Clever design. On paper, the 2019 Toyota C-HR’s rising beltline-sloping roofline design could be any one of a dozen crossovers currently being offered. But what Toyota has rendered is something else entirely: a lone extrovert in the subcompact crossover class that brandishes astonishing, rollicking creases and folds with a healthy dollop of tucks and slits.
The look is anything but subtle and may be off-putting to some, but the C-HR makes passers-by look twice and, frankly, it’s grown on us. It begins up front with headlights that wrap tightly into the wheel wells, continues along the sides with deep sculpting that presses into a skeletal shape, and terminates in a busy rear fascia with protruding taillights that are both aggressive and expressive.
Overall, the C-HR offers a stunning interpretation of the "rising window line, sloped roof line" school of crossover design.
Roomy, but at the cost of zoomy. The expressive – but polarizing – exterior is wrapped around an interior that offers plenty of room for front seat occupants and enough head room for six-footers in back.
Flipping and folding the rear seats creates 36.4 cubic feet of cargo space with a flat load floor – something not typically found in this class. On the other hand, with just 19 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats, the C-HR falls well short of the segment-leading Honda HR-V and its 24.3 cubic feet.
Meanwhile, rear seat passengers literally take a back seat to style – with awkward rear door handles and cutouts that eat into rear leg room, and a rising beltline and thick C-pillars that limit outward visibility.
Topping things off are average interior materials, and a large dose of hard plastics that give the cabin a low-rent feel, while bits of silver trim do little to liven up the all-black interior.
Comfortable ride, middling performance. In contrast to the frenetic look, the Toyota C-HR delivers a smooth and comfortable ride. Unlike the cost-cutting twist-beam suspensions chosen by many rivals, Toyota has graced its subcompact crossover with Sachs dampers fitted to the front struts, a beefy front stabilizer bar, and an honest-to-goodness double wishbone setup out back.
The result is a fun-to-drive character lacking in some competitors. Although hardly a back roads corner-carver, body lean is kept in check during cornering, while feedback through the steering wheel and brake pedal is surprisingly good.
In addition, the single powertrain – a 144-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine – offers decent step-off as well as a better-than-expected level of refinement for the class.
At the same time, due largely to the laws of physics that require something more than 144 hp and 139 pound-feet of torque to motivate a 3,300-pound vehicle with any sense of urgency, acceleration falls somewhere between "leisurely" and "eventually."
In addition, the front-wheel-drive-exclusive C-HR only manages to achieve a middling EPA-estimated 27 miles per gallon city, 31 mpg highway, and 29 combined, while we only managed a vehicle-measured 25.6 miles per gallon in a mix of city and highway miles.
Finally, while we appreciate a Sport mode that introduces clever upshift steps in the continuously variable transmission (CVT), the experience is muted, while normal mode still features the dreaded CVT drone.
Safety here. We applaud the fact that, unlike many rivals, the C-HR sets itself apart with a strong suite of standard active safety tech – not just the requisite rearview camera – that includes automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane departure warning with steering assist
As a result, Toyota’s smallest crossover achieves a five-star overall safety rating with the NHTSA, and a Top Safety Pick with the IIHS. The C-HR misses out on the IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus rating due to a Poor overall rating for the model’s halogen projector low- and high-beam headlights.
In addition, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert aren't available on the base LE trim, and they're almost a must with the model's poor rear visibility. Thankfully, these active safety features are standard on the XLE and Limited.
Final thoughts. The 2019 Toyota C-HR isn't one of the more enjoyable vehicles in the class thanks to a heavier curb weight, uninspiring engine, and performance-robbing CVT. However, it should appeal to safety-, style-, and tech-conscious buyers with its long list of standard active safety features, expressive design, and standard Apple CarPlay.
With an urban mission in mind – where its lack of performance is less of an issue – the Toyota C-HR excels. But it's too compromised to stand out while navigating suburban sprawl and freeways, or cosseting drivers during traffic jams. This lands it mid-pack in the subcompact crossover class.