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Toyota C-HR 2021 review: GXL 2WD

Toyota's chunky, stylish compact SUV is now safer, and still very, very good.

Daily driver score

3.8/5

Urban score

4.2/5

You can almost trace Toyota's renaissance back to a single day – the day the C-HR was revealed to the world as a production car. The company could have gotten away with jacking up a Yaris and calling it a compact SUV, but instead they went all out with a bolt-from-the-blue looker with some really interesting styling ideas inside and out.

I mean, yes, they have now jacked-up a Yaris and called it an SUV, but the C-HR was first and it's cooler, even despite the name meaning Coupe – High Rider. Absolute cringe-fest that, but one of the very few missteps in this changing of the guard for the Japanese giant.

Rolling on Toyota's excellent TNGA platform, the C-HR has settled nicely into its role as one of the bravest Toyotas in years (sold here in Australia, anyway). But with the arrival of the Yaris and Yaris Cross, it was time for a little tweak to the range.

Price and features - Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

For some reason, Toyota thought the model designation "GXL" would fit the C-HR despite being far more at home on a Land Cruiser, which is a car with a very 1980s vibe versus the C-HR's 21st century zeitgeist feel. The main changes for the 2021 model year are added to the safety column, but GXL buyers pick up keyless entry and start.

The 2WD is $30,915 (plus on-roads). The 2WD is $30,915 (plus on-roads).

Apart from that, things are more or less as they were before – you can still choose from 2WD ($30,915 plus on-roads) or AWD ($32,915). Remembering, of course, that this is the entry-level machine that used to be known as plain old C-HR and is now about $750 more than the MY20. The manual version is long gone, if you're wondering.

The GXL has auto LED headlights. The GXL has auto LED headlights.

You get 17-inch alloys, a six-speaker stereo, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, active cruise control, sat nav, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, front and rear parking sensors, auto high beam, folding heated electric mirrors, power windows and a space-saver spare.

You get 17-inch alloys. You get 17-inch alloys.

Toyota hasn't taken the opportunity to again improve the touchscreen, which went up to 8.0-inches last year along with a big improvement in the media system software. It still looks washed-out and stretched but does have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The hardware really needs to be higher-resolution and the system itself really doesn't reflect Toyota's might in the industry. Better than it used to be, though and, with smartphone integration, less of a problem.

Design - Is there anything interesting about its design?

The C-HR still looks box-fresh three years after its launch. I still have to remind people that it's a Toyota, it's so much more interesting than anything the brand has built for a long time. Show them a Supra and they have to be helped back to their feet. The big bluff front end with the huge headlights still cuts through the visual noise on the road. I still don't like the weird, clunky doorhandles on the rear doors which are ungainly and impractical, sited quite high for small children. The rear view is as polarising as ever, but I fall on the "yes, well done," side of the ledger.

The C-HR still looks box-fresh three years after its launch. The C-HR still looks box-fresh three years after its launch.

The cabin is also virtually unchanged, which is the right thing to do because it really is very cool. It's a tad colourless like so many cabins these days, but with a consistent, coherent design philosophy, right down to the neat imprint in the headlining of the ovoid shape that dominates the interior design theme. The C-HR was one of the first cars to go without those big clunky rocker switches so beloved of Toyota for so long and it all feels really good.

Practicality - How practical is the space inside?

Up front, a long, narrow bin is a good place for your bits and pieces while the two separate cupholders and bottle holders in the doors will free up your hands and knees from holding the beverages. The rear cupholders are in the doors because there isn't an armrest but also means there are no bottle holders.

The front seats are excellent and look good even in the base model. The front seats are excellent and look good even in the base model.

The C-HR is surprisingly roomy in the back but it's also gloomy as the glass sweeps up to meet the roof. Legroom is not bad for me at 180cm when seated behind where I drive and the seat itself is comfortable. The front seats are excellent and look good even in the base model.

The C-HR is surprisingly roomy in the back. The C-HR is surprisingly roomy in the back.

You can store 377 litres in the boot with the seats up and 1112 litres with them down, which is competitive if not outstanding in the segment.

You also have three top-tether anchors and two ISOFIX points for the very young folk.

You can store 377 litres in the boot with the seats up. You can store 377 litres in the boot with the seats up.

Engine and transmission - What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

The GXL is powered by the a 1.2-litre turbo four-cylinder petrol engine. The GXL is powered by the a 1.2-litre turbo four-cylinder petrol engine.

The GXL is powered by the a 1.2-litre turbo four-cylinder petrol engine with just 85kW and 185Nm available to drag the 1440kg 2WD GXL around (heavier if it's AWD). Power goes through either the front or all four wheels via continuously variable transmission (CVT).

Fuel consumption - How much fuel does it consume?

Toyota claims a 5.7L/100km official combined cycle figure of 6.6L/100km and requires premium unleaded to run at its best. In my week with the car which was mostly suburban running with a little freeway dalliance returned an indicated 8.3L/100km. That's not a terrible distance away from the combined cycle and given I work C-HRs hard when I have them, that's not bad.

Safety - What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

The extra $700 or so over the MY19 C-HR has mostly gone into safety.

On board the GXL are seven airbags (including a driver's knee airbag), ABS, stability and traction controls, blind spot monitoring, high- and low-speed AEB with pedestrian detection (day and night) and cyclists (day only), forward collision warning, trailer sway control, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, lane trace assist (this keeps the car in the centre of the lane with gentle steering help), speed sign recognition (which can also change the cruise control speed if you want it to) and reverse cross traffic alert.

The extra $700 or so over the MY19 C-HR has mostly gone into safety. The extra $700 or so over the MY19 C-HR has mostly gone into safety.

Added to that impressive lot is the intersection assist function, which warns you something is coming from the left or right at an intersection that you may not otherwise have clocked. That might seems a bit silly for the C-HR's stubby bonnet, but when your street is parked out and you can't see either way, it's extremely useful.

Ownership - What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

Toyota offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty along with a further two years on the drivetrain if you service with Toyota.

Servicing with Toyota seems eminently sensible because for the first four years or four services (intervals are set at 12 months/15,000km) you won't pay more than $200 per service, which is a dead-set bargain.
 

Driving - What's it like to drive around town?

The only real complaint I have about the C-HR is the drivetrain. There's not anything wrong with it – far from it – it's just that everything else in the class has more power and torque and which helps haul their weight along – the C-HR's is considerable at more than 1400kg. My long-term loan Suzuki Vitara Turbo weighs 300kg less and has a stack more power and torque for about the same money. 

While the 1.2-litre engine is a really nice piece of technology and still unusual for a Toyota. While the 1.2-litre engine is a really nice piece of technology and still unusual for a Toyota.

Added to that, the C-HR's economy-focussed continuously variable transmission (my second least favourite transmission after "community") means progress is fairly leisurely and can get a bit loud when you put your foot down.

Which I do a fair bit. While the 1.2-litre engine is a really nice piece of technology and still unusual for a Toyota – it just doesn't have the horses and twist to pull the C-HR along as quickly as even Hyundai's 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated engine in the Kona, or the CVT-equipped Seltos. But that's okay – it's not a criticism, it's not like it's dangerously slow, it's just slower than most of its rivals and feels it. The Hybrid, which can only be specced with front-wheel drive and the Koba spec, is a little more peppy and the electric motor covers up some of the CVT's lax approach to acceleration.

It's also mildly frustrating because, hot damn, the chassis under the C-HR is really good. I'm going to mention TNGA again because it's such a good platform and I haven't driven a TNGA-based car that I didn't like. It's more than that, obviously – Toyota's engineers have built a driving experience around it that encourages yobbos like me to enjoy the way it corners while your passenger will enjoy the ride, which is excellent on all but the worst surfaces.

The C-HR is also pretty keen when it comes to cornering, with a nice progressive steering feel and weight. It's not particularly chatty, but again, it's a lot of fun and more fun than a few of its rivals. The roundabout raceway is a good laugh in this car.

There's a nice progressive steering feel and weight. There's a nice progressive steering feel and weight.

The lack of go does come back to you on single carriageways when you want to overtake. While the C-HR cruises quietly and comfortably, a floored throttle for an overtake produces rather more bark than bite, so you'll find yourself settling comfortably behind whatever is slowing you down until you've got a long line of sight. Given the C-HR's likely citybound life, this is probably not going to be a big problem. If it is, again, the hybrid has a bit more go.

The two-tier C-HR range doesn't have a duffer in it and the great thing about it is that the base model is so good the temptation to spend up on the Koba is limited to cosmetic things (with one exception...). The GXL has lots of good safety gear and the only tangible missing thing is the Koba's reverse AEB and hybrid option. The hybrid uses half the petrol, so is worth considering as well as for the extra punch.

I find myself suggesting the C-HR without reservation to people I would never have recommended a Toyota to in the past – it's good value, beautifully-built and designed, great to drive and remarkably cheap to own and run.

$30,915

Based on new car retail price

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

Daily driver score

3.8/5

Urban score

4.2/5