Style over substance. From any angle, in any paint finish, Toyota’s self-described crossover SUV is a head-turner. Not necessarily for the right reasons, since its steroid-enhanced wheel arches write checks its mediocre performance can’t cash. It certainly cuts a dash in a similar vein to the first-generation Nissan Juke, though the Mk I Juke’s lack of practicality also carries over to the C-HR, as we’ll see in a moment. For now, we’ll let you be the judge of whether this car looks original and funky, or over-styled and fussy.

Putting the compact in compact crossover. If you’re fortunate enough to bag one of the front seats, the C-HR is a decent place to be. The seats are low and reasonably supportive, with plenty of adjustment that becomes electric once you migrate up to Limited trim. It’s a different story in the back where a sloping roofline and steeply kinked rear windows create a claustrophobic environment. Younger children might be unable to see out of the windows at all, while adults will resent having economy-flight levels of legroom.

Toyota might market the C-HR as a five-seater, but two teenagers would struggle to get comfortable back here, even before they tried to wrangle themselves through the awkwardly-shaped rear doors with those bizarre roof-level handles that smaller passengers won’t be able to reach. At least there's 19.1 cubic feet of trunk storage, which almost doubles once those rear seats are put out of their misery and dropped down.

Lackluster performance. People don’t expect SUVs and crossovers to be performance vehicles, and the C-HR won’t change anyone’s perceptions. It’s slow to the point of lethargy, with a two-liter gas engine generating just 144 horsepower in a car weighing upwards of 3,300 lb. Add in a CVT transmission which likes to take its time selecting a ratio, and you’ll have to set off five minutes earlier than usual to arrive on time.

People also don’t expect SUVs and crossovers to ride or handle well; at least the C-HR is something of a pleasant surprise in this regard. There’s none of the crashing or jolting you experience in many SUVs, thanks in part to multi-link independent rear suspension, and the steering is accurate if uncommunicative. While you wouldn’t feel confident threading it through a series of hairpin bends, the relatively low center of gravity and grippy handling make the C-HR surprisingly engaging on sweeping roads where performance can be maintained and the engine doesn’t have to work hard.

A standard SUV interior. Poor visibility notwithstanding, there’s plenty to like in the C-HR’s cabin. Cloth seats and plastic trim might sound dreary but everything’s assembled with the family-proof durability you’d expect from a Toyota. Controls are mounted high up on the dash, with an eight-inch touchscreen standing proud in the modern vernacular. It’s less of a widescreen affair than you find in the Mazda CX-5, and nor is it a Volvo or Tesla-style portrait device – just a large, bright screen with physical controls at the side for on-the-go practicality.

Safety equipment across the range includes active cruise and lane control, automatic lighting, and high-beam headlights. The poor rear vision and an underwhelming four-star NHTSA score represent areas for concern, though the C-HR does still hold an IIHS Top Safety Pick award.

Final thoughts. Putting aside that polarizing external styling, the C-HR is a fairly conventional compact SUV. It’s reasonably refined to ride in with sluggish performance and inert steering; there’s plenty of storage but not much room for adult passengers in the rear; the equipment levels are basic yet there’s loads of safety kit even on the most affordable trim.

It’s the most affordable trim that gets our vote, too, since models higher up the C-HR food chain can’t justify their premium over the base XLE (LE having been dropped for the 2022 model year). At just over $25,000, it’s reasonably good value without being a bargain, which rather sums this car up. It’s good, but not exceptional.

Check prices for the 2022 Toyota C-HR »