Toyota redesigned the Highlander for the 2014 model year, giving it much more character and impressive refinement inside, while upping the maximum seat count from seven to eight, and then after just three…
Toyota redesigned the Highlander for the 2014 model year, giving it much more character and impressive refinement inside, while upping the maximum seat count from seven to eight, and then after just three years they replaced the simpler truck-inspired front grille and fascia for a ritzier chromed up look that certainly hasn’t hurt sales.
Its popularity within its mid-size crossover SUV segment grew from eighth in the 2016 calendar year, when the updated model was introduced, to seventh the following year, while after three quarters of 2018 it’s risen to fifth overall and just third amongst its dedicated three-row peers.
Obviously Toyota sees no reason to change much for 2019, so the full-load Limited model in our garage this week only gets a nice new set of LED fog lamps. This is true for both the conventionally powered model and our Highlander Hybrid tester, the latter being the only mid-size SUV within the mainstream volume sector to be offered with a hybrid-electric powertrain.
Think about that for a moment. SUVs are taking over the entire automotive market, and electrification is supposedly our future, but only Toyota offers a hybridized mid-size SUV. Like so many things in life, this doesn’t make a lot of sense. Kudos to Toyota, mind you, that’s been leading the way for more than a dozen years.
Hybridization means Toyota swaps out its standard 295-horsepower 3.5-litre V6 for the same engine running on a more efficient Atkinson cycle, which when mated to two permanent magnet synchronous electric motors, one for driving the front wheels and the other for those in the rear, plus a sealed nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) traction battery, results in 306 horsepower and an undisclosed amount of torque that’s no doubt more than the 263 lb-ft provided by the gasoline-only variant.
Additionally, the regular Highlander’s advanced eight-speed automatic is replaced by an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (ECVT) with stepped ratios to mimic the feel of a traditional gearbox, plus a sequential shift mode for getting sporty or merely downshifting while engine-braking, and as sure as rain (or should I say snow this time of year) its aforementioned all-wheel drivetrain takes care of slippery situations.
At $50,950 plus freight and fees the 2019 Highlander Hybrid doesn’t come cheap in base XLE trim, while this upgraded full-load Limited model hits the road for a whopping $57,260, but then again a similarly optioned 2019 Chevrolet Traverse High Country comes in at an even loftier $60,100, and the only slightly nicer 2019 Buick Enclave Avenir will set you back a stratospheric $62,100, and they don’t even offer hybrid drivetrains, so maybe the Highlander Hybrid Limited isn’t so pricy after all.
I’ll go into much more detail in my upcoming 2019 Highlander Hybrid Limited review, so for now enjoy our comprehensive photo gallery above and be sure to come back soon for my full road test…
Most everyone expected Toyota to enter the subcompact SUV segment at some point, but showing up with a sportier, smaller than average entry, and therefore putting styling ahead of practicality was surprising…
Most everyone expected Toyota to enter the subcompact SUV segment at some point, but showing up with a sportier, smaller than average entry, and therefore putting styling ahead of practicality was surprising to all.
After all, the segment sales leaders make it clear that passenger/cargo roominess and flexibility is king, with models like the Honda HR-V, Kia Soul, Mazda CX-3 and Subaru Crosstrek dominating up until this year, and newcomers like the Nissan Qashqai and Hyundai Kona finding strong sales due to their pragmatic approach and more. It’s as if the new C-HR picked up where the now discontinued Nissan Juke left off (that latter SUV replaced by the new Kicks), albeit without the Juke’s stellar performance.
C-HR sales haven’t exactly been abysmal, that dejected title belonging to the Fiat 500X that only managed 69 sales over the first nine months of 2018 (with 548 Canadian sales for the entire brand so far this year, Fiat’s days are likely numbered in the North American markets), while Jeep’s Renegade hasn’t been tearing up the sales charts either with just 1,000 units down the road, but the C-HR’s 5,188 deliveries (placing it eighth out of 13 models that have been available all year) are nowhere near as strong as the new Hyundai Kona’s 10,852 units (and it’s only been available since March), while the aforementioned Qashqai has been killing it with 14,755 sold as of the close of Q3 2018. Crosstrek deliveries remain strong at 11,147 units over the same nine months, while the CX-3 was at 10,207 sales, the Soul at 9,226, and the long-in-tooth HR-V at 8,155 deliveries (a refreshed 2019 HR-V should help matters moving forward). Should we call the C-HR a rare sales dud from Toyota? The Japanese brand certainly appears to have missed the mark, but that doesn’t mean it’s a poor choice for those who don’t need as much interior space.
In fact the new C-HR, now in its second model year after arriving on the scene in May of 2017, is quite a nice subcompact SUV. I won’t go into just how nice in this garage segment of this 2019 C-HR Limited version, but suffice to say it combines mostly comfortable cruising with the majority of its peers’ high-level features, reasonably good performance and excellent fuel economy.
The 2019 C-HR gets some significant changes that should help it find more buyers, starting with a new base LE trim level that chops over a $1,000 from the 2018 model’s base price. Still, $23,675 is hardly as affordable as some of the sales leaders mentioned earlier, the Qashqai still only available in 2018 trim yet its 2019 counterpart shouldn’t sell for much more than its current $19,998 base price despite the new Nissan Kicks arriving as the segment’s best bargain at just $17,998. Another factor against the C-HR’s success is the fact you can get into the much larger and more accommodating Nissan Rogue for about $3k more than the base C-HR, while the all-new 2019 RAV4 starts at just $27,790 (find new vehicle pricing for all makes and models including the C-HR and RAV4 at CarCostCanada, with detailed info on trims, packages and options, plus otherwise hard to get rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands).
That base C-HR LE gets Toyota’s new Entune 3.0 infotainment system, which now utilizes a larger 8.0-inch touchscreen and supports Apple CarPlay smartphone integration (if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em). Even better, the new display now incorporates the C-HR’s backup camera, which instead was fitted within the rearview mirror in last year’s model and therefore ruddy useless.
Entune also includes the ability to link a Scout GPS smartphone app to the centre display for navigation purposes, plus Entune App Suite Connect that features separate apps for traffic, weather, Slacker, Yelp, sports, stocks, fuel and NPR One, although I don’t know how the latter U.S.-specific National Public Radio station will do anyone in Canada much good.
Additional base features worth noting include automatic high beam headlights, adaptive cruise control, remote access, an acoustic glass windshield, auto up/down powered windows all around, a leather-wrapped shift knob, a 4.2-inch TFT multi-information display within the gauge cluster, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, illuminated vanity mirrors, dual-zone auto climate control, six-speaker audio, piano black lacquered instrument panel trim, fabric upholstery, front sport seats, 60/40-split rear seatbacks, a cargo cover, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, all the usual active and passive safety features including a driver’s knee airbag and rear side thorax airbags, plus more.
Last year’s sole XLE trim level is mostly carryover for 2019 other than its higher $25,725 price and new Entune 3.0 Audio Plus that features the larger touchscreen while including automatic collision notification, a stolen vehicle locator, an emergency assistance SOS button, and enhanced roadside assistance, with additional features including 17-inch alloy wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel rim, upgraded cloth upholstery, heatable front seats, and two-way powered lumbar support for the driver’s seat.
The $27,325 XLE Premium package adds 18-inch alloys, proximity-sensing access with pushbutton ignition, heated power-folding side mirrors with puddle lamps, blindspot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, and lane change assist.
Also new for 2019 is as-tested $28,775 top-line Limited trim that adds rain-sensing wipers, a handy windshield wiper de-icer, ambient interior lighting, and leather upholstery in black or brown.
While two new trim levels and upgraded infotainment are improvements over last year’s C-HR, the sole 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine might leave some potential buyers (especially those coming out of the aforementioned Juke) feeling like its performance doesn’t measure up to its sporty exterior design due to just 144 horsepower and 139 lb-ft of torque, a continuously variable transmission (CVT) with a focus on fuel economy, and no all-wheel drive option, front-drive being the only driveline configuration available.
Then again, if you’re looking for a sporty looking SUV with good fuel economy the C-HR’s claimed 8.7 L/100km city, 7.5 highway and 8.2 combined rating might be just what your inflation deflated personal budget requires.
I’ll talk more about real-world fuel economy and seat-of-the-pants driving dynamics in my upcoming road test review, and of course ramble on ad nauseum about driver’s seat ergonomics, rear seat spaciousness and comfort, storage space, and new Entune 3.0 infotainment, plus I’ll go on at length regarding the touchy-feely points of this Limited model’s interior quality, so make sure to come back for the full 2019 Toyota C-HR Limited review…
Do you remember that zany TV ad that saw a family pulling up to a national park gatekeeper’s booth in their 2014 Toyota Highlander, only to have him say to the father and driver, “Is this the new…
Do you remember that zany TV ad that saw a family pulling up to a national park gatekeeper’s booth in their 2014 Toyota Highlander, only to have him say to the father and driver, “Is this the new Toyota Highlander?” followed by, “Ever look at the stars through your moonroof? Ever wish upon them?” And then, “It has a V6 engine right? Is it powerful? Do you think I’m powerful?” (If you don’t remember it, or how the 2014-2016 Highlander looks, I’ve included it at the bottom of this page). There were other humourously uncomfortable questions asked too, but when all was said and done the ad did a great job of creating interest in the new Highlander and this family’s “own little world” within, while giving most of us a good chuckle too.
Fortunately for Toyota the money wasn’t wasted, as those who owned Highlanders, and newcomers alike, went back to their local retailer to satisfy their curiosity and the SUV they found more than measured up. In fact, the Toyota’s mid-size crossover SUV has been on a steady growth trajectory since 2013 when that third-generation Highlander was introduced in Canada, growing 11.6 percent that calendar year, 27.5 percent in 2014, 6.8 percent the year after, 24.5 percent last year, and with sales that were nudging up against last year’s record total by the close of September this year, it’s already on target for another new high.
Almost as important to Toyota, during this growth cycle the Highlander has gone from eighth most popular in its mid-size SUV segment in 2012 to fifth so far this year, while it’s now actually third when compared to dedicated three-row competitors, only outsold by the Kia Sorento and Ford Explorer.
I certainly can understand why it’s grown in numbers and popularity. Since day one I’ve been impressed, and while it’s seen steady improvements when it comes to features and technology advancements over the past five model years, plus a significant refresh that replaced its sportier Toyota truck-inspired grille with a classier chrome clad design that now extends deeper and wider into the front fascia in near Lexus-like grandeur, its core goodness remains.
What do I like? I must admit the more truckish grille worked better for me, but the mid-cycle makeover is hardly a turnoff and its side profile and rear quarters remain mostly unchanged and therefore amongst the best looking in this category to my eyes, but it’s the Highlander’s interior that woos me most ardently, especially in as-tested Limited trim.
To be clear, I spent my first week with the conventionally powered 2018 Highlander V6 AWD Limited and another seven days in the Highlander Hybrid Limited, both top-line versions of basically the same SUV with different drivetrains.
These high-style models continue to offer a more premium experience than most mid-size crossover SUVs in the mainstream volume sector, with upscale touches like a full soft-touch dash top that not only wraps down to the halfway point of the instrument panel, but gets followed up with a nicely finished padded leatherette what-have-you tray that spans from the left side of the centre stack all the way across to the passenger’s door panel. Toyota even finishes off the eight roof pillars with fabric, uncommon but certainly welcome in this class.
Additional appreciated details include satin-silver trim in key areas, nice grey woodgrain inlays across the dash and door panels, some attractive chocolate brown detailing on the dash and door plastics, as well as the same tasty hue used for the seat upholstery’s contrast stitching.
Those seats are perforated leather and very comfortable, the Highlander being one of my favourite Toyotas as far as ergonomics go. The power-adjustable lower seat squab extends further than some others, tucking nicely below the knees, and while its two-way powered lumbar support doesn’t quite find the ideal position in the small of my back, it was closer than the Lexus NX I drove the week before. I also appreciated that the telescopic steering wheel has more forward travel than some other Toyota models, which allowed me to set up the steering for better comfort, control and safety, the rim nicely finished in stitched leather and ideally shaped for performance driving, which was oddly appreciated and totally unexpected.
What a perfect segue into driving dynamics, but before I start talking about power delivery, handling and ride quality I wanted to mention a few other interior points. For starters, the Highlander’s switchgear is on par with others in the class, meaning it fits together tightly and is well damped for a premium feel, with only the hollowness of the composites used a bit on the low rent side.
Then again much of the infotainment system’s buttons are touch-sensitive, while the display itself is large and high in resolution. This said it pales in comparison to the new Camry’s Entune interface, visually because of the latter car’s glossy display finish and upgraded graphics, and functionally due to its impressive new proprietary smartphone connectivity that blows away Android Auto, in my opinion. Back to the Highlander Limited, the touchscreen is matte in finish and its depth of contrast not all that good. In fact, it was completely illegible due to glare at certain angles on bright sunny days, but to be honest it even looked quite faded in the shade. Also, the display almost completely disappeared when wearing polarized sunglasses, something touchscreens with richer colour quality and greater depth of contrast don’t do.
The Highlander Limited gets a narrow strip of tri-zone automatic climate controls just below the centre touchscreen, and while they were easy enough to use I found it difficult to find the right temperature for comfort in cold weather. As it was, 23 degrees Celsius was much too hot and 21 just right. The problem? Most competitors’ vehicles need to be set to 23 or 24 degrees in order to maintain a normal 20 to 21, so kudos to Toyota for being so annoyingly accurate.
Improving on the Highlander Limited’s HVAC system is a heated steering wheel rim, multi-temperature heatable and ventilated front seats with separate scrolling controllers on the lower console, and two-way heated outboard second-row seats, while yet more exclusive Limited trim features not yet mentioned include 19-inch dark chrome-clad alloy wheels, smoked headlamp surrounds, puddle lamps under the side mirrors, chrome trimmed roof rails, scripted aluminum front treadplates, LED ambient interior lighting, auto up/down for all the powered windows, rain-sensing wipers, front and rear parking sensors, a dynamic surround parking camera with a bird’s eye overhead view, a great sounding 12-speaker JBL Synthesis audio system, memory for the driver’s seat and side mirrors, second-row captain’s chairs with a folding centre console, a household-style 120-volt power outlet, a powered panoramic glass sunroof with a powered sunshade, and blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert.
While that’s a lot of gear, Limited trim also features items pulled up from lesser mid-range XLE trim, including LED daytime running lights, fog lamps, proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a universal garage door opener, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, a higher grade of simulated leatherette door trim, a 4.2-inch colour TFT colour multi-information display, a larger 8.0-inch touchscreen with navigation (the base model gets a 6.0-inch display audio system), Driver EasySpeak, advanced voice recognition, SMS text-to-speech and email-to-speech, satellite radio, an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with the aforementioned power-extendable lower cushion and powered lumbar, a four-way powered front passenger’s seat, second-row side window sunshades, a flip-up rear hatch window, a powered rear liftgate, a retractable cargo cover that smartly locks into place under the cargo floor when not in use, and auto start/stop that shuts off the engine to save fuel when it would otherwise be idling (standard with the Hybrid).
Additionally, key standard features pulled up from base LE trim to the Limited include multifunctional steering wheel controls, illuminated vanity mirrors, Siri Eyes Free, a massive centre console bin with a nice simulated leather sliding lid, cargo area tie-down rings, underfloor storage in the cargo area, and all the expected active and passive safety features including a driver’s knee airbag.
Adding to your family’s security and your convenience, even the most basic Highlander LE with front-wheel drive comes with a wide assortment of advanced driver assistive systems as part of Toyota’s standard Safety Sense P package, featuring a front pre-collision system with autonomous emergency braking including pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, full speed dynamic cruise control, and automatic high beams, the latter items capable enough for a Top Safety Pick rating from the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), while it also gets a five-star overall safety rating from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Still, a sobering thought shows its five stars are only achieved in one category when it comes to crash tests, notably the front passenger side test, with the front driver side and overall front crash tests managing just four stars apiece.
The regular Highlander and Hybrid models differ when it comes to some of the just noted trims as well as the features within each, specifically by the omission of an LE trim with the Hybrid and this electrified model’s elimination of Safety Sense P in its most basic XLE trim. The Hybrid XLE is also missing rain-sensing wipers and a USB audio port, although both include four USB charge points.
Of note, the driver’s seat isn’t the only comfortable chair in the Highlander’s cabin thanks to my Limited trim tester’s standard second-row captain’s chairs that provide good lower back and thigh support, individual fore and aft manual adjustment, reclining capability, and separate inside folding armrests. With the driver’s seat set to my five-foot-eight height I had at least 10 inches ahead of my knees when seated in the second-row bucket after it was moved all the way rearward, plus more than enough for my feet and another four to five inches above my head, as well as loads of side to side space. Alternatively, when pushing my second-row seat all the way forward so that it clicked into its last notch I had about three inches in front of my knees and still reasonable space for my feet, this position best for maximizing third-row roominess.
When equipped with its optional second second-row captain’s chairs there are two ways to get into the Highlander’s third row. First, between those two seats is a foldable console filled with two cupholders and a small tray, useful for life on the road and conveniently foldable. Dropping this to one side, an easy process, allows for a narrow walkway between the seats that makes it easier for smaller kids to climb in and out of very back. Otherwise you’ll need to push those second-row seats forward via levers on each side of the lower cushions, which allows them to tilt and slide forward before providing ample access for larger kids and adults.
The third row was sizeable enough for my five-foot-eight medium-build frame, leaving about three inches over my head, plenty of elbowroom, and enough space below the second-row seats that my winter boots fit underneath without a problem. This said my knees were forced quite high as the rear floor is raised somewhat, but the seating position was livable and the cushioning quite comfortable. Toyota provides a couple of cupholders to each side, plus vents and reading lights overhead, making it a better than average third row for two larger kids or three on the smaller side.
As you might expect in a mid-size SUV with three rows, cargo space is generous when the final row is laid flat. With the 50/50-split rearmost seatbacks upright there’s only 391 litres (13.8 cubic feet) available, plus the underfloor stowage mentioned a moment ago, but drop these down and the Highlander’s usability grows to a very usable 1,198 litres (42.3 cubic feet), while walking around to the side doors to lower the second row allows a total of 2,356 litres (83.2 cubic feet). Capacities are identical in both regular and electrified models, with only the base Highlander LE gaining 14 litres (0.5 cubic feet) more when all the seats are lowered, while that trim and the XLE without its SE upgrade package get a more accommodative second-row bench seat resulting in an eight-occupant layout compared to seven passengers max in the other trims.
If you have plans to tow a camp trailer or small boat during your summer vacation or use a utility trailer for maintenance and gardening at home or for work, the regular Highlander can pull up to 2,268 kilograms (5,000 lbs) when equipped with a hitch, and the Hybrid is good for 1,588 kilos (3,500 lbs).
I must admit to never having the opportunity to tow a modern-day Highlander, but I can attest to its impressive driving dynamics. First and foremost, both Limited models delivered the smoothest of rides, completely absorbing otherwise intrusive bumps and seeming to float over deep holes and ruts in the city and on the highway. While traveling at higher freeway speeds both were once again wonderfully smooth and totally stable, while braking is strong and progressive, even with the Hybrid’s regenerative system in play.
This came in especially useful when four lanes become two, the highway started wind and I didn’t feel like slowing down. Such moments show the strong and week points of any vehicle, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to call either Highlander a canyon carver, both were quite capable of keeping quick pace through curving mountain roads, and never had me feeling concerned for loss of control.
The two powertrains also provide strong straight-line performance thanks to a direct-injected 3.5-litre V6 engine with variable valve timing, with the conventional design making 295-horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque and the Hybrid’s slightly less responsive Atkinson-cycle version sporting 306 net horsepower and undisclosed twist that’s likely greater than the latter the conventional setup, as it feels noticeably quicker off the line.
On that note I like the feel of the regular Highlander’s more traditional eight-speed automatic more than the Hybrid’s continuously variable transmission, although the CVT features stepped ratios for a normal feel when not pushing too hard. This meant that 99 percent of the time I couldn’t tell much of a difference, as they’re both as smooth in operation as this model’s suspension, but on the occasion I chose to pick up the throttle and get moving the eight-speed auto provided a more sporting experience, aided by an SUV that’s 130 kilos (286 lbs) lighter at 2,100 kilograms (4,630 lbs) compared to 2,230 kg (4,916 lbs) for the Hybrid. Still, that’s not much extra baggage for a hybrid powertrain, batteries and electric motors often weighing considerably more than that.
The Highlander Hybrid’s V6 is actually tuned to maximize efficiency, with its extra motive thrust coming from a pair of permanent magnet synchronous electric motors, one for pulling with the front wheels and another for pushing with those in the rear, their energy derived from a sealed Nickel-Metal Hydride (Ni-MH) traction battery. It doesn’t need to be plugged in, but then again it won’t drive very far on electric power alone, and certainly not quickly when it does.
Both Highlander all-wheel drive systems do a good job of managing slippery road surfaces, even when faced with snow and icy conditions. Of course, all the usual active safety systems like ABS with brake force distribution and brake assist, traction and stability control and more come in to help both base front-wheel and optional all-wheel drive systems, making either Highlander an excellent choice for trekking up the mountain to find snow mid-winter or heading to the cottage for summer vacation.
The biggest differentiator between the two SUVs will be during just such occasions, or particularly when filling up their tanks along the way. The regular Highlander is rated at a very reasonable 11.8 L/100km in the city, 8.7 on the highway and 10.3 combined with its standard front-wheel drivetrain, or 12.1 city, 9.0 highway and 10.6 combined with AWD, whereas the ultra-thrifty Highlander Hybrid gets a claimed 8.1 L/100km city, 8.5 highway and 8.3 combined for the best fuel efficiency in the mainstream mid-size SUV segment.
The only question left to ask is whether the significant fuel savings are worth the extra $6,000 for the less-equipped $50,950 Highlander Hybrid XLE. If you want electrification and your budget isn’t compromised I’d recommend moving one step upward to the as-tested $56,955 Hybrid Limited, being that you’ll be spending the same $6k extra and you’ll be getting all of the same features found on the regular Highlander Limited, which incidentally starts at $50,945. Either way you’ll be enjoying a lot of SUV for the money, with refinement venturing closer to the premium sector than any previous Highlander.
I should also point out the conventionally powered Highlander XLE AWD starts at $44,945, while the base LE FWD and LE AWD models spoken of previously are available from just $36,450 and $38,945 respectively (you can find all 2018 Highlander pricing at CarCostCanada here and pricing for the 2019 Highlander here, plus check out their money saving rebate info and dealer info pricing). You can likely get a pretty sweet deal on a 2018 this time of year, and changes to the 2019 model are minimal, with the LE getting a revised black rocker panel down each side, the XLE’s SE upgrade package becoming its own standalone trim line with new LED fog lamps and a black SE grille, darkened headlight surrounds, plus black SE badges, and lastly the Highlander Hybrid Limited also upgraded with LED fog lamps.
If you can live without some of these improvements and still find the 2018 Highlander you want, go for it. You’ll get an excellent SUV for a decent discount and in three, four or five years time enjoy a better than average resale value. It’s hard to argue against that.
And it’s hard to argue against a good laugh too, so click on the video below to enjoy that crazy TV ad for the 2014 Toyota Highlander I told you about before:
Ever feel like you’re in a fishbowl? Drive a new Toyota C-HR in Radiant Green Mica with a white roof and get ready for gaping eyeballs focused in your direction. Young and old, people point and smile,…
Ever feel like you’re in a fishbowl? Drive a new Toyota C-HR in Radiant Green Mica with a white roof and get ready for gaping eyeballs focused in your direction. Young and old, people point and smile, frown, or just generally look bewildered. It’s a polarizing vehicle. Not everybody likes it, but the ones that do, love it.
Toyota did the unexpected with this subcompact crossover SUV, but I suppose those in the know should’ve expected as much being that the C-HR was initially meant to wear Scion badging. The cancellation of the youth-targeted Scion brand resulted in the C-HR becoming a Toyota, and the unorthodox subcompact SUV’s sales will no doubt benefit from association with a household name brand.
My 2018 C-HR tale actually involves two weeklong drives, one wearing the aforementioned light green and white two-tone colour combo and the other a more conservative yet still eye-arresting Blue Eclipse Metallic monotone paint job. Both were in the same trim level, which I can say with 100-percent accuracy being that Toyota only offers the C-HR as an XLE in Canada.
This one-trim-fits-all approach is another sign of the new C-HR’s Scion history, a marketing strategy that arguably wasn’t successful for Toyota’s sub-brand and hasn’t worked effectively over the C-HR’s first year of availability either. After a fairly decent final seven months of 2017, thanks to 4,321 deliveries after its launch in May last year, Toyota only managed to find 5,188 C-HR buyers over the first nine months of 2018. That might sound reasonable until factoring for Hyundai that managed to find twice as many buyers for its fresh new Kona in just seven months. The newcomer went on sale in March this year and sales had already reached 10,852 units by the close of Q3, whereas Nissan sold nearly three times as many Qashqai crossovers during the same three quarters, and those 14,755 sales don’t even include the new smaller Kicks subcompact that replaces the outgoing Juke.
Now that I’ve mentioned the oddball Juke, this new C-HR is almost as divisive from a styling perspective, which is likely a key reason it’s not selling as well as its more mainstream alternatives. There’s nothing wrong with controversy when trying to make news, but Toyota likely knew from onset its C-HR would become a niche player at best. After all, C-HR stands for “Coupe-High Rider”, the original name of the Scion concept that wowed Los Angeles Auto Show goers three years ago, its fastback 4×4 design mirroring similar four-door coupe-style SUVs within the premium sector, such as the BMW X4/X6, the Mercedes-Benz GLC- and GLE-Class Coupe, the new Audi Q8, and lest we forget the now discontinued Acura ZDX. We’ve seen similar attempts within the mainstream volume sector including Honda’s now defunct Crosstour and the recently introduced Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross, but, Juke aside, the little C-HR is trying to find a niche within a segment that’s usually a lot more practical.
On the positive, the C-HR is a clear sign that Toyota is no longer afraid of being bold and daring. The brand was such a dreadful bore for so long that powers that be in Aichi, Japan, specifically group President Akio Toyoda, truly needed to shake things up by pushing the company’s designers to create new models with more emotional appeal. “No more boring cars,” he challenged, and that’s exactly why we’re looking at this C-HR today.
Just the same, the grille and surrounding fascia aren’t that much of a collective departure from the outgoing RAV4, other than headlights that wrap almost completely around the front of the vehicle before stretching halfway through the front wheel arches, making up a large portion of the hood just above. Again these aren’t completely different from those on the bug-eyed Juke, while the C-HR’s geometrically sculpted side panels are too complex to even put into words, the entire vehicular concoction complemented by massive chunks of matte black body cladding up front, around the wheel cutouts and down each side before culminating across an aggressive diffuser-infused back bumper.
There’s really nothing subtle about the C-HR, it’s rear rooftop spoiler the most racing-inspired design element, visually formed from the top of the rear door handles before flowing rearward, with three big vents cut through the middle for directing wind down the sloping rear glass that gets more theoretical downforce from a secondary lip spoiler on the trailing edge of the hatchback. That spoiler is partly made up of taillight clusters, these almost conventional in their design when compared to the rest of the SUV, that’s about as muscularly overdeveloped as anything the subcompact class has ever seen. It could easily be likened to bodybuilding steroid use gone horribly wrong, but truth be told its many convoluted extremes seem to come together in a totally acceptable cohesive whole. In fact, I kind of like it. Although, truth be told, I liked the Juke, Cube and ZDX too, so I may not be the best judge of successful design.
I am a good judge of interior quality, mind you, and to that end the new C-HR picks up where Scion left off. Another orphan of that disbanded brand was the iM, now replaced by the Corolla Hatchback, but while it was with us that European-designed model totally rewrote interior fit, finish and materials quality in the compact class. I’m not going to say the C-HR is better than the recently updated 2019 Honda HR-V or 2019 Mazda CX-3, both of which were already good before they were improved, or some other impressive offerings within this burgeoning class, but you’re going to like the padded and stitched leatherette dash-top, which includes a large bolster stretching from the right side of the instrument panel to the passenger’s door, while a similar albeit smaller padded piece gets fitted to the left side of the instrument cluster.
The door uppers get the same high-quality soft touch synthetic detailing, while the armrests are even softer and more comfortable. Toyota uses plenty of piano black lacquered plastic inside too, more than I would personally like in fact, although, other than where it’s used to decorate the steering wheel spokes it’s found on surfaces that won’t likely get scratched easily, such as the instrument panel inlays and centre stack surrounds, whereas the door inserts and lower panels are surfaced in a unique diamond-textured hard plastic that’s like nothing else I’ve ever seen in the industry. It looks good and appears durable, while most importantly it doesn’t feel cheap like the segment’s usual glossy hard plastic, plus it kind of complements the even more unusual diamond-shaped dimples carved out of the roofliner above. Again, I’ve never seen anything quite like these, and they’re put here only for the sake of style, having no obvious purpose.
Only the shift knob, vent bezels, door release handles and other small trim bits get any sort of metallic brightwork, and it’s a satin-silver finish that’s quite attractive and tastefully applied, whereas the centre console’s matte black treatment might be the smoothest and softest hard plastic I’ve ever felt in my life. Large cupholders are included, the rearward one having a removable floor for stowing taller, narrow bottles, while the bottle holders in the door panels can accept very large containers.
Also on the positive, the C-HR includes some impressive electronic interfaces. A tall, narrow 4.2-inch colour TFT multi-information display (MID) sits within the primary gauge cluster, and it’s especially nice at night when you can see the dark blue detailing more clearly. The graphics quality is excellent, and the resolution is very good. You can scroll through MID info by clicking the arrows on the right steering wheel spoke, resulting in a comprehensive list of functions from the usual estimated range, average fuel economy, and vehicle settings, to lane departure info, messages, and more. The speedometer and tachometer gauge needles are attractive at night too, their white translucence vibrant against a deep black background, the outer rings effervescent in a dark glowing blue and the indices easily legible in white.
The C-HR’s standard 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen sits up high on the centre stack in the usual fixed tablet-style position, but the interface itself is more Scion than Toyota. I say this because it doesn’t include an integrated backup camera, this feature found on the left portion of the rearview mirror instead. It’s a tiny little parking monitor that’s difficult to use and therefore a big negative for me, while the aforementioned infotainment system isn’t as comprehensively functional as some others in the class, missing Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, navigation, and more. Of note, its “Vehicle Settings” menu is the biggest giveaway that the C-HR was meant for Scion and not Toyota, as along with a tick within the C-HR box, it also shows 86 and iM model names.
There’s an analogue “Media” button for the audio panel that provides radio presets to the left and additional info on the right, the latter featuring a source button that lets you choose between AM, FM, AHA, USB selections, if you’ve got one plugged in, Bluetooth streaming audio, again if your smartphone is connected, and an auxiliary port—ditto. It all worked well enough, and the audio system sounds pretty good too, but take note the 2019 C-HR replaces this so-so system with an infinitely better 8.0-inch display that features a real reverse camera, Toyota’s superb Entune 3.0 smartphone integration with GPS Scout phone app-sourced navigation, Apple CarPlay if you’re phone is so inclined, and more. Believe me, if in-car entertainment is important to you, the near identically equipped 2019 C-HR XLE is well worth paying more for (albeit the Entune 3.0 infotainment system comes standard in a new base model that takes $1,000-plus off the 2018 base price).
Back to this 2018 C-HR XLE, just under the infotainment display is a nicely organized dual-zone automatic HVAC interface featuring tightly fitted, well-damped buttons and rocker switches, plus three-way front seat heater controls. All of the switchgear feels high in quality, is simple to sort out and, like the rest of the centre stack controls, is within easy reach.
Easy might just be the right word to describe living with the C-HR overall, because, rear camera aside, there’s really nothing particularly difficult about it. It’s a vehicle that fits ideally into life, not only because of its tall hatchback layout that provides a reasonable amount of room for driver, passengers and gear, but it’s also very comfortable. The front seats are excellent, which is rarely an issue for Toyota, while its driving position is better for my body type than some other Toyota models. I have longer legs than torso, and therefore am often in need of a fair bit of steering wheel reach, so I was pleasantly surprised to find the C-HR’s tilt and telescopic steering column provided good driver positioning for controllable comfort without forcing a near vertical seatback.
Even though I’m only five-foot-eight, the five or so inches remaining above my head when the driver’s seat was ideally set for optimal visibility is a good tell that even tall folks should have no trouble fitting inside. There’s also plenty of room from side to side up front, while the back seat left about four inches ahead of my knees when the one in front was set up for my height, plus another four or so next to my shoulders and about three beside my hips, whereas all-important rear headroom allowed for about three above my head.
There’s no folding centre armrest, which might be a drawback for some, but the C-HR makes up for this with extremely comfortable rear cushions, especially with respect to lower back support. One thing I didn’t like about sitting in the rear was side window visibility due to the unusually shaped doors, which cause you to look directly into a black panel when turning your head. For this reason I don’t think kids will like it in back, even taller teens, and that should be a concern for any parent. I have to say, however, the jumbo cupholders set into the door panels will probably get a lot of use.
As you might expect by looking at the C-HR’s sloping rear window, cargo space is one of this SUV’s shortcomings. It’s so small in fact, that Toyota Canada doesn’t even mention a number in the model’s online specifications, only stating that 1,031 litres (36.4 cubic feet) are available when laying both 60/40-split rear seatbacks down. Fortunately the brand’s U.S. division is more forthcoming, claiming 19 cubic feet behind those rear seats, which translates into 538 litres. Compared to the segment-best-selling Nissan Qashqai’s 648 litres (22.9 cubic feet) in the very back and 1,730 litres (61.1 cubic feet) with all seats folded its easy to see the need for improvement, while even the tiny Nissan Kicks offers up 716 litres (25.3 cubic feet) behind the rear seatbacks and more than 1,500 litres (53.1 cubic feet) when its rear seats are lowered.
The C-HR’s forte is its high quality, comfortable ride, the car looking as sporty as this segment gets yet not particularly zippy off the line or sensational through the corners, despite MacPherson struts up front and a double-wishbone/trailing arm suspension setup in back. Don’t get me wrong as it does what it needs to do, but the C-HR is nowhere near as confidence inspiring when pushed hard as some others in the class, while the 144-horsepower and 139 lb-ft of torque produced by its 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, not to mention the fuel-friendly continuously variable transmission (CVT) and front-wheel drivetrain its connected to, really don’t combine for enough forward thrust to get you into much trouble anyway. To be fair most of rivals aren’t exactly burning up the asphalt either, but there are some, like the Kona mentioned earlier, that deliver considerably more premium-level performance. As noted, the C-HR shines when comfort is priority one, its ride and those aforementioned seats amongst the best in class.
Fuel economy is a C-HR trump card too, with a Transport Canada estimated rating of 8.7 L/100km in the city, 7.5 on the highway and 8.2 combined. I certainly appreciated this during the ultra-high pump prices experienced over the summer, and would still find this a positive point despite those fuel costs dropping somewhat since the price per barrel of crude plummeted to previously unforeseen depths.
Before signing off with thumbs up or down, the 2018 C-HR’s biggest problem isn’t its so-so performance or smallish cargo hold, but rather the single trim noted earlier. Its sole XLE trim level starts at a rather lofty $24,690 plus freight and fees (find 2018 Toyota C-HR prices, including options, rebate info and dealer invoice pricing at CarCostCanada), and while standard with the colour multi-information display, 7.0-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth, dual-zone automatic climate control, and heatable front seats mentioned earlier, plus voice recognition, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter knob, an electromechanical parking brake, a cargo cover, heated side mirrors with integrated turn signals, LED daytime running lights, 17-inch alloy wheels, and more, there’s no entry-level base model to pull in less affluent buyers. This is probably more of a problem for dealer level marketing, as they won’t be able to advertise the lower monthly payment of a base model, but instead are forced to promote what they’ll actually be selling—how novel. Of course, Toyota didn’t take long to react, with the 2019 model offering the new $23,675 base model mentioned earlier, plus a luxury-oriented leather-lined $28,775 Limited model at the high end, while this XLE trim will start at $25,725 for 2019 (find all 2019 Toyota C-HR prices, including trims, options, rebate info and dealer invoice pricing at CarCostCanada).
All 2019 C-HR trims will come standard with the same Safety Sense P suite of advanced driver assistance features included with this 2018 version, which boasts forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, plus automatic high beams and adaptive cruise control.
I won’t go into everything that comes standard and optional with the new 2019 C-HR, but those still trying to get a deal on a 2018 model should take note that an XLE Premium package ups the price to $26,290 (the 2019 C-HR XLE Premium gets bumped to $27,325) and includes 18-inch alloys, power-folding side mirrors with puddle lamps that project the C-HR logo onto the pavement below, proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, and blindspot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert. I’d want mine so equipped for the passive entry alone, but I’m guessing this time of year you won’t exactly have a smorgasbord of 2018 models to choose from.
All in all, the new C-HR is a funky little subcompact SUV offering from a brand that normally can be relied upon for high quality, reliability and top resale values, although I’m not going on record with any big expectations for the latter. This is a niche model within a very hot category of much more popular models, and C-HR sales have been lukewarm at best. Therefore, hoping for a big residual payoff after a few years of use is misplaced trust. In other words, the C-HR isn’t the most pragmatic choice in this class, with plenty of others that might better serve your active lifestyle as well as your wallet. I give Toyota credit for going out on a limb with this unorthodox subcompact SUV, but I don’t necessarily recommend you go out on the same limb with your hard-earned money. It’s worthy of your interest for sure, but buy it because you love it, not because it wears the coveted Toyota badge.
Sad but true, one of the best compact Toyota models to come along since the Matrix is going the way of the dodo. Fortunately for small five-door lovers the Corolla iM is being replaced with the all-new…
Sad but true, one of the best compact Toyota models to come along since the Matrix is going the way of the dodo. Fortunately for small five-door lovers the Corolla iM is being replaced with the all-new 2019 Corolla Hatchback, and while I have yet to test the latter I can tell you right now it’ll need to be very good to even match the iM.
The Corolla Hatchback certainly appears like a worthy replacement, while to be honest the iM is probably starting to look a bit dated. And let’s be fair. It started out as the second-generation Auris in 2012, a Euro-spec Toyota that came to North America as the Scion iM in 2015 as a 2016 model. I drove that car in a bright day-glow yellow dubbed Spring Green, and was duly impressed by its performance, interior design, fit, finish and materials quality, standard feature set, and general goodness all-round, so therefore it was easy to accept the 2017 Corolla iM that surfaced the following year, which after just two model years is being sent to pasture.
As a send off, Toyota gave me two to play with one final time. While Spring Green is still shown as available on the brand’s retail website, my testers included a Barcelona Red Metallic painted version with the base six-speed manual, and an Electric Storm Blue example with the optional automatic, or rather continuously variable transmission (CVT). Alternatively, black, silver or white can be had, the latter being the only optional paint due to a pearlescent finish, but truthfully we’re getting to the end of the line so you may have to take what your dealer has on offer if you’ve got your heart set on a Corolla iM.
Why not wait for the Corolla Hatchback instead? I can’t recommend the new model or criticize it, but I’d be surprised if it comes finished to the same impressive levels as the iM. This said the new Corolla Hatchback is also the third-generation Auris in Europe, so it should also be above average when compared to similar North American offerings, unless they dumb our version down by cutting corners on interior quality—we already know the fully independent suspension is up to snuff. Let’s keep our collective fingers crossed, or alternatively take what we can get while the gettin’s good.
Let’s start with the mechanicals. Behind the iM’s sloping snout is a 16-valve, DOHC, 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine with Valvetronic, which puts out 137 horsepower and 126 lb-ft of torque for plenty of zoot off the line and no shortage of passing power. Of course, it feels a lot more energetic when mated to its six-speed manual, but that said the aforementioned CVT is actually Toyota’s CVT-S autobox, the “S” standing for Sport. Basically it features a shift lever-actuated manual mode that swaps “cogs” quite quickly and effectively, mimicking the real deal to the point of enjoyment, which makes it quite the rarity amongst CVTs that are normally the antithesis of sporty. The CVT-S also provides a Sport mode, accessible from a button on the lower console. Again, it adds some zest to the iM experience when wanting to let your hair down, but it’s nothing to get too excited about.
Another reason to choose the CVT-S over the manual is fuel economy, the six-speed quite efficient yet not as thrifty as the autobox at 8.8 L/100km city, 6.8 highway and 7.9 combined compared to 8.3 city, 6.5 highway and 7.5 combined. Whether or not the fuel savings are enough to make up for the automatic’s $835 hit to your wallet will come down to how you drive and the distances covered, but it’s possible the expense will even itself out after a few years. Of course, it’ll be well worth the extra charge if you don’t drive stick or would rather not, plus if you’re paying monthly the difference between $22,750 and $23,585 is nominal.
Incidentally, I sourced the Corolla iM’s retail pricing at CarCostCanada.com, which is the most comprehensive new vehicle pricing resource in Canada, not only supplying every available trim and option plus the cost of each, but also showing otherwise hard-to-find dealer invoice pricing and up-to-the-moment rebate info so you can get the best possible deal when showing up at the retailer. And considering the Corolla iM is about to be replaced for good, you should be able to work out a very good deal if you’re well armed with information.
Those capable of more hand, foot coordination, or willing to learn, will benefit from a slick six-speed manual gearbox and a nicely weighted clutch, the base model a lot sportier and more enjoyable to drive due to the DIY gearbox alone, and while modulating the pedals can provide greater control through sharp, fast-paced corners, the iM’s adept suspension does most of the work.
As hinted about earlier, behind the scenes is a fully independent suspension that flies in the face of the regular Corolla sedan’s rear twist-beam setup, the iM’s much more sophisticated and considerably more expensive independent rear suspension (IRS) capable of providing near unflappable high speed cornering on smooth or even bumpy road surfaces, its multi-link rear design ideal for keeping rear end planted on the road no matter the pavement irregularities encountered. The ride quality is plenty smooth too, making this particular Corolla perfect for long, high-speed trips on the open freeway.
If the Corolla iM could get any better, I’d be inclined to place its aforementioned interior attributes at an even higher level than its ride and handling prowess. When I say the cabin gets close to premium, I’m not merely copping an overused term in order to imply that it includes a number of luxury sector features that give it a wannabe-premium flair, but rather it really does have an impressively finished passenger compartment. First off, the A-pillars come wrapped in the same high-quality woven fabric as the roofliner, while a better than average soft-touch synthetic covers the entire dash top, the upper half of the instrument panel, and the tops each front door panel.
Even better, Toyota added a contrast-stitched pad to both sides of the lower console for resting front occupant inside knees, this complementing an attractive and comfortable set of contrast-stitched padded fabric armrests and door inserts. Lastly, contrast-stitched leather surrounds the steering wheel, shift knob, boot, and handbrake lever, while Toyota turned to piano black lacquer and metallic trim for spiffing up some of the hard surfaces, plus a sporty motorcycle-inspired circular gauge cluster, very good quality switchgear, a touchscreen infotainment system that’s still better than what a lot of newer cars have on offer, and two stylishly upholstered, heavily bolstered, truly comfortable cloth sport seats.
If you’re not quite convinced, the iM’s standard features list might drive its value proposition home more effectively, thanks to auto on/off halogen projector headlamps with LED DRLs, LED side mirror turn signals, LED taillights, machine-finished 17-inch alloys with grey painted pockets, remote access, heatable, power-folding, power-adjustable side mirrors, a tilt and telescopic leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, cruise control, variable intermittent wipers, dual-zone automatic climate control, illuminated vanity mirrors, an overhead console with a nicely lined sunglasses holder, a 4.2-inch colour TFT multi-information display, a large high-resolution 7.0-inch Pioneer infotainment/display audio system with very nice graphics, a backup camera, Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming, voice recognition, and a six-speaker AM/FM/USB/AUX stereo featuring Aha, internet radio, POI search, Gracenote, and more.
The move to Toyota last year meant this Corolla-badged iM now gets even more safety gear, so along with the usual four-wheel discs with ABS, brake assist, electronic brake-force distribution, traction and stability control, plus Smart Stop Technology that stops the car when both throttle and brake pedals are pressed simultaneously, all being part of the Japanese brand’s Star Safety System, as well as the usual assortment of airbags, including one for the driver’s knees and another for the front passenger’s seat cushion, the Corolla iM includes the entry version of the Toyota Safety Sense (TSS) system, dubbed TSS-C, the “C” short for Collision. TSS-C includes auto-dimming high beams, autonomous emergency braking, and lane departure alert, while the higher end TSS-P adds autonomous braking with Pedestrian detection, lane keep assist, and adaptive cruise control.
On this note, the Corolla iM doesn’t make the IIHS’ Top Safety Pick Plus or even Top Safety Pick list, the latter of which includes the regular Corolla, but perhaps this is more to do with not having its autonomous braking system tested. After all, the IIHS gives it best-possible “Good” ratings for its moderate front overlap and side crash tests, so if its small overlap front, roof strength, plus head restraint and seat tests were done it could very well get the same Top Safety Pick score as its four-door sibling. Also, the NHTSA has never tested the iM, whether in its earlier Scion incarnation or under its new Toyota Corolla nameplate.
While this generous load of standard features is impressive, the Corolla iM’s one-trim-fits-all strategy shows the weakness of the original Scion business model. On one hand it doesn’t allow for a stripped down base model capable of going head-to-head against competitors’ lower price points, which are often used just for marketing purposes, getting would-be buyers down to the dealership so they can be upsold into something with the iM’s level of features, but it’s an effective approach just the same, while on the other hand it doesn’t allow for the types of high end features that might make the iM more appealing to those willing to spend more for a premium-like experience. For instance, the iM can’t be had with proximity keyless access, pushbutton ignition, parking sensors, leather upholstery, cooled front and heatable rear seats, a regular moonroof let alone a panoramic glass roof, navigation, a surround camera, etcetera.
Toyota does offer dealer-installed accessories, mind you, including a larger rear rooftop spoiler, an infotainment upgrade with navigation, a Bongiovi Acoustics DPS audio upgrade, and interior ambient lighting with interchangeable blue, turquoise, green, yellow, red, purple and white colour choices.
I know, the ability to choose between ambient colours might sound a bit frivolous to those merely looking for a good quality car with a modicum of performance at a great price, so don’t bring it up and your local Toyota salesperson probably won’t either. After all, interior roominess and comfort is a much more important subject matter, neither of which should cause you concern unless you’re much taller than average. I’m only five-foot-eight, which is about average for a Canadian guy, so I had room galore up front, although take note the steering column’s telescopic reach doesn’t extend far enough rearward to make up for body types with longer legs than torsos/arms. This is true for most Toyotas, forcing me to position the driver’s seatback at an unnaturally upright angle in order to grasp the top portion of steering wheel rim, and even then it’s not comfortable and doesn’t provide optimal control. Certainly I could drive it, but for this reason alone I wouldn’t buy it. This will affect everyone differently, so make sure you test it out before singing on the bottom line.
As for rear seat roominess, I left the driver’s seat positioned for my height and sat behind to find about five inches of space ahead of my knees and plenty of room for my shoes below, plus there was almost as much space above my head. Toyota provides a flip-down centre armrest with integrated cupholders, which honestly was a bit low for my arm to rest comfortably, but it’s probably perfect for kids, while I’m guessing a smallish third passenger would be more than comfortable in the middle seat.
Toyota finishes off the cargo compartment nicely, by wrapping the floor, seatbacks and sidewalls in quality carpeting, while just below the load floor is a shallow storage bin above the spare tire. Additionally, four chromed tie-down rings are helpful for attaching a cargo net or strapping something down that might otherwise fall over during the drive. The rear seatbacks fold in the usual 60/40-split configuration, expanding the already sizeable 588-litre (20.8 cubic-foot) cargo area to a much more accommodating albeit undisclosed maximum capacity.
If the Corolla iM fits your size and style, I can certainly recommend it for all the other reasons just mentioned. It’s a great little five-door hatchback that moves the entire compact car sector up a notch or two in materials quality and refinement, while delivering a sporty driving experience in an all-round efficient package. Get it while you can, or check out the new 2019 Corolla Hatchback that could’ve just as easily been given the iM moniker.