While it’s really fun to drive expensive supercars and luxury sedans, I have a spot in my heart for entry level and budget vehicles too. Perhaps unusually for car writers, actually, as I feel like most just complain that lower cost vehicles don’t have all the fancy bells and whistles of a $50K alternative. Not everyone can afford those swanky vehicles, of course, and not everyone wants to have the responsibility of an expensive car when they just want to get from the proverbial point A to point B.
When Toyota offered me a chance to drive the sleek 2019 Toyota C-HR XLE, I was therefore quite interested. I mean, as-driven with lots of fancy features and it’s only $24,710, which means you night be able to drop another thousand or two off the price with some aggressive negotiations? What kind of car can you get for $24K? Turns out a pretty fun vehicle that would be a terrific first vehicle for any young driver and a good choice for a budget-minded car driver with small kids or only occasional passengers.
To test the C-HR out — and apparently C-HR stands for “Coupe-High Rider” — I headed up to beautiful Breckenridge, Colorado for a few days. The drive is a good one for testing mountain handling because the route includes passing through Loveland pass, at over 11,100 foot elevation. The route also goes through the remarkable Eisenhower Tunnel, at 1.6miles the longest tunnel in the US interstate highway system. Breckenridge itself is a lovely little ski town, busy, scenic and way less snooty than Vail or especially Aspen. It’s also a good backdrop, as you can see.
The first thing that jumps out with the C-HR is that swoop design that consumes half the back window in the interest of streamlined style. Look closely to find the rear door handles too. Personally I love the variation in style but from the inside, the rear windows are more akin to airplane windows with their small oblong shape. No shades to pull down, and no oxygen dropping from the ceiling tho!
The wheels are also notable, an aggressive design for a sporty little car.
You can see that swoop more easily from the back:
Clearly, if you’re looking for a vehicle with maximal visibility for the driver, this is not your car. But once all the mirrors are adjusted properly, it’s surprising how little I noticed this as I drove around. The car has a nice size hatchback storage space and the back seats can fold forward so there’s more cargo and storage space than is obvious from the outside.
However, there’s not a lot of legroom if the driver and front passenger are other than, um, short:
If you have teens, they can squeeze in but there’ll be grumbling. A car seat? No problem. One of those monster rear-facing car seats for the tiny one? I imagine that’ll work too, but they take up a lot of space so you might check with a demo unit to see how it works for you. As for me, my youngest is now 15 (and driving) so we’re far, far beyond the car seat phase.
Then again, these same teens might find the sidewalk light projection system at night to be pretty darn cool:
I did ask my friends on Facebook and most people categorized this as something they wouldn’t pay for, but this “puddle light” is included in the base package for the C-HR so it’s not going to cost you a dime if you were to buy this vehicle. I’m not much of a fan either, but I will say that the Ford Mustang has the best of those I’ve seen, just projecting the running horse graphic that’s its logo. Cool.
Back to the 2019 Toyota C-HR, however. Here’s the cockpit design and layout:
For a modern car, not too busy and certainly a familiar layout for any Toyota owner. A couple of nuances I liked: the parking brake turns on when you park and turns off automatically when you put the car in gear. Smart, easy, and as it should be on every vehicle. The cup holders were also worthy of note as they were deep but had a removable platform that you could use to make them shallower for smaller cups. Simple and elegant solution.
Jumping a bit closer to see the gauges:
Biggest thing to note here is the rather mediocre fuel efficiency: 32.6mpg after a few hundred miles of driving. The car is rated at 27/31 so I suppose it’s better mileage than I should expect, but a small, light car with a modest 2.0L engine, I was hoping to see mileage in the high 30’s in 2019. This also highlights how you need to be aware that modern fuel economy numbers are not calculated the same way that they were a decade ago: Now you can exceed the numbers, versus never dreaming of even getting close to the overly optimistic figures.
The tach was something I kept an eye on too because the transmission left a lot to be desired on this somewhat underpowered vehicle. Accelerating up a grade or even to merge on the highway and it’d spin up to over 5000rpm, but without giving you any power. I kept waiting for a shift that didn’t happen and attained over 5500rpm more than once on high-demand situations. If you want a car that drives as peppy as the design suggests, it’s possible that the C-HR is not going to be a great match for you. Handling was very good and it dealt with some bad weather and icy conditions well for a lightweight FWD car, but the 2.0L engine with Toyota’s CVTi left me wanting something with a bit more oomph.
One more thing to highlight, the entertainment system:
No surprise, Toyota has done a fantastic job with the design of the overall entertainment and communication system here, including HD Radio and XM Radio, along with CarPlay for those who plug an iPhone into the USB jack. You can be forgiven for not realizing that it has CarPlay, however, because it doesn’t just show up on the screen once you plug in, which was confusing. You have to navigate to the CarPlay screen which isn’t great when you’re driving and want to keep your attention on the road.
Still, with the two caveats about rear leg room and acceleration, the 2019 Toyota C-HR XLE is an entirely serviceable choice as an entry level car or simple commute vehicle for one person or a couple.And oh, that great price that makes payments easy, even if you have nothing to use as a down payment.
CONFIGURATION: 2019 Toyota C-HR XLE in Blue Flame / Black. 2.0L 4-cylinder 144HP engine with CVTi, front wheel drive and the Toyota Safety Sense suite. Optional: Entune 3.0 Audio package. MSRP base: $22,980. As driven: $24,710.00
Disclosure: Toyota loaned me the 2019 C-HR for a week for the purposes of this writeup. Thanks Toyota!