Stands out. More practical than it looks. Good control layout and screens. Tidy road manners
Visibility poor in the back. If you dislike hybrid, stay away
What is it?
As mid-size crossovers become more and more of a default family car, so they've been boxed in to a pretty stereotypical, er, box. They mostly look and feel the same.
The first generation C-HR was designed as an outlier. Toyota had a new boss, Akio Toyoda, and he wanted to see what the designers could do if released from the company's previously grey rules. They didn't have to bother with asking their customers, because it was a first generation so they had none.
Much to their own surprise it sold in far bigger numbers, and in far more parts of the world, than they expected. Up to a third of a million C-HRs a year rolled out of the global dealers. So for this, the second generation, they have a big base of existing customers who they felt obliged to ask what could be improved.
Does that mean it's regressed to the mean? Or has Toyota ensured it's still a different flavour from obvious rivals such as the Nissan Qashqai, Kia Sportage, Ford Kuga and VW T-Roc?
So what's changed?
The design is new, and pretty fresh. A bit mad even, if it's decked out in the optional two-tone arrowhead paint scheme. Slimmer LED headlights – with beam-shaping adaptive LEDs on top versions – define the nose. It looks tidier, because most of the body's panel lines now coincide with styling lines rather than cutting across flat surfaces.
Better aerodynamics – spot the carefully shaped pair of tail-spoilers and new pop-out flush door handles – help economy at motorway speed. But not much, because frontal area has grown, and the wheels now go up to 20 inches.
The powertrain choice grows. All are electrified, but just one has a plug. There are both 1.8 and 2.0-litre engines available as prime movers, just as with the Corolla, with the regular Toyota hybrid system. Boosted by their motors at full throttle, they give total system outputs of 140 and 198bhp.
But this time there's also a plug-in hybrid. It has the same 2.0 engine, but because the electrical system is more juiced up, you've got a total of 223bhp. On this early drive, this was the one we sampled. Toyota stressed it was a prototype but it felt thoroughly finished. Top powertrains get frequency-selective dampers, which are a reasonable alternative to the electronic adaptive kind.
Fortunately, it hasn't grown in length, which means it's still about the size of those rivals. It's a little wider, partly because the designers wanted to improve the visual stance and partly because customers wanted more room inside. Of course they did. When did they ever ask for less room? But did they think about the consequences for threading it down city streets?
Inside, there are new shapes in the dash, and the materials are tidied up and made more premium. Maybe most important for modernising the car, the instrument and touch screens are about two full generations on from the old car's. Toyota screens were pretty ugly before but they're up to par now.
Although it sits on a standard global platform, used on the Corolla and many other Toyotas, this generation C-HR was designed, engineered and tuned in Europe. It's built in Turkey. It has been made stiffer and quieter. The engineers aimed for better handling for European conditions, with no penalty in ride comfort, and as we'll see in the Driving section of this review, they succeeded.
So where does it fit into Toyota's range?
Good question. Toyota has the Aygo Cross and Yaris Cross below it. Above is the RAV 4, which is quite a chunky thing these days. In most of the world there's now a thing called Corolla Cross, which is the same size as the C-HR but has a boxier outline for more interior space and outward vision.
Toyota says the C-HR is designed for people "who are not afraid to stand out". Presumably the Corolla Cross is for people who are afraid to stand out. But Toyota has now cancelled the launch of the Corolla Cross in Britain. Maybe Brits are united a common desire to be different… in exactly the same way.
It looks a bit cramped.
The sloping roofline does impinge on headroom for tall adults in the back. And the small side glass means this isn't the perfect transport for kids prone to car sickness. But the actual legroom and boot space aren't bad. See the interior section of this review for more.
Our choice from the range
What's the verdict?
You've got to hand it to Toyota for keeping its head above the parapet rather than churning out another commodity family crossover. That applies even if you don't actually like its design. Which is a bit out there, especially in the optional two-tone scheme.
Toyota keeps improving the way the hybrid system drives. We haven't had access to the non-plug versions in the C-HR, but in the Corolla we know they're pretty decent, especially the 2.0. And they're satisfyingly economical in the real world.
The plug-in version is better again, because the heft of the more powerful electric motor means the petrol engine is less often called to scream up to max revs. So the PHEV is a brilliant tax break, but it's about more than that too.
The C-HR has neat if unsporty handling, and is well-mannered in normal mooching around. It's refined too, and the safety gadget count is high.
So if you like the look of it, there's very little else that counts against it.