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Second generation of Toyota's smash-hit crossover gains sharper styling and a new plug-in hybrid powertrain

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The Toyota C-HR looks like a trainer you would see on display in a shopping outlet, carrying the logo of a big-name brand but with a funky design and in a garish colour. Do you buy it for the brand and live with the design? Are you so convinced by the looks that you couldn't possibly consider anything else? Only 'the beholder' can be quite sure.

Credit to Toyota for managing to give the second-generation C-HR even more 'concept car' visual character than the first, though, in addition to proportions that can be appreciated by anyone. The previous C-HR was the car to kick-start the era of more visually interesting and dynamically involving mainstream Toyotas, and it’s really run with the theme this time around.

With those looks, the C-HR is going to be a car bought with the heart as much as the head

The new C-HR is the follow-up to a model that sat fourth on the brand’s best-sellers list behind the Toyota YarisToyota Yaris Cross and Toyota Corolla​Toyota says the C-HR has been made to appeal to European buyers and is targeting sales of 160,000 units per year, around 10% of which is set to come from the UK. Most significantly, the C-HR has been by far Toyota’s most successful car in winning over new customers: 59% of C-HR drivers switched from another brand.

A key to that success has been how well the C-HR was positioned in the European market. Its mix of sharp styling and coupé-crossover shape helped it to find a genuinely rare space at the small end of the C-SUV market (think Volkswagen T-Roc and Kia Niro).

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The car is now available in both full hybrid and plug-in hybrid forms, and while we've driven the former in the UK, so far we've only tested the latter - in final production form, at least - in Europe.

DESIGN & STYLING

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Chief engineer Toshio Kanei led development from Toyota’s Belgian technical centre and much of the styling work was done by the firm’s ED2 design studio in Nice, France. Toyota’s customer research suggested the original model's edgy styling was crucial in winning over customers from other brands, and Kanei says the goal with the new C-HR was to push that even further and make a “show car for the road”. 

This C-HR makes the old one, rightly lauded for its dramatic styling, look positively bland. There are dramatic lines, bodywork creases so sharp they look like they could cut you, and dramatically sculpted headlights.

Buy into what it’s about, and have the self-confidence to pull off the bright-dark two-tone paint combination, and you’ll be rewarded with a car with one of the best chassis in the class.

The front has been reworked with Toyota’s new ‘hammerhead’ face, first seen on the new Toyota Prius, which has now been confirmed for sale in the UK. Certain trim levels will get a stylish two-tone paint scheme too.

Notably, the bumpers and some other body elements are made of a new pre-coloured resin, so they don’t need to be painted, which reduces the amount of CO2 emitted during production. It also affords a cool two-tone appearance.

Unusually, the new C-HR is actually smaller than its predecessor. Toyota has trimmed 35mm from its length and 15mm from its height. But before you rejoice too much at a bucking of the trend for ever-growing cars, know that it’s also 45mm wider. It has bigger wheels too: up to 20in.

While it's wider than the old version, with a bigger frontal area owing to the larger wheels, the new C-HR is around 2% more aerodynamically efficient than its predecessor. The claim is that the wider track is better for handling, and because the C-HR maintains a 2640mm wheelbase, it has about the same amount of room for passengers.

Toyota offers 1.8- (138bhp) and 2.0-litre (193bhp) HEV full hybrid powertrains in the car, which launched to market in 2023. The final piece to model puzzle has now come in the shape of a plug-in hybrid version which, in big picture terms, it’s a 2.0-litre hybrid with a much larger drive battery and a more powerful 161bhp electric drive motor for its ‘epicyclic power splitter’ hybrid transmission, for a peak system output of 220bhp. But there are also finer-detail differences about its technical specification. 

The car carries its main drive battery under the centre of the cabin floor, and weighs just under 200kg more than an equivalent 2.0-litre HEV. But it’s also got stiffened axles and chassis members, and additional vibration damping measures front and rear - as well as new frequency-selective passive dampers which get their first outing on any ‘TNGA-C’-platform Toyota or Lexus.

Size-wise, meanwhile, at which end of the class the C-HR sits depends on your perspective. It’s either a bigger alternative to the likes of the Ford Puma or a smaller one to the Nissan Qashqai.

INTERIOR

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The interior is much improved over the previous C-HR. It’s all built around the driver and makes you feel cocooned despite being airy (in the front cabin, at least), even more so with the optional panoramic roof fitted. The seats are comfortable if lacking a bit in upper back support, yet there’s plenty of seat and steering wheel adjustability to find a nice driving position. 

As before, rear leg room is far from the best-in-class, and that sloping roofline cuts into the head room a little. Still, that didn’t exactly put off buyers before, and for those with young families it should be less of an issue. Besides, Toyota now offers the slightly larger Toyota Corolla Cross in mainland Europe (although not in the UK) for those who want to trade some style for space.

At its price, the fact the C-HR lacks some space in the rear and has a smaller and less usefully shaped boot (it’s oddly narrow) than larger crossover rivals cannot be overlooked.

Engineers have also made efforts to improve the perception of space in the back: there’s a new tinted panoramic roof that doesn’t need a shade (adding 30mm of head room) because it reflects the sunlight back out, and new window cut-outs in the C-pillar are designed to improve the view out.

On the subject of those C-pillars, you'll no longer find the rear door handles hidden in them. Following feedback from customers, they're now in a far more traditional position on the rear doors, although all of the handles now sit flush to the bodywork and pop out when you push them in. They make quite the racket in doing so.

The boot remains on the small side, mind you – up to 388 litres for an HEV, but only 310- for the PHEV (which loses most of its under-floor storage to hybrid gubbins).

For infotainment, there’s a new 12.3in digital dial display and a new touchscreen (8.0in as standard or 12.3in on pricier models, like our test car) running Toyota’s latest infotainment system, while enough physical controls remain for the key functions to keep most people happy. The materials in the cabin are generally nice to the touch, while the graphics on the 12.3in touchscreen are clear and crisp. The screen itself runs quickly and smoothly with no lag. 

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

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The C-HR features an all-hybrid powertrain selection. These include two 'self-charging' hybrids, a 1.8-litre unit producing 138bhp and a 2.0-litre version with 193-. In 1.8-litre guise, the C-HR completes 0-62mph in a leisurely 10.2sec while the 2.0-litre hits 0-62mph in 8.1sec.

Both powertrains lack distinct punch, but cope with a combination of city streets, faster highways and windier mountain roads easily enough. The 1.8-litre and 2.0-litre deliver their power smoothly, but accelerate with more vigour and you’ll be greeted by the familiar demonic-hamster-wheel growl of a CVT slipping and Toyota four-pot hybrid revving hard in order to make accessible torque.

While the 2.0 HEV is brisk enough to spin the wheels under heavier throttle loads, it doesn’t sound it, and the noise alone is enough to discourage a more enthusiastic driving style to really get under the skin of the chassis.

This noise is particularly evident in the 2.0-litre version and, sadly, the soundtrack doesn’t quite match the performance. At higher speeds, the C-HR can sound strained, although you’ll have no problem speeding up to overtake on a motorway. 

The more powerful 2.0-litre plug-in hybrid, based on Toyota’s fifth-generation hybrid system, pairs the same 2.0-litre petrol engine with a 161bhp electric motor (because of the way these things work, they can send a maximum peak of 220bhp to the front wheels) and a much larger, 13.6kWh battery. 

The PHEV is well-tuned, with a smooth transition between electric and combustion power sources. It offers instant zip in EV mode, while the engine has good initial throttle response too, with nice pick-up and acceleration on part throttle.

That said, if you’re after improved performance, you might be disappointed to hear the PHEV’s top speed is no faster than the regular hybrid’s, and it is only 0.8sec faster to 62mph. Drive the car hard and the PHEV powertrain ultimately does the same thing that the other hybrid powertrains do: rev to the heavens to develop power - and while there is at least a decent amount of it, at least, it's not the kind of style of delivery to have you coming back for more, or to make this PHEV a natural choice to satisfy sporty tastes.

The PHEV has an official electric-only range of 41 miles, although we got closer to 30 miles on our test drive. As is common with PHEVs, you can stick this C-HR in EV mode; use a hybrid option that will mete out the power and, in sync with the sat-nav, can employ geofencing to use electric power in clean-air zones; or even charge the battery back up, from the combustion engine and regenerative braking, in order to redeploy that energy in zero-emissions running later in your journey (although it 's quite a slow process).

You can also adjust the strength of the regenerative braking, up to a B mode that actually offers close to one-pedal driving. 

The PHEV, like the two other hybrid options, sounds a bit flat and very occasionally a bit gruff, although improved initial throttle response makes the 'demonic hamsterwheeling' problem less pronounced than in the less powerful HEVs.

RIDE & HANDLING

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The C-HR reminds us a lot of the Volkswagen Golf when it was at its very best. A comfortable ride at both low speeds and high speeds, enjoyable handling in everyday driving situations and precise, accurate, well-weighted steering.

Like the Golf, it doesn’t excite when you really push on, but is always composed, never feels compromised, and is supremely comfortable over long distances. The improved design distinction of modern Toyotas is one thing, these much-improved dynamic qualities are quite another.

For a high-riding car, the C-HR controls its body very nicely in corners, gripping consistently well and sticking true to its line even when carrying plenty of speed

The C-HR uses Toyota’s TNGA-C platform, also used by the Toyota Corolla hatchback and estate. As other models have shown, it is a good base to create an enjoyable everyday driver's car but there are some notable changes from the first version. 

While the suspension retains MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link arrangement at the rear, both are reworked and tuned, the latter with elements from the set-ups in the Toyota Camry saloon and Toyota RAV4 SUV. 

The PHEV uses uprated brakes, and new ZF frequency-sensitive shock absorbers refine the ride, making the car more compliant over high-frequency inputs, but better controlled over longer-wave ones. It also has extra vibration dampers, and chassis- and axle-stiffening measures that the HEVs don't get. It's particular quiet-riding, but still nicely taut through the corners - and only over bigger inputs on country does the extra 200kg of weight that it carries really become apparent.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

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Whichever hybrid option you choose, you're unlikely to be disappointed by the Toyota C-HR’s economy, with the firm claiming an official combined 60.1mpg for the 1.8-litre, 57.7mpg for the 2.0-litre, and more than 300mpg for the PHEV (allowing for electric-only running, of course).

On our extended economy drive, which took us just shy of 50 miles, the 1.8-litre C-HR returned 54.7mpg, probably not helped by our mountainous route prompting more strained acceleration. The 2.0-litre version, meanwhile, managed more than 50mpg with lots of motorway miles included so both cars offer genuinely impressive economy. 

The PHEV's 41-mile electric range puts it in the favourable 8% benefit-in-kind tax bracket.

The new C-HR starts from £31,290 and is offered with five specification levels at launch: Icon, Design, Excel, GR Sport and the limited-run Premiere Edition.

It's worth noting that the Icon, Design and Excel trim levels are available with only the 1.8-litre hybrid powertrain, while the 2.0-litre hybrid is limited to the two range-topping specification levels: GR Sport and Premiere Edition, which cost from £40,645 and £42,720 respectively.

That brings us to one of the C-HR’s catches: it’s not cheap - at least, not at 'MSRP' showroom price. Compared with rivals like the £29,795 Hyundai Kona hybrid and the £27,849 Suzuki S-Cross, prices do look steep.

The C-HR does come with plenty of equipment, though, which goes some way to justifying its price; and monthly finance value is better than you might think. The standard Icon specification includes 17in wheels, a 7.0in infotainment touchscreen and smartphone mirroring as standard. 

The next-step Design, which Toyota says will be the most popular in the UK, costs from £34,685 and offers 18in wheels, a more powerful 12.3in touchscreen, wireless phone charging and a panoramic sunroof. Excel trim, from £38,150, comes with 19in alloys, a JBL sound system and front sports seats.

With the PHEV, meanwhile, all derivatives qualify for an eight-per-cent benefit-in-kind tax qualification - which is something that can't be said of the Cupra Formentor or the Kia Niro.

VERDICT

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The Toyota C-HR shows how varied the crossover segment has become. Although some might expect boosted practicality to be a prerequisite of entry into the class, this car doesn't really offer it - and there are plenty of regular hatchbacks for the same price with bigger boots and roomier back seats.

But those drawn to a crossover vehicle for how it looks rather than how much space it affords will certainly like this car; and, if they're the kind of people who like an efficient, well-mannered powertrain and a neat, contained, relatively sophisticed drive, they'll find more to like elsewhere.

Toyota's finance offers should give the C-HR the right kind of value to appeal to private buyers, while the good electric range of the PHEV should also help it to cut through for fleets. All that, combined with the car's sheer visual presence on the road, should enable it to continue to do rather well for Toyota, bringing in buyers that the brand simply wouldn't appeal to otherwise.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Mark Tisshaw

mark-tisshaw-autocar
Title: Editor

Mark is a journalist with more than a decade of top-level experience in the automotive industry. He first joined Autocar in 2009, having previously worked in local newspapers. He has held several roles at Autocar, including news editor, deputy editor, digital editor and his current position of editor, one he has held since 2017.

From this position he oversees all of Autocar’s content across the print magazine, autocar.co.uk website, social media, video, and podcast channels, as well as our recent launch, Autocar Business. Mark regularly interviews the very top global executives in the automotive industry, telling their stories and holding them to account, meeting them at shows and events around the world.

Mark is a Car of the Year juror, a prestigious annual award that Autocar is one of the main sponsors of. He has made media appearances on the likes of the BBC, and contributed to titles including What Car?Move Electric and Pistonheads, and has written a column for The Sun.