
0-62mph: 8.2 sec
Fuel economy (combined): 53.3-52.3 mpg (WLTP)
CO2 emissions: 118 g/km (WLTP)
Euro NCAP safety rating: Five stars (2017)