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As if from an alternative dimension comes the convention-defying Toyota C-HR. Here’s what to expect for 2019

2019 Toyota C-HR

2019 Toyota C-HR

What changes will make the 2019 Toyota C-HR different?

Possibly an expanded lineup and maybe even all-wheel drive. That would help round out the appeal of a subcompact crossover SUV that looks like a visitor from an alternate dimension but drives like an ordinary Toyota. The C-HR (Coupe High-Rider) launched for model-year 2018 as the Japanese giant’s first foray into a fast-growing segment led by the Subaru Crosstrek, Jeep Renegade, and Honda HR-V. Unlike virtually all its competitors, however, the C-HR debuted with front-wheel drive only, diminishing for now Toyota’s claim that it’s a legitimate crossover SUV.

Why should I wait for the 2019?

If you desire the all-weather security of all-wheel drive, wait to see if Toyota makes it available for 2019. And if you like the C-HR’s visual statement but want a choice of trim levels beyond the initial two well-equipped grades, wait to see if the automaker adds less expensive or more expensive models. The core lineup of XLE and upscale XLE Premium trim levels will return. So will the sole engine, an economical four-cylinder. If you wait for a 2019 XLE or XLE Premium, expect a price increase, even though they’ll carry over unchanged – except for possible AWD.

Should I buy a 2018 model instead?

Yes, primarily if you’re attracted to its provocative styling and you’re comfortable with front-drive and the two trim-level choices. Much of the C-HR’s wild design stems from its origin as a member of the Scion brand, Toyota’s youth-oriented offshoot. Scion was dissolved after model-year 2016, but the C-HR survived and as it turns out, fits in with Toyota’s campaign to inject more youthful verve into all its products.

Settling for front-wheel drive means you’ll be piloting what’s basically a subcompact hatchback car, albeit one with a taller roofline, if not much more actual ground clearance. Making peace with either of the two available trim-levels won’t mean compromising much on features. Both come nicely equipped, feature upscale interiors, and more important, have a full suite of safety tech, including autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane-maintaining automatic steering. On many rivals, such driver assists are extra-cost options or unavailable.

Will the styling be different?

The overall look of the C-HR won’t change until a midcycle refresh, probably for model-year 2022. There may be a new color choice or two for 2019, but the returning XLE and XLE Premium models won’t be visually altered. They’ll again come festooned with aero body addenda, 18-inch alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights, and on the XLE Premium, fog lamps. If Toyota introduces a lesser trim level, say an LE, it may justify its lower price point with smaller wheels, slighter cabin décor, or maybe black instead of body-colored mirrors and door handles. Similarly, a higher trim level, perhaps a Platinum, could exchange some of the XLE Premium’s dark body accents for chrome-finished pieces and perhaps even 19-inch wheels and tires.

Inside, the 2019 XLE and XLE Premium will continue their class-above airs with substantive “sport” cloth upholstery, diamond-patterned door inserts, a generously padded dashboard with handsome simulated stitching, and a leather-covered steering wheel and shift knob. A new, lesser trim could dial back to plainer upholstery and vinyl coverings, while a Platinum might well use Toyota’s convincing faux-leather SofTex upholstery and perhaps introduce power front seats.

Expect every ’19 C-HR to retain a cabin design that tempers the manic themes of the exterior with less extravagance and more function. There’s some real character here. For example, the controls for the XLE and XLE Premium’s standard dual-zone automatic climate system are a classy row of sturdy toggle switches. And the mounting for 7-inch infotainment touchscreen is an artful meld of tablet-like trendiness and instrument-panel integration.

Unfortunately, returning as well will be compromises dictated by that cubist-fever body design. Like most subcompact crossovers, the C-HR wants for rear-seat legroom and interior storage space. But this Toyota’s coupe-like tapered roof compounds a sense of claustrophobia and reduces the driver’s aft visibility. The oddly shaped rear door openings confound entry and exit, and their style-driven exterior handles are integrated with the rear roof pillars, where they’re awkward to reach and have finger-pinching edges. Finally, cargo room will remain near the bottom of the segment with just 19 cubic feet behind the rear seat and 36.4 with it folded.

Any mechanical changes?

The headline would be introduction of all-wheel drive (AWD). It wouldn’t transform the C-HR into an off-roader — in this class, only the Crosstrek and Renegade have any real off-road cred – but it would legitimize the Toyota as a real crossover. There’s likely a hybrid powertrain in the C-HR’s future, maybe as part of the midcycle refresh but potentially sooner. For 2019, though, the sole engine will remain a 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 144 horsepower and 139 pound-feet of torque.

That’s a little below class-average and its performance is further shaded by the sometimes lackadaisical response of the sole transmission, a continuously variable automatic. A driver-selected “Sport” mode sharpens the CVT’s seven simulated gear ratios, and the C-HR is perfectly adequate for everyday driving and is a satisfactory highway cruiser. If truly spirited acceleration is on your agenda, look elsewhere. Handling is a nice surprise. The basic understructure is Toyota’s New Global Architecture, which underpins a variety of the company’s latest cars. It’s a stout foundation for the well-sorted all-independent suspension and works with the relatively meaty tires and good-enough steering feel (firmed up in Sport mode) to help the C-HR change direction with a pleasing sense of balance, even nimbleness.

Will fuel economy improve?

If AWD is introduced, EPA ratings almost certainly will trail those of the front-drive models by 1-2 mpg. Even so, the 2019 C-HR would likely remain about mid-pack for fuel efficiency, with returning front-drive models again rating 27/31/29 mpg city/highway combined. Wait for the potential hybrid version if you want to merge this thing’s angle-mad looks with hyper-mileage economy.

Will it have new features?

Likely only as part of a trim-level expansion, in which a grade lower than the XLE would cut back on standard features and one above the XLE Premium would layer them on. As it is, Toyota has the basics well covered and nods to Scion’s original practice by offering the C-HR with very few factory options. (One of note is the available white-painted roof and side mirrors, offered at $500-$895, depending on the main body color.)

Even if the C-HR gains a less expensive trim level for 2019, the Toyota Safety Sense ensemble will remain laudably standard across the board. It includes autonomous emergency braking design to slow or stop the crossover to avoid a frontal collision with another vehicle or a pedestrian. Also included is lane-correcting automatic steering, automatic highbeam headlights, and adaptive cruise control that maintains a set distance from traffic ahead. The XLE Premium (and any potential model above) will again come with blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alert.

Same goes for the current XLE Premium’s upgrades over the XLE, such as standard keyless entry enhanced with touch-sensitive door and hatchback handles, and power-folding outside mirrors with puddle lights that project “Toyota C-HR.” Expect the ’19 XLE Premium and above to also return with heated front seats and pushbutton ignition. Imbedded navigation could be added for any Platinum-level model. More likely, Toyota will stick with an infotainment system that eschews Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for a proprietary suite of connectivity that can project smartphone apps onto the dashboard screen.

How will 2019 prices be different?

Expect some increase for the XLE and XLE Premium, driven not necessarily by new features but by almost inevitable model-year price inflation. Including Toyota’s $960 destination fee, their 2018 base prices were $23,460 and $25,310, respectively.

The XLE’s starting price was a little high for an “entry level” model in this class, leaving space below for something like an LE, at around $22,500. Likewise, top trim versions of numerous rivals breach the $27,000 mark, opening territory for addition of a similarly priced 2019 C-HR flagship.

When will it come out?

Look for a release date for the 2019 C-HR during the second quarter of 2018.

Top competitors

Chevrolet Trax, Fiat 500X, Ford EcoSport, Honda HR-V, Hyundai Kona, Jeep Renegade, Kia Stonic, Mazda CX-3, Mini Countryman, Nissan Kicks and Rogue Sport, Subaru Crosstrek

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]