2018 Toyota C-HR XLE
2.0-liter inline-4, DOHC (144 hp @ 6,100 rpm, 139 lb-ft @ 3,900 rpm)
Continuously-variable transmission, front-wheel drive
27 city / 31 highway / 29 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
28.4 (observed mileage, MPG)
Base Price: $23,460 (USD)
As Tested: $23,783
Prices include $960 freight charge.
Imagine if automotive history were flipped a bit, and that crossovers were the default compact family vehicle for decades, rather than sedans. We’d be reliving the “longer, lower, wider” craze of the late ‘50s in the modern era, but with revolutionary things called “hatchbacks.”
Really, that’s all a subcompact crossover is — a hatchback with a bit of ground clearance, and sometimes a higher roof. It’s a repackaging of an older concept to market to new customers.
Toyota was the trailblazer in the car-based SUV business with the original RAV4, subsequently building up a solid lineup of crossovers large and small. Now, with the polarizing styling and compact dimensions of the 2018 Toyota C-HR, Big T takes aim at the entry level. Will the funky styling bring buyers, or will they shield their eyes?
Many car companies have been lambasted (Toyota definitely among them) for building dull-looking cars. Nobody can call the C-HR boring.
It is, however, a bit odd, with curves, slashes, and contours clashing over every surface. In my tester’s dark grey finish, it’s a little bit stealthy — some of the more vibrant hues on offer highlight the C-HR’s serious funkiness. The line created by the lower edge of the side windows dramatically rises to meet the drooping black line that creates a “floating” roof — and also places the door handles for those rear doors in a rather high position.
I’m not a fan of those high handles, as the C-HR is likely to be driven by young families with kids who need to get in the back seat by themselves, and who will find themselves thwarted by a handle well out of their reach. I’m sure the targeted demographic is young, upwardly mobile (I hate the term “millennial”) singles or couples without kids, but eventually many of those couples do what couples do and 9 months later the note on a minivan is hard to swallow on top of a five-plus-figure obstetrics bill.
My first-generation Nissan Pathfinder similarly had the rear door handles up high on the C-pillar, which caused issues for kids as well.
I mentioned the ground clearance advantage that a crossover theoretically holds over a traditional car. The C-HR doesn’t meet that criteria within Toyota’s own lineup, because dimensionally it’s an oddball — it has 5.9 inches of ground clearance, compared to 5.5 inches in the subcompact Yaris, and 6.7 inches in the apparently trail-ready Corolla. Overall roof height favors the C-HR, at 61.6 inches, compared to 59.4 and 57.3 for the Yaris and Corolla, respectively. Those numbers add up to a somewhat larger cabin than you’d expect; 102.8 cubic feet of interior volume versus 85.1 on the Yaris, and 97.5 on the Corolla. For a little vehicle, it’s reasonably roomy, but it doesn’t fit the traditional ideal of a SUV.
Another notch against the C-HR if you are looking for an SUV alternative: no all-wheel drive. It’s not even available. Whether it needs all-wheel drive is another matter. Unless the snow or ice gets seriously deep, front-wheel drive paired with good tires will work well in all weather conditions. I didn’t get to test in anything beyond rain, but anecdotal reports from acquaintances who own their own C-HRs tell me that it performs as well as any other front-drive car.
A positive regarding the car-like nature of this crossover — it actually handles very nicely, with some driving experiences leaning dangerously close to the fun side of the equation. Body roll is minimal when cornering, and turn-in is sharp and immediate. The highway ride is firm but composed, and the response from the 144 hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder isn’t too blunted by the continuously-variable transmission, which does better than most at anticipating the appropriate drive ratio for the situation.
I did include a long drive in my week with the C-HR, and as I mentioned the ride itself is quite good. However, I struggled with the front seats. While the seat is adjustable for rake, reach, and lower-cushion height, I couldn’t find a position that fit me well. I blame what seem to be very short lower bolsters, as the time I spent on that 5 hour road trip left my hamstrings in agony for several days after the drive. The seat’s front edge seemed to dig in, cutting off circulation.
At well over six feet tall, I’ll concede that I am dimensionally a freak, so many drivers may not suffer behind the wheel like I did. But if you are a 90th percentile adult, ask your Toyota dealer for a longer-than-typical test drive before signing.
Beyond the seats, there were a few details that seemed quite odd in the otherwise well-laid-out interior. Note these odd projections from the inner door panel that seem to support the exterior mirrors. One would have thought that either the door panel could be made into one continuous piece to cover this area, or that the mounting for the exterior mirror could be lowered 20mm or so to better fit this window line. Either way, it looks to be a symptom of the interior and exterior styling teams not talking until entirely too late in the ramp-up to production.
Toyota quotes 19.0 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats. I’m not certain how useful every one of those cubes are, however, as the space is rather shallow due to a high load floor and the dramatically-slanted rear window. It’s enough to haul groceries or a few larger items, but bulky stuff will require folding of the rear seat.
Toyota is incredibly bold for taking a chance on such an unusually-styled subcompact crossover. While I’m obviously not demographically or physically right for the C-HR, I’m seeing plenty of them on the road. There are clearly enough drivers who like a little funk with their commute.
[Images: © 2018 Chris Tonn/TTAC]