There’s something you need to know before digesting all of the details about the 2018 Toyota C-HR crossover SUV. It was initially drafted and conceived as a Scion. But a funny thing happened on the way to the sales market. Toyota killed the Scion brand. So, like the current Corolla iM and Yaris iA, which initially launched as Scions but quickly traded their badges for Toyota ones, the C-HR now waves the Toyota flag.
There’s another bit that makes the C-HR somewhat unique among crossovers. All-wheel drive is not offered, even as an option. Not that most folks would strictly need the poor-traction advantage of AWD in even a portion of their driving circumstances, but it is a shortcoming for a crossover SUV (“CUV”), regardless. And with Scion gone, there is no functional equivalent to the once-popular and cube-like Scion xB; the C-HR is Toyota’s nearest of kin.
To its credit, the new C-HR does come with a bevy of standard equipment wrapped in a very busy five-door hatchback form which sits higher than most small cars, but a bit lower than most small CUVs, and that also hints at something significant.
Lacking both the room of most CUVs inside and the rocky road capability outside, the C-HR is not a CUV of any off-roading stripe at all. That makes it nothing more than a tall and small car with rear door handles perched high enough to prove mighty frustrating for the eight-year-old in this testing family. (The C-HR is not unique on this front; several small CUVs including the Honda HR-V have high-positioned rear door handles, a poor choice in the author’s opinion.)
With flashy looks and room-pinching dimensions, the C-HR is a compromised CUV at best and a mildly space-inefficient small hatch at worst, which is a confusing conundrum for the market with Toyota’s own Prius C, Yaris, and the aforementioned Corolla iM as stable mates. In fact, the Corolla iM has two cubic feet greater cargo capacity with the rear seats up and six more cubes than the C-HR with the seats folded.
Judge the C-HR by its surfaces (with all that tension) and also by the current ad campaign and it is clear Toyota wishes to present the C-HR as an individualist solution to the steady stream of small, entry-level crossover SUVs against which it competes. That list includes Nissan’s funky Juke, Honda’s unlovely HR-V, Mazda’s stylish CX-3, Jeep’s off-road-ready Renegade and Kia’s cool Soul. The C-HR is certainly flashier than those competitors, but so is a diamond-crusted clutch purse at the 7-Eleven. And that clutch purse offers neither all-wheel drive nor great cargo capacity.
Design: 5.7 rating
Fussy. Busy. Anharmonic. There’s just no way around the C-HR’s clashing and overwrought design.
To be sure, there is a design theory – academic, though it may be – that posits smaller forms need more design details than much larger forms (and conversely, larger ones should have less detail and fuss). Range Rover proves the success of that theory put to the automobile at one end of the spectrum. But the C-HR takes that theory out for a long, painful walk into the woods and gets lost. A rising window sill, a high stance, wavy troughs that denote fenders and haphazard accents do make things interesting. Pleasing is something else.
On the other hand, the interior feels both smart and purposeful, with a bit of whimsy despite the somber black color (the only available color; there should be more). Diamond-shaped texture in the door panels and headliner break up the expected, and soft-touch material covers the dashboard and upper door panels. Among the chief competitive, affordable small CUVs, the C-HR’s interior feels among the richest.
In a blemish-free interior, one minor shortcoming is the rear parcel shelf covering the cargo area. It’s essentially mesh netting with a stiff frame. You cannot sit anything over about 8 ounces on it, plus it feels chintzy, though it takes virtually no space to stow when the rears seats are lowered for bigger items. So the storage gods give and then the design gods take away.
Comfort: 6.0 rating
Despite interior volume numbers proving it has a fairly roomy interior, the C-HR does not feel especially roomy inside. It’s actually built on a medium-sized car platform and offers a bit more width than others in its class, but because of the rising window sills and thick rear roof pillars, rear seat occupants can feel a bit closed-in despite a relatively high perch, especially if they’re adult-sized humans.
But with the seat positioned properly for my 6′ 1″ self, my left blind spot was enlarged well past normal size by the forward-placed center roof pillar; further forward relative to one’s driving position than any other vehicle I’ve sampled in this segment. The seat bottom’s cushion also short-changed my legs on support. Long drives for long legs will be long on fatigue. The cloth upholstery though, is about as good as it gets in this category.
The C-HR’s ventilation controls and buttons are quite simple in their layout with a soft, roundish shape to them echoed by the multifunction buttons on the steering wheel. Gloss black trim on the dashboard and steering wheel rim’s inner section look good, but will likely scratch and wear poorly over time. Noise isolation is above-par for the segment, however.
And finally, while it’s not an interior comfort consideration per se, those highly elevated rear door handles are not the best idea for short people. A large preponderance of the population who will occupy that rear seat (little kids) might have difficulty reaching or operating the handle at such a height. Honda’s H-RV also uses rear handles placed up high, but not at quite the same altitude.
Controls: 7.0 rating
From the driver’s seat, the C-HR offers the positive, logical controls one has come to expect from Toyota.
Smaller concerns and nitpicking include how the seat belt partially blocks the front seatback levers. Since they also are positioned pretty far back towards the fulcrum of the seatback, they require a longer reach than other manual adjusters. Oddly, the C-HR offers power lumbar support adjustment even though the rest of the seat is a full manual proposition.
The C-HR also inherits the Scion-planned head unit for audio, phone and infotainment, but that infotainment does not include the basics of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto (more on this below).
Utility: 5.5 rating
The C-HR uses a normal shifter taking up space in the center console, yet offers lots of storage for small items. You should have no trouble finding spots in which to stash stuff.
Loading cargo is made easier thanks to a 60/40-split folding rear seats that stows deeply for a flat load floor, a helpful feature and unusual in the segment. However, cargo lift-over height is high, at over 30 inches to my measurement, versus about 25 for the Honda HR-V. This taller load height negates to some degree the flat floor’s positive contribution to utility.
Meanwhile, the C-HR’s 19 cubic feet of cargo space with rear seats up is below par. Maximum cargo space measures 36 cubic feet with the seats folded, which is also shy of the mark compared to other CUVs, many of which have all-wheel-drive hardware under the floor, like Honda’s HR-V with 23/56 cubic feet with rear seats up/stowed, even when configured with all-wheel-drive.
Technology: 5.5 rating
Here’s a non-starter for the exact Millennials Toyota is banking on reaching with the C-HR: Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are not available, even optionally. As a Scion-developed car, that now-dead brand’s radio head unit carries into the present but lacks those basic capabilities. Further, factory navigation is also not available.
Thankfully, the Bluetooth connection works fine for phone operation. But you’ll need to invest in a phone cradle in order to navigate unfamiliar roads with technological assistance. Less severe an omission, but an omission just the same, is the lone USB port in the C-HR’s interior.
Safety: Not Rated
All C-HRs (and not just the Premium models) get most of the current active safety system technologies including forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning with steering assist, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high beams.
If you want blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, you need to upgrade to the C-HR Premium. Blind spot visibility is fairly poor in the C-HR, thanks to that rising windowsill line, the forward-placed roof pillar beside the driver, thick rear roof pillars, and a shallow rear window, making that blind spot monitoring system a sorta-kinda requirement.
All C-HRs also have ten airbags, a rearview camera and hill-start assist (a hill-holding feature). This new Toyota has not yet been crash-tested by the U.S. government or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Power and Performance: 4.3 rating
The C-HR’s 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine makes 144 horsepower and 139 lb.-ft. of torque, sent to the front wheels through a CVT (continuously variable transmission) programmed to simulate seven actual gears.
Don’t expect high speed. Don’t expect brisk acceleration. Don’t expect to get out of that Peterbilt’s way when merging onto the turnpike by summoning those 144 horses, because each horse fights an uphill (and losing) battle against this, perhaps the worst execution of a CVT on the market today.
This is the only transmission available and forms one of the chief Achilles heels of the C-HR. Perhaps if the CVT allowed more slip (or what transmission engineers call “stall speed”) so the engine could get into its high-ish powerband at lower road speeds, things would be better. But no dice here. The C-HR’s hefty 3,300-pound curb weight does itself no favors, either. This crossover drives more like a golf cart than a go-kart.
All that sloth might even be worth it if the C-HR delivered great fuel economy. But it doesn’t. Rated at 29 mpg in combined driving, the Toyota returned 28.2 mpg on my testing loop. That result doesn’t impress much against, say, Honda’s HR-V, which is expected to get 31 mpg in combined driving.
Toyota could solve that by offering U.S. customers the hybrid powertrain it supplies in C-HR’s sold in other parts of the world. And by the way, an AWD system is also available in other global markets.
Ride and Handling: 7.3 rating
Thankfully, engine performance is only part of the overall performance equation and the C-HR’s chassis deserves merit.
Ride quality and bump isolation are far better than one would expect from a small CUV. In this regard, the C-HR behaves like a larger car. It’s also reasonably agile in cornering, though the electric steering is numb on feel. And when you think about it, this makes perfect sense, given that the little C-HR outweighs its size class (Honda’s HR-V, Mazda’s CX-3 and Kia’s Soul all weigh roughly 2,900 pounds), which helps create the ride quality of a bigger car.
That extra weight should also equate to lower cornering agility all else being equal, but it doesn’t. Toyota has calibrated the suspension with a happy balance of spring rates for that ride compliance, combined with excellent shock damping and healthy 1-inch diameter anti-roll bars at both the front and rear.
One of the most actively fought segments in the car market today is crossover SUVs of all shapes and sizes. And being one of the world’s largest car manufacturers, Toyota must play a role in that fight.
Getting it right is another story, though. Even if you discount (or like) the fussy looks, the powertrain performance and fuel efficiency simply disappoints. Likewise, even if you forget about the meager cargo capacity, you still have a dark, claustrophobic cabin to reconcile.
With excellent choices like the versatile Honda HR-V, Mazda’s fun CX-3, Kia’s cheeky Soul, Subaru’s all-wheel-drive Crosstrek, or even Jeep’s off-roadable Renegade, I think that the new C-HR has very little going for it.
Total Vehicle Score: 125/190 points
Overall Vehicle Rating: 6.6
For more Toyota C-HR information:
FIRST DRIVE: 2018 TOYOTA C-HR REVIEW
FIRST LOOK: 2018 TOYOTA C-HR PREVIEW
First Pictures: 2018 Toyota C-HR
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