The 2021 Toyota C-HR is unlike any other subcompact SUV/crossover. That’s great in some ways — it’s hard to complain about something with such distinct style and character.
However, the C-HR stretches the definition of the “crossover” notion, which generally refers to SUVs based on a car platform rather than a body-on-frame truck. The C-HR competes in the crossover arena, but its unremarkable ground clearance, limited cargo capacity, and lack of all-wheel-drive make it more like a hatchback with a raised driving position.
No matter how the C-HR is defined, there are many things to like. It’s surprisingly fun to hustle through corners — the C-HR has sweet handling and an involving nature that’s rare from Toyota TM, +0.72% .
The cabin is stylish and upscale, and its features list is huge, including an excellent 8-in infotainment touch screen. The C-HR also has a comprehensive array of standard accident avoidance technology, which has been upgraded for 2021.
All this undoubtedly counts for a lot, but there are downsides. Rearward vision is seriously compromised for the driver and for any passengers in the back seat.
For the class, cargo space is merely average at best. And the C-HR’s tepid acceleration and droning transmission drag down that otherwise fun driving experience. Make sure to take an extended test drive and consider these drawbacks before bringing this crossover/hatchback home.
What’s new for 2021?
Last year’s Toyota Safety Sense P standard collection of driver aids becomes upgraded to TSS 2.0. This means that the forward collision mitigation system gains low-light pedestrian detection and daytime cyclist detection. Lane-tracing assistance is added, enabling the 2021 C-HR to track through freeway curves. Road sign recognition is another new feature.
This year sees the introduction of a Nightshade Edition with many cosmetic changes, all in black.
There’s also been a shake-up of exterior paint choices. Oxide Bronze (with or without a black roof) and Magnetic Gray Metallic (with a black roof) are new. Knockout Silver Metallic and Hot Lava (think burnt orange) are no longer available. And LE trim loses Supersonic Red and Blue Eclipse Metallic, although these colors are both still available with the higher XLE and Limited trims. See the 2021 Toyota C-HR models for sale
What we like
- Distinctive style inside and out
- Abundant standard features, including accident avoidance tech
- Quality cabin
- Sporty handling
- Toyota reliability
What we don’t
- All-wheel drive unavailable
- Poor outward vision
- Constricted rear quarters
- Sluggish acceleration
- Not much cargo space
$22,445 – $27,675
The 2021 C-HR has a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine making 144 horsepower and 139 lb-ft of torque, linked to a continuously variable transmission (CVT). It’s strictly a front-wheel-drive setup. All-wheel drive is not available.
The EPA estimates fuel consumption at 27 miles per gallon in the city, 31 mpg on the highway, and 29 mpg in combined driving. This is typical for the subcompact SUV/crossover class.
These are 2020’s EPA figures, but we don’t anticipate 2021’s being much different.
Standard features and options
The 2021 Toyota C-HR comes in LE, XLE and Limited trim levels. The new-for-2021 Nightshade Edition is based on the XLE.
Base LE trim ($22,620) has 17-in steel wheels (17-inch alloy wheels are optional), automatic on/off headlights and high beams, LED running lights, selectable driving modes, forward collision warning with automatic braking and pedestrian/cyclist detection, lane-keeping assistance, full-speed adaptive cruise control, Lane Trace Assist, automatic dual-zone climate control, height-adjustable front seats, 60/40 split/folding back seat, cloth upholstery, self-dimming rearview mirror, 8-in infotainment touch screen, USB port, Apple AAPL, -1.59% CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone integration, Amazon AMZN, -2.25% Alexa compatibility, satellite radio, Wi-Fi, Safety Connect emergency communications, auxiliary audio input, and a 6-speaker sound system.
XLE ($24,655) adds 18-in alloy wheels, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, keyless entry/ignition, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
The Nightshade Edition ($TBA) has black-finished alloy wheels with black lug nuts, black side mirror housings, black chin spoiler, black door handles, black badge overlays and black fabric upholstery. Paint choices are white, red, or gray with a contrasting black roof or all black.
Limited trim ($27,675) adds adaptive LED front lighting, LED fog lights, rain-sensing wipers, 8-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar adjustment, heated front seats, and leather upholstery.
XLE and Limited trims are also eligible for a contrasting black roof.
The C-HR comes with class-leading safety technology. Besides the usual stability control, anti-lock brakes and front-side and side-curtain air bags, the C-HR’s standard equipment includes a drivers knee air bag, an under-cushion air bag on the front passenger side (which prevents submarining under a seat belt), forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian/cyclist detection, adaptive radar cruise control, lane-tracing assistance, lane departure warning with active steering assistance, and automatic high beams.
Also see: Toyota brings back the Venza as a hybrid only, and it has a lot going for it
XLE and Limited trims add blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave the C-HR a 5-star overall safety rating, along with five stars each for frontal and side-impact protection.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave it top crashworthiness and impact prevention scores, but a Poor rating for the headlights on the lower two trims.
Behind the wheel
The C-HR can be great fun. It’s more engaging than it probably needed to be, with impressive suspension responses and poise. It remains stable through corners and the steering transmits sensations from the road better than past Toyotas. But its meager horsepower and droning CVT tend to ultimately put a damper on that fun.
The interior is visually delightful, with little diamond-shaped touches spread throughout adding subtle flair without being gimmicky. The dash is also handsomely modern, the interior materials are above average for the price, and the upgraded safety features this year are remarkable for the class.
On the downside, that individual exterior styling hinders rearward vision. Over-the-shoulder glances will give a view only of the dark interior and the front-side windows seem too low — or perhaps the driving position is too high. The thick rear pillars may also make rear passengers feel claustrophobic.
See: 10 SUVs that are really fun to drive
Cargo space is similarly limited for the class, with 19 cubic feet behind the rear seats, or 36.4 when they’re folded down. And the loadspace floor is quite high.
Other cars to consider
2021 Hyundai Kona — Thanks to its optional turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive system, the Kona is responsive, grippy and fun. It’s also slightly more practical than the C-HR.
2021 Honda HR-V — The HR-V is the cargo-carrying champ of this class. Not only does it have the most space, but its flipping/folding back seat brings the greatest versatility. Like the C-HR, the HR-V suffers from lethargic acceleration and a dull CVT, but at least all-wheel drive is on the options list.
2021 Subaru Crosstrek — Whereas the C-HR is solely front-wheel-drive, the Crosstrek comes standard with all-wheel drive. And it has much more ground clearance than the C-HR, plus a more rugged character. The result is a vehicle better suited to those intending to escape from the city.
2021 Kia Soul — If all-wheel drive isn’t a consideration, then the Soul is worth a look. Like the C-HR, it also has distinctive styling and a generous amount of features. But it’s roomier, less expensive and offers a turbocharged engine.
2021 Nissan Kicks — Like the C-HR, only the Toyota’s extrovert styling and constricted cabin are replaced by frumpy styling and a gigantic interior. The Kicks is cheaper, though.
More: The 15 best compact SUVs—and they’re priced right, too
Questions you may ask
Does the 2021 Toyota C-HR offer all-wheel drive?
No. The C-HR is driven solely by its front wheels, although it does have traction/stability control and anti-lock brakes that will help on slippery roads. Those seeking a subcompact SUV/crossover with all-wheel drive could check out the Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3 or Jeep Renegade.
Is the 2021 Toyota C-HR fast?
In this segment, not many of the C-HR’s competitors are what we’d consider fast. The C-HR is a bit heavier than most and its 2.0-liter engine sometimes struggles with this heft. For more sprightly acceleration, a turbocharged Kia Soul or Hyundai Kona might be better.
How roomy is the 2021 Toyota C-HR?
For its subcompact size, the C-HR is pretty spacious. It can fit tall passengers in the front and back, although the thick rear upper door panels and high-mounted door handle create a substantial visual impediment right where a passenger’s face would be. The cargo area is about mid-pack in terms of volume, but the height of its floor is higher than most. The rear seats fold flat for more room, but they don’t recline if more comfort is desired.
While Toyota’s reliability is always a positive, don’t be lured by the C-HR’s styling without being fully aware of its foibles. Take a really long test drive, paying particular attention to outward vision and acceleration. Then take a serious look at the cargo space.
Also see: 8 affordable new cars priced well below $20k
Spend however much the budget allows, but the entry-level LE is well equipped. However, XLE trim brings blind-spot monitoring, which is worth the investment.