Christopher Little

Shine Bright: Toyota C-HR

Toyota’s foray into the world of compact crossover comes prix fixe with a silly name. It is, of course, aimed squarely at none other than the elusive millennial. Entering into a well-established market, the C-HR will face stiff competition from the Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3, and Kia Soul. Will it stand out as a special snowflake, just like the demographic it’s targeted at? Or might the C-HR be embraced by a different demographic? We stood to find out.

Toyota C-HR 2

The C-HR buyer is presented with two choices; trim level and color. That’s all there is to choose from. Our tester, the XLE, represents the most affordable trim. The XLE Premium adds fog lights, heated seats, an 8-way power driver seat, a proximity key with push-button start, and blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. If you can live without those upgrades, as we did for a week, then all you’re left with is a color choice. An array of bright colors help the C-HR stand out and unique “R-Code” options add a contrasting white roof if so desired. We were quite fond of the Ruby Flare Pearl red of our tester.

Toyota C-HR 4

From any angle, the C-HR is a unique looking vehicle. Throw on an attention-grabbing color and contrasting white roof and anonymity is certainly off the menu. The designers claim the tiny Toyota looks like a diamond on its side in silhouette. The front end does have a faceted vibe that gives way to some very sweeping body lines. The dramatic rake to the beltline and body cladding give the C-HR a stanced appearance. Large, 18″ wheels and low profile tires do away with any pretense of all-terrain performance. But the rear end of the C-HR is perhaps its most confusing feature. A large plastic protuberance acts as a bumper and fills the gap between a faux diffuser and a set of plastic faux vents that add visual width to the tiny Toyota. The sculpted taillights blend into a lip that is adorned with an additional lip spoiler. It’s all capped with a sharply-angled rear window and pointy roof spoiler.

Toyota C-HR 10

The combination of rising beltline and swooping roofline have a negative impact on rear visibility and cargo space. Rear passenger space is tight and the small rear windows make it feel more cramped than some of its boxier competitors. The front seats are far more accommodating and nicely bolstered. All the C-HR’s touch points, especially the steering wheel, feel well-built and the remainder of the interior does well to hide its budget price. The diamond motif returns on the surprisingly nice plastic door panels and in the headliner. The infotainment screen rises above the dash, but manages to appear more thoroughly integrated into the console than some “tacked-on” screens. Several problems do present themselves, however.

The C-HR is riddled with safety warnings and lockouts. For example, when you set the adaptive cruse control, you’re presented with a warning, “Use on Expressway Only. Beware of Stopping or Merging Vehicles!” If you happen to have the Lane Departure Assist enabled and your speed drops below 32 mph, you’re presented with a different warning, “LDA Unavailable Below Approx. 32 MPH.” It only gets worse from there. There is a button to disable the traction control button, but it only works below 32 mph. Further, the infotainment system will prevent anyone from browsing for music on a connected device while the vehicle is in motion. You can’t even change playlists! This is a massive issue for a car that doesn’t include satellite radio. The C-HR thinks it knows better than you. It is convinced that if you set your cruise control on a back road, you will crash into someone and be killed. It believes that if drive slower than 32 mph, you will drift off the road into a ditch and be killed. It assumes that in the time it takes you to change from your 80s playlist to your classic rock playlist, you will be killed. Never mind the fact that the C-HR is so slow, you won’t be going nearly fast enough to suffer anything other than a bruised ego.

Toyota C-HR 14

Almost eleven seconds. It feels like an eternity waiting for the 2.0L four-cylinder to propel the C-HR to 60mph. 144 horsepower and 139 lb-ft torque are fed into a CVT. Some of that eventually makes it to the front wheels. It’s such a shame, too, since the C-HR is actually quite nimble and reactive. The steering has a pleasant progressive weight to it and body motion is well controlled. We admit that the C-HR is actually kind of fun once you built up some momentum. Our standard two solutions to every problem, more power or a manual transmission, could make this a surprisingly enjoyable driver’s car.

Toyota C-HR 11

When we reached the end of our week with the C-HR, there was one predominant question on our mind. Who would buy this car? It seems focus-group focused on a young, independent, active buyer…the textbook millennial. The C-HR is a visually flamboyant yet not-at-all risky venture. Spot on. Yet the technology offerings fall short. No available navigation or satellite radio are huge setbacks. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, two perfect peripheral-focused solutions to those limitations, aren’t offered either. To top that off, the technology that is present is so riddled with limitations and warnings, it feels like the car is babysitting you. So who would want a young-looking car with simple technology that also happens to be remarkably easy to get in and out of?

Toyota C-HR 7

Take a look at the likes of the PT Crusier, VW New Beetle, and Kia Soul. An enormous percentage of drivers are of…a more advanced age. They enjoy the added visibility of sitting up high. They also have disposable income and are ready to buy something that might be smaller and more efficient. I’ll never forgive the salesman that, at the height of the gas crisis, convinced my grandmother to trade in her Lincoln Town Car for a Saturn Ion. But that’s the kind of thing that happens. So these cars might make their way to a millennial, but it could happen by way of a gentle familial owner.

Toyota C-HR 13

At the end of the day, Toyota’s C-HR is a lot of crossover for the money. The fit, finish, and materials feel well above what its sub-25k price tag might suggest. While it is dreadfully slow off the line, the C-HR actually delivers a well-tuned driving experience! The list of standard features brings plenty of safety technology, but misses some key features that are available from its competitors. And with no options to choose from, you’ll have to look elsewhere if it’s missing some of your must-haves. The lack of all-wheel-drive means you can just cross-shop most hatchbacks, too. But this quirky little crossover didn’t leave us sour. It’s special in its own unique way, just like the buyers it was built for.

-Christopher Little

2018 Toyota C-HR
Ruby Flare Pearl $395
Destination Charges $995
As Tested MSRP $23,890

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