A Quirky New Subcompact Crossover From Toyota

By Dan Ilika Mar 08, 2017 Photos by Dan Ilika. Video by Brett Colpitts.

FAST FACTS
Engine: 2.0L 4-cylinder
Output: 144 hp, 139 lb-ft
Transmission: Continuously-variable auto
US Fuel Economy (MPG): 27 city, 31 hwy
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): Unavailable
US Price: Starts at $22,500
CAN Price: Unavailable

It’s hard to believe, considering the automaker practically pioneered the compact crossover segment, that Toyota waited this long to introduce something smaller than its popular RAV4.

More surprising still, the Toyota C-HR wasn’t even planned as a Toyota in the first place and was supposed to hit the North American market bearing a Scion badge. However, that brand’s demise opened the door to a tiny Toyota ready to take on the likes of the Nissan Juke and Honda HR-V, among others, in a segment that’s set to explode.

Unconventional Styling

That the C-HR was initially intended to be Scion’s first crossover, subcompact or otherwise, is useful in explaining its looks, which are polarizing to say the least. In the C-HR, Toyota has reached into the Mercedes-Benz bag of tricks, consecrating the quirky crossover a coupe based on its low-slung roof line. The claim is a ridiculous one, of course, and the C-HR is no more a coupe than the Chevrolet Tahoe is an economical choice next to the Suburban.

Considering just how unusual it appears from all other angles, the C-HR’s front fascia is decidedly less so. In fact, park it next to the breadwinning RAV4 and the two are nearly indistinguishable outside of their differences in proportion and height. These similarities are rooted in the need to create a familial face, but they don’t extend much further than their front ends.

ALSO SEE: 2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Review

Look at the C-HR in profile and its radical design truly begins to take shape. The crossover’s conspicuous character lines pick up where the headlights taper off and work their way back, creating pronounced front fenders that provide a bold appearance. Continuing across the doors, the character lines come to an arrow-like point just before reaching the corner of the taillight to once again give the C-HR an impressive — and aggressive — stance.

Around back, the similarities between the C-HR and the Honda Civic hatchback are hard to ignore. While the C-HR is a crossover and thus stands slightly taller than the Civic, both share the same wedge-like tailgate design and C-shaped taillights. Coupled with the cascading roofline, and the C-HR is a short and stout package that is as compact as it is quirky.

Plenty of Passenger Space

The C-HR’s slight exterior proportions don’t, however, result in a cramped cabin. Its wheelbase spans just 103.9 inches (2,639 millimeters), though the vast majority of that space has been dedicated to the passenger area. The first row is home to a roomy 43.5 inches (1,105 mm) of legroom, while those in the second row are treated to 31.7 inches (805 mm) to stretch their legs. The latter measurement may seem short, but there’s still plenty of space in the second row — particularly for those who come up short of the height restrictions to ride the average rollercoaster.

Likewise, headroom in either row is enough for most. With no sunroof available, the C-HR offers 38.1 inches (968 mm) of space to upright in the front seats and 38.3 inches (973 mm) in the rear, surprising figures given the raked roofline. Hip- and shoulder room, too, are more than ample, and don’t leave the cabin feeling too cozy.

ALSO SEE: 2017 MINI Countryman Review

Accessing the C-HR’s second row can be challenging, with rear doors that don’t swing open very wide. This may pose potential problems for parents when it comes to installing car seats. Alleviating at least some of those possible profanities when it comes time to strap a seat in place are LATCH anchors that are conveniently located behind velcro flaps for easy access.

The C-HR also comes up short in the cargo compartment, with limited space on hand. With only 19 cu-ft (538 liters) of cargo room with the rear seats upright, it offers substantially more space than the Nissan Juke (10.5 cu-ft, 297 liters) but far less than the Honda HR-V (24.3 cu-ft, 688 liters). The tailgate opening is, however, wide enough to accommodate larger items without the need to be apt in the art of Tetris.

Bucking the Boring Trend

Underpinning the C-HR is a variation of the architecture that is shared by the likes of the current Prius and the upcoming redesigned Camry. With plenty of torsional rigidity and a low center of gravity, the C-HR features a taut chassis that is atypical of a crossover. Add in wheels that sit about as close to the corners as possible and actual steering feel and feedback, and the C-HR a nimble package that borders on fun.

Adding to the enjoyment is the C-HR’s suspension setup. With MacPherson struts up front and double wishbones at each rear wheel, the subcompact crossover does well to absorb bumps and road imperfections with few to no bumps reverberating into the cabin. But it’s the addition of Sachs dampers at all four corners that reduce rebound rates to keep the suspension from slopping its way around corners.

Considering just how engaging and enjoyable the C-HR can be on a twisty road, the engine propelling the C-HR is an underwhelming one. With a 2.0-liter four-cylinder under the hood, the C-HR is good for just 144 horsepower and 139 lb-ft of torque. Both of those figures are on par with others in the segment, but given the way the C-HR tackles turns a torquey turbo engine would enhance the crossover’s otherwise impressive performance.

ALSO SEE: 2017 Kia Niro Review

Power from the naturally-aspirated engine is sent to the front wheels through a continuously-variable automatic, the only transmission offered in North America. While CVTs rarely impress, the one in the C-HR isn’t so bad. It does suffer from some of the rubber-banding typical of these transmissions, but this particular one is fairly linear under acceleration. It does, however, seem like paddle shifters would be a good fit in this fun-to-drive CUV.

Also somewhat disappointing is the crossover’s official fuel economy ratings. The C-HR is rated at 27 mpg in the city and 31 on the highway, which is the same as the Honda HR-V with all-wheel drive, and doesn’t quite cut it considering the C-HR is only available in a front-wheel drive layout. It does, however, seem as though there’s room to improve on those numbers without too much effort. Resetting the trip computer after shooting our video review saw the C-HR hold steady at a combined fuel consumption of 34.2 mpg before traffic forced it down to a still-respectable 33.4 mpg after almost 70 miles of driving.

Driving a Big Bargain

While the C-HR’s cabin features few flashy thrills, its design is a modern and clean one to be sure. Plenty of unique textured materials are strewn throughout, while relevant controls are easily within view — and reach — of the driver. It’s part of a driver-centric approach designers took with the C-HR aimed at limiting distractions behind the wheel.

There’s also plenty of standard content that’s been poured into the C-HR without breaking the bank. With only two trims available — XLE and XLE Premium — the subcompact crossover starts at just $22,500, and comes with a great suite of standard safety features, including adaptive cruise control and autonomous emergency braking.

ALSO SEE: 2017 Toyota Prius Prime Review

Also along for the ride is a dual-zone automatic climate control system and backup camera, and a standard seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system that sits atop the dash. Smartphone interfacing systems Apple CarPlay and Android Auto aren’t included just yet, but don’t be surprised if that’s part of the package shortly. The infotainment system also lacks satellite radio, though Bluetooth audio streaming is built in to make up for the lack of a CD player.

Stepping up to the XLE Premium trim brings the price up to $24,350, and adds a few features, including blind spot monitoring and foglights, to round out the Scion-esque trim walk. Leather seats aren’t available, but the standard cloth ones offer plenty of comfort and support.

The Verdict: 2018 Toyota C-HR Review

The 2018 Toyota C-HR may be a crossover, but it’s easily as fun as any compact hatchback on the market. With surprising driving dynamics, it’s a turbocharged engine away from being a full-blown riot on the roads. While some folks may be dissuaded by the lack of available all-wheel drive, putting power to all four wheels isn’t necessary — and, indeed, wouldn’t do the C-HR many favors.

The C-HR may be on the expensive end of subcompact crossovers, but it’s still priced reasonably while remaining the only vehicle in its class to offer adaptive cruise control as standard equipment. Add it all up, and the C-HR looks like a solid entry in a field that will no doubt become increasingly crowded in the coming years.

LOVE IT
Plenty of passenger space
Surprising driving dynamics
Standard active safety features

LEAVE IT
No available all-wheel drive
Tiny cargo compartment
Limited infotainment features

Pocket

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