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2018 Toyota C-HR Review

2018 Toyota C-HR Review
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The 2018 Toyota C-HR rides high, with astonishing looks that we like (you may differ); they're the selling point for a slow car that doesn't offer all-wheel drive despite a crossover label.

The 2018 Toyota C-HR is a small hatchback that its maker calls a crossover, despite the lack of all-wheel drive. Originally intended for the now-defunct Scion brand, it’s a well-equipped and highly stylized five-door that rides higher than most other cars of its size. The C-HR comes in just two trim levels, XLE and XLE Premium, and its sole option is a white-painted roof offered with just three of its seven body colors.

The C-HR joins no fewer than three other small hatchbacks in Toyota showrooms: the aging subcompact Yaris, the fuel-efficient subcompact Prius C, and the larger compact Corolla iM. Its mission is to attract new buyers to the brand who want a car with an expressive design. The company hopes that younger buyers will like the kind of statement the C-HR makes about who they are.

We rate the 2018 C-HR at 5.8 out of 10, although that score could go higher if the car gets top ratings for safety. Complete results aren't yet available. 

That rating is only average for the cars Toyota expects it to compete against. Those include the similarly extroverted but aging and thirsty Nissan Juke (5.0), the capacious and fuel-efficient Honda HR-V (6.8), the fun-to-drive Mazda CX-3 (7.2), and perhaps also the cramped but off-road-capable Jeep Renegade (5.3). All four of those models offer optional AWD, but Toyota doesn’t. The C-HR has optional AWD in Europe and Japan already, making it possible to fit for North America later.

C-HR design and performance
The C-HR’s design is by far its most distinctive feature, with busy but interesting sheet metal that underscores the “Coupe, High-Riding” explanation of its model name. A rising window line, high stance, and expressive lines, swoops, and accents do actually come together to make an interesting and noticeable design that we grew fond of by the end of our test drive.

The interior is smartly designed and surprisingly capacious front and rear, with lots of diamond shapes in unlikely places (including the headliner) to emphasize the extroverted style.

A 144-horsepower inline-4 with a continuously variable transmission powering the front wheels is the sole powertrain offered in the C-HR. Despite an available Sport driving mode, it’s slow and not particularly fuel-efficient, at 29 mpg combined. The handling and roadholding is good, though, and definitely a step up on those of previous small Toyotas.

C-HR comfort and safety
Front and rear occupants will find lots of head room, a benefit of the “high-riding” stance, and rear-seat riders in particular get cabin width, a comfortably upright seating position, and plenty of shoe room under front seats. The C-HR looks smaller than it is, to the benefit of its occupants. The all-black interior offers lots of storage bins, compartments, and cup holders. Load space is average to tight compared to other five-door hatchbacks and the crossovers Toyota is trying to compete with.

Ten airbags and a suite of active-safety features are standard on the C-HR, though it hasn’t yet been rated for crash safety by the IIHS or NHTSA. Visibility out the back isn’t very good, not surprising with a rising window line, a steeply raked rear window, and very thick roof pillars.

The C-HR comes well-equipped in either of its two trim levels, with standard dual-zone climate control, a touchscreen audio system, and more. But unlike other small front-wheel-drive hatchbacks, the C-HR starts at more than $23,000 including delivery, meaning buyers pay for the style.

A host of dealer appearance, functional, and performance accessories is available to personalize each model. The 2018 C-HR will go on sale in spring 2017, imported to North America from a Toyota factory in Turkey.

The 2018 Toyota C-HR has a startling design that actually works, and the cabin is better than those of many small hatchbacks.

By far the most noticeable and distinctive feature of the 2018 Toyota C-HR is its exterior design, one of the most adventurous ever to emerge from the conservative Japanese maker. If you thought the Nissan Juke took a while to digest, the C-HR will have you studying its nonstop collection of curves, slits, upkicks, and crests for days.

The name, Toyota says, stands for “Coupe, High Riding,” and while Toyota may call it a crossover, it’s a five-door hatchback with expressive styling that hides the rear door handles in the rear pillars (they work fine), using a rising window line to imitate a two-door coupe. It's also a much larger car than it appears, virtually a shortened mid-size vehicle that's considerably wider and taller than the subcompact Yaris in the same showroom.

The C-HR’s shape will pull your eyes from one angle or curve to another. Every time they come to rest, you’ll be distracted by some other design flourish. Animal-like jowls and cat-eye lamps flow into fenders that wrap themselves tightly around its wheel wells. The sills and side stampings impress a deep skeletal shape into the sideview. The roofline slopes and the rear pillar turns up—and they meet at the rear door handles. The taillights bracket a tall rear end, where the three-quarter view of the C-HR turns thick and emphasizes its high-riding stance, making the standard 18-inch wheels seem small despite all the accents meant to distract your eye.

In the end, though, we conclude the C-HR has something that will intrigue us for years. It’s a far more successful expression of the Toyota design language first used in the Mirai fuel-cell sedan and the latest Prius hybrid hatchback. Neither of those cars has an exterior that’s quite resolved, but the C-HR is all of a piece—and has no glaring feature like the Juke’s bug-eye front lights. The design is still likely to be polarizing, but it may well succeed with the younger buyers Toyota seeks.

Functional cockpit, with diamonds
Inside, the C-HR has one of the better cockpits among the variety of small hatchbacks and crossovers. Toyota cloyingly calls the center pod of controls the MeZone; let's just agree that it's a stylish, unconventionally shaped set of switches, knobs, and touchscreen controls that’s attractive and far from derivative. The C-HR's 7.0-inch display screen sits on the dash like the screens in other small vehicles, but it's better integrated, and the surrounding controls complement it well.

Diamond patterns are a design theme not only on the exterior but also inside the cabin, with a grid of diamonds molded into hard-plastic lower door panels and even into the headliner. It adds visual interest and doesn’t interfere with any controls. We wish the were available in colors other than all-black (with a few silver accents), but we’ll defer to Toyota’s suggestion that it’s what the target buyers are comfortable with.

In the end, we give the C-HR 7 points out of 10 for styling. The interior works well, and the adventurous exterior finally shows that Toyota’s new design language can create a striking and distinctive design without the kinds of jaw-dropping clashes found on the Mirai and Prius. Not everyone will like the result, but we didn’t hate it on first glance and it grew on us considerably during our time with the test cars.

The 2018 Toyota C-HR is larger than it looks, without much power; while its handling is better than previous Toyotas, it's slow across the board.

The 2018 Toyota C-HR may be marketed as a “crossover,” but the crossover-SUV vibe ends at the higher seating position and tall proportions. The C-HR has only a single powertrain, and it delivers neither brisk acceleration nor particularly good fuel economy. Don’t even think about taking it off-road to root around on rocky trails or in muddy fields.

The 2.0-liter inline-4 puts out 144 horsepower and 139 pound-feet of torque. Power goes to the front wheels only through a continuously variable transmission (CVT), and all-wheel drive isn’t offered to U.S. buyers, although it’s available in Europe and Japan. Three drive modes are available: the default normal mode, Eco for more fuel-efficient but slower running, and Sport, which reprograms the CVT to deliver seven simulated gear ratios, along with slightly firmer steering.

The problem with the C-HR is that it’s just slow. Toyota’s done a decent job of camouflaging any engine howl with sound-damping materials; floor it and you’ll hear the engine rev up, but it’s not offensive, just noticeable. There’s just very little acceleration there under virtually any circumstance. And in a day spent with two different C-HRs, the different drive modes made less difference than expected: the Eco mode is indeed slower, but the Sport mode didn’t feel that much faster even if the transmission shifted differently. It’s more about a sporty feel than actual sporty acceleration, clearly.
We rate the C-HR at only 4 out of 10 points for performance. It’s up to snuff on ride and handling, but its slowness virtually across the board isn’t justified by  good fuel efficiency, meaning there’s little to redeem it on that front. 

Big car, not enough power
Part of the problem is likely the use of the Toyota TNGA underpinnings, also used in the latest Prius, this year’s Camry, and many more cars to come. It’s really a compact to mid-size platform, which makes the C-HR wider inside than you’d expect, but also adds weight. In a small hatchback, 144 hp just isn’t enough to move a curb weight of 3,300 pounds expeditiously or even all that responsively.

The C-HR does, however, have markedly better handling than previous Toyota small cars. The car’s project leader says it was tested on the famed Nurburgring circuit in Germany, and it shows. The front strut suspension gets Sachs dampers and a thick stabilizer bar, which deliver fairly responsive road manners. At the rear, the C-HR has double wishbones and Sachs dampers rather than the cheaper torsion-beam axle that’s all but standard in small cars.

The C-HR is no Mazda, but the combination delivers a relatively smooth ride and responsive city driving. The steering is less numb than Toyotas usually are, and it feels planted and secure in harder, higher-speed cornering. It just cries out for a more powerful engine, though we fear that might drive the below-average combined EPA rating of 29 mpg even lower. 

Comfort & Quality
The 2018 Toyota C-HR has a surprisingly large interior, but lacks the load space you'd expect from the crossover that it supposedly is.

While the 2018 Toyota C-HR looks like a small car, it’s not so petite inside. Built on a shortened versions of the underpinnings used for mid-size cars, the cabin is wide and surprisingly roomy front and back.

Up front, occupants sit lower than you’d expect in this “high-riding” car, and the front seats are nicely bolstered and comfortable, though the lower cushions may feel short to longer-legged riders. The high stance offers plenty of head room even for those over 6 feet tall.

We rate the C-HR at 5 points out of 10; the point it gains for having a capacious interior is offset by one docked for the lack of cargo space in a car that Toyota insists on presenting as a stylish crossover utility vehicle.

In contrast to the front, that stance lets rear passengers sit high, avoiding the knees-up position of some smaller hatchbacks with seat cushions close to the floor. Toyota has scooped out the backs of the front seats and raised them off the floor, giving plenty of “shoe room,” as they say. There’s rear head room for 6-footers, too, making this one small hatchback where three adults might actually fit into the rear seat for more than 5-minute emergency trips.

The C-HR has a conventional shifter, but it still has plenty of storage bins, cupholders, and trays. The rear seats flip and fold along a 60/40 split to create a flat load floor—which isn’t always the case in this segment. The cargo deck is surprisingly high to load, at mid-thigh level, though, and its 19 cubic feet of cargo volume with the rear seat up is only average. It’s 32.4 cubic feet with the rear seat folded flat, less than other front-wheel-drive hatchbacks and even some actual crossover utility vehicles. We’d hazard a guess that’s because there’s room remaining under the C-HR’s floor for the all-wheel-drive hardware that’s not offered in the U.S.

The quality of the materials was about average for a small car; thin soft-touch surfaces are used where passengers may touch it, but plenty of hard-plastic surfaces remain, many accented with diamond designs. The all-black interior doesn’t feel particularly upmarket, and is relieved by only a small amount of silver trim. One dissonant note was the cheapness of a flimsy cargo cover made of black nylon fabric rather than vinyl.

The 2018 Toyota C-HR hasn't yet been rated by both major safety rating organizations.

The 2018 Toyota C-HR hasn’t yet been crash-tested by the IIHS, so we haven’t given it our safety rating.

Federal testers have given the hatchback a five star overall rating, including four stars for front and rollover crash safety.

All C-HR hatchbacks come with 10 airbags, a rearview camera, hill-start assist, and the awkwardly named Toyota Safety Sense-P package of active-safety features. That bundles together forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, active lane control, automatic high beams, and adaptive cruise control. An audio lockout for the touchscreen restricts the functions that can be used in motion.

Blind-spot monitors are part of the higher XLE Premium trim level, as is a rear cross-traffic alert system. Rear three-quarter visibility is mediocre in the C-HR, as you might expect with a rising window line, very thick rear roof pillars, and a steeply angled rear window that doesn’t give a lot of vertical visibility through the rear-view mirror. The rear-seat headrests don’t notably impinge on that rearward view, however.

The 2018 Toyota C-HR is well equipped, though pricey for its size; buyers can personalize with dealer accessories, but it's missing Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The 2018 Toyota C-HR was originally meant to be sold as a Scion in the U.S. Consequently, it comes well-equipped for the segment, with only two trim levels—XLE and XLE Premium—lots of standard equipment, and just a single option.

Every C-HR comes standard with power windows, locks, and mirrors; 18-inch wheels; dual-zone climate control; a 7.0-inch touchscreen audio system with steering-wheel controls; and a rearview camera. It has a few niceties, too, including a rear cargo light, that aren't necessarily found in cars this size.

We rate the 2018 C-HR at 6 points out of 10; it’s decently equipped, but its price puts it in competition with some larger vehicles where its feature set is pretty much standard. We gave it an extra point over the average of 5 for the wide variety of dealer accessories, though sadly it has no unique “killer app” that distinguishes it from competitors.

The XLE Premium adds blind-spot monitors, a power driver's seat with more adjustments, heated front seats, a keyless ignition, fog lights, and turn signals in the door mirrors. The audio system on both versions includes AM/FM/HD radio, a USB port, and Bluetooth pairing for audio streaming and voice controls. It does not include Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, an increasingly obvious omission these days, especially among the younger buyers Toyota is targeting with the C-HR.

That one option, known as “R-Code,” is a striking combination of white roof, mirrors, and windshield pillars that’s offered for just three of its seven body colors. Buyers who want to personalize their C-HRs can choose from almost two dozen appearance, utility, and performance accessories at the dealer, following the model established by Mini, Scion, and other stylish small-car brands.

The C-HR XLE starts at roughly $23,500 including delivery, while the Premium adds another $850 on top of that. That’s several thousand dollars higher than the base price of more conventional economy hatchbacks, and underscores Toyota’s goal of taking the C-HR well out of that segment and into the “personal statement” category of small cars.

Fuel Economy
The C-HR isn't particularly fuel-efficient among small cars, likely due to its weight; if that's a main concern, other small hatchbacks do much better.

With only a single powertrain and two similar trim levels, the 2018 Toyota C-HR has just one set of fuel-economy numbers. The EPA rates the 2018 Toyota C-HR at 27 mpg city, 31 highway, 29 combined. 

Still, 29 mpg is far from the top of a class in which more efficient vehicles like the Honda Fit come in at 36 mpg combined. While the C-HR’s 2.0-liter engine isn’t that powerful, Toyota claims a drag coefficient of 0.34—far higher than the efficient Prius at 0.24—and the little hatchback is remarkably heavy for its size, at 3,300 pounds. We suspect those factors are the main culprits in both its lack of speed and its lackluster fuel economy.

Like most Toyotas of its size, no hybrid version of the C-HR is offered in the U.S. (although one is available in other markets). If you want fuel efficiency in a car of this type, Toyota will be happy to point you toward the subcompact Prius C hatchback, now rated at 46 mpg combined.


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