2021 Toyota C-HR review: Standing out at the back of the pack


The Nightshade package is new for 2021.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

With its wild styling and youthful vibe, I can see how you’d think the Toyota C-HR might be a fun little runabout. But really, this subcompact crossover was never intended to be anything more than an economical appliance, and it doesn’t even really excel in the most basic categories, either.

LikeCool styleLots of standard driver-assistance tech

Don’t LikeBoring to driveLackluster fuel economyMore expensive than its competitors

The C-HR is powered by a 2.0-liter I4 producing 144 horsepower and 139 pound-feet of torque. That engine is paired with a continuously variable transmission that causes the I4 to really drone under acceleration, though it does help the C-HR return EPA-estimated fuel economy ratings of 27 miles per gallon city, 31 mpg highway and 29 mpg combined. Even so, good as that sounds, the Honda HR-V, Hyundai Venue, Mazda CX-3 and Nissan Kicks all beat that number; the Nissan can stretch to an impressive 36 mpg highway.

There isn’t much get-up-and-go in the C-HR’s powertrain, even in Sport mode, which is accessed through the TFT screen in the gauge cluster. This changes the transmission mapping to have it behave more like a conventional automatic, with “upshift” sensations that keep the engine revving low. This doesn’t really help with sporty driving, of course. It just tries to make the C-HR more fuel-efficient.

Like other subcompact crossovers, the Toyota C-HR is only available with front-wheel drive. If you want all-wheel-drive capability, check out the Honda HR-V or Mazda CX-3. The C-HR is perfectly comfortable and competent on smooth pavement, and it’ll handle the occasional bump with poise. But this thing is hardly fun to drive, with vague steering and sloppy handling. Combined with the awful CVT, the C-HR is a total dud behind the wheel.

The good news is that driver-assistance technology gets a boost for 2021. All C-HR trims get Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.5 suite as standard. This pack includes lane-departure warning, road sign assist, forward-collision warning, lane-tracing assist and full-speed adaptive cruise control. Blind-spot monitoring is standard on all but the base LE trim. Toyota always does a great job of offering a large number of driving aids on its full range of cars, and this adds a ton of value to the C-HR, though it seems odd that blind-spot monitoring would be left off the standard equipment list when everything else is included.

This 2.0-liter engine isn’t all that powerful or efficient.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

Unfortunately, Toyota’s Entune infotainment is one of Roadshow’s least favorite systems, with a clunky interface and dated graphics. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, which helps, but one supremely disappointing feature is the fuzzy, low-res backup camera. Come on, Toyota, backup cameras are hardly new, and they’ve been a federally mandated piece of safety equipment for a few years now. That display should be crystal-clear. I shouldn’t have to guess if that’s a bush or a sack of groceries behind me. Further, be prepared to duke it out with your passengers over charging ports. There is only one USB-A and one 12-volt outlet in the front. Rear-seat passengers are SOL.

Speaking of the backseat, it’s not uncomfortable. With the front seat set for my 5-foot, 9-inch driving position, I still have some space between my knees and the seat back, and plenty of headroom as well. My only complaint is that the uptick in the rear window makes for a really high beltline, which makes the rear compartment feel dark and more cramped than it really is.

The cabin’s design is nice, but the infotainment tech needs some help.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

There’s a ton of cheap plastic in here, but the doors have some interesting diamond-pattern texture that’s echoed in the cloth seats, and the faux-leather dash is actually quite nice. My Nightshade trim has a leather-wrapped steering wheel, though the controls are oddly slanted at an angle.

The C-HR’s cargo capacity is below average for the class, with 19.1 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 37 cubic feet overall. Those needing lots of space would do well to check out the Honda HR-V, which has as much as 58.8 cubic feet of space with its back seats folded.

Cool as the exterior design is, I can see how it might put some people off. Even I sometimes look at it and think of Coco Chanel’s infamous line, “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” Maybe the C-HR would look better without so many body creases. Or maybe it’s those bulging rear fenders. It’s all a bit much. I do like the Nightshade trim, though, which is new for 2021. My bright red tester has a contrasting black roof and black trim, with unique 18-inch wheels.

It’s hard to recommend the C-HR.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

The C-HR is priced higher than many of its competitors, at $22,620 including $1,175 for destination. The sweet spot in the range is the midlevel XLE that gets you a proximity key and blind-spot monitoring and costs $24,655. The Nightshade seen here raises that MSRP slightly, to $25,420.

In the end, the C-HR doesn’t really excel at any one thing, aside from having lots of driver-assistance tech standard. But even then, it’s more expensive, worse to drive, less spacious and not as efficient as its competitors. If all you care about is standout styling, then the C-HR might be your jam. Otherwise, this subcompact CUV remains a tough one to recommend.



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