A totally new vehicle, the 2018 Toyota C-HR stands apart from other small crossover utilities with trendy looks and a high-riding stance.
C-HR stands for Coupe, High Riding. Conceived for Toyota’s youth-oriented Scion brand, which disappeared during 2016, it looks smaller than its dimensions suggest. Indisputably, the C-HR is one of the most audacious new models in recent memory, especially startling because it comes from a manufacturer long known for conservative products.
Although all-wheel drive is unavailable, Toyota calls the C-HR a crossover. We see it more as a small five-door hatchback that’s taller than most. That translates to a higher seating position.
Visually intricate yet enticing, the C-HR’s exterior is its most notable feature by far. Inside, the C-HR looks interesting enough, but mainly functional. Performance, in contrast, is sluggish.
Only two trim levels are offered: XLE and XLE Premium.
In each C-HR, a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine makes 144 horsepower and 139 pound-feet of torque, coupled to a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Front-wheel drive is the sole configuration.
Three drive modes are available: normal, fuel-efficient Eco, and Sport. The latter re-programs the CVT to provide seven simulated gear ratios. Steering gets a tad firmer, too.
Manufactured in Turkey, the C-HR competes against the joyful Mazda CX-3, fuel-efficient Honda HR-V, and comparably conspicuous Nissan Juke. All-wheel drive is available on those models.
Ten airbags and a rearview camera are standard along with the Toyota Safety Sense-P group of active-safety features. They include forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, lane-departure alert with steering assist, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high beams.
A lockout for the touchscreen blocks functions that cannot be used unless the vehicle is stationary. Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are standard with XLE Premium trim.
Visibility to the rear side is constricted. Back-seat headrests don’t block much of the view through the sharply-angled rear window, but it’s limited nonetheless. Thick pillars don’t help.
Toyota C-HR XLE ($22,500) has fabric seat upholstery, power windows/locks, 18-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, 7.0-inch touchscreen audio, leather-wrapped steering wheel, cargo cover, and rearview camera. Power mirrors contain turn-signal indicators. (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
C-HR XLE Premium ($24,350) adds blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, heated front seats, pushbutton start, foglamps, and puddle lights.
Considerably bigger than it appears, the C-HR is dominated by a collection of expressive body lines, joined by swooping curves, slits, and accents. Working together, complemented by a high stance, they form an extroverted design that’s far more noticeable than most smaller crossovers and hatchbacks. Not everyone will applaud the design, but it is distinctive. Toyota isn’t known for risky design, but over the years, distinctive designs that excite some and offend others are often more successful than bland designs that no one notices.
Viewed from the side, the overall effect has even been described as skeletal. Rear door handles are concealed within the pillars, which turn upward at the tall back end. A rising window line, below the sloping roof, emulates the look of a two-door coupe.
What might be termed cat-eye headlights flow into front fenders, wrapping snugly into each wheel well. Standard 18-inch wheels actually look a bit small. Dubbed R-Code, the white-roof option is offered only for certain body colors.
Compared to other small crossovers and hatchbacks, the C-HR’s cabin scores highly. Quite spacious inside, front and back, Toyota’s C-HR is wider than might be expected.
Suggesting its appeal to youthful buyers, Toyota calls the central control pod the MeZone. Controls for the 7.0-inch touchscreen blend with stylish-looking knobs and switches. Qualifying as a design theme, diamond shapes turn up in various locations, including the headliner fabric. Diamond patterns are even molded into the plastic lower door panels.
One feature that’s absent is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.
Occupants get ample headroom all around, due partly to the C-HR’s high-riding stance. Six-footers shouldn’t have a problem with head clearance. Sitting rather high, rear riders can expect abundant foot space, a wide bench, and comfortably upright position. Unlike many smaller crossovers and hatchbacks, three adults can actually fit on the back seat without undue discomfort.
Though well-bolstered and comfortable, front seats are lower than expected in a relatively tall compact vehicle. A long-legged driver might consider the front cushions a bit short.
Storage bins and trays are plentiful, but cargo space doesn’t match the passenger roominess. Split back seats fold to form a flat load floor, but it’s curiously high, impeding easy loading. Cargo volume is a so-so 19 cubic feet with the rear seatback upright, growing to a modest 32.4 cubic feet when it’s folded.
The materials in the all-black cabin are of average quality. Soft-touch surfaces are scattered around, but hard plastic remains in a number of areas. The nylon cargo cover seems quite flimsy, compared to the vinyl covers installed in rival models.
Toyota has given the C-HR respectable handling and roadholding capabilities, significantly beyond the limits of prior small-size Toyota models.
Even when cornering briskly, the C-HR feels secure and well-planted on the pavement. Steering isn’t as numb as that of typical Toyotas, and the ride is smooth, but this crossover/hatchback is no match for Mazda products in terms of handling and precise responses.
Acceleration is a sadder tale. Toyota’s 144-horsepower engine simply cannot provide anything approaching lively performance, pulling a relatively heavy, 3,300 pound-vehicle. At every level of performance, the C-HR can be deemed sluggish, even in Sport mode.
Fuel economy doesn’t compensate for lackluster performance, either. The C-HR is EPA-rated at 27/31 mpg City/Highway, or 29 mpg Combined. Though adequate, those figures hardly constitute thrifty fuel-efficiency in a smaller car. A Honda Fit, for instance, manages an estimated 36 mpg in Combined driving. As measured by its high coefficient of drag (0.34), the C-HR’s body doesn’t come across as particularly aerodynamic.
Engine noise is noticeable, but not trouble. Most howls that emanate from beneath the hood when accelerating are restrained by sound-deadening material.
By unleashing such an expressive design into the compact crossover/hatchback arena, Toyota reveals its core goal: to attract younger buyers. Some prospects will doubtless be turned off by the love-it/hate-it look, but Toyota hopes enough others will be swayed in its direction. Prices are a bit high for a compact, but both trim levels are well-equipped. Only one factory option is offered, but dealers can install plenty of personalization extras.
Driving impressions by John Voelcker, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.