When the youth-oriented Scion brand closed its doors last year, a few of its newer vehicles were salvaged by parent company Toyota, including the iM hatchback (Toyota Corolla iM), iA sedan (Yaris iA) and FR-S sports car (86). When the 2018 Toyota C-HR goes on sale in April, it will be the first vehicle originally developed as a Scion but never sold under the nameplate. On the surface, it might seem inconsequential, but understanding its original form will shed light on what makes the C-HR a bit of a departure for Toyota.
The first thing you’ll notice is that the exterior design is highly stylized and distinctive from the rest of the Toyota lineup. Sure, certain elements are shared with other Toyotas, such as the taillight enclosures pulled out from the rest of the body and a front end that looks nearly identical to the larger RAV4 SUV. But the exaggerated fender flares, pinwheel rims, roof spoiler and low stance make it look aggressive for a Toyota.
Inside, there are harder plastics than those found in other Toyotas, although most of the surfaces are textured or piano black, so they at least look good. And the C-HR carries a distinct and visually interesting diamond theme throughout the cabin. Diamonds appear as imprints on the headliner, designs on the speaker covers, and button shapes on the dashboard and steering wheel.
The C-HR was designed with tall drivers in mind, with a center console positioned low so the right knee doesn’t hit anything. The left knee is also far enough away from the door that it won’t strike while traversing twisty mountain roads. As with many modern Toyotas, the steering wheel doesn’t offer much in the way of tilt or telescoping range, but there are enough seat adjustments for the driver to settle into an agreeable position. Both front seats are height-adjustable, and two-way power lumbar is available for the driver. There’s no sunroof to cut down on headroom, but taller drivers might still brush the headliner.
Befitting a vehicle of the C-HR’s compact dimensions, the backseat is short on legroom. Still, we found that a 6-foot passenger would be able to sit behind the driver during short trips. There’s less usable space in the back, with few storage options aside from one small cupholder on each door. There’s no fold-down armrest either. Cargo space behind the second row is about average, with more room than the Nissan Juke or Mazda CX-3 offers but less than the Honda HR-V.
Visibility through the front is just fine, but turn your head more than 90 degrees and the view suffers. The vertical pillar between the front and backseats is wide and right next to the driver’s face, impeding an over-the-shoulder view to the left. The bodywork swoops up and reduces window height just behind this pillar, until the point where the window abruptly ends about two-thirds the length of the rear door. This creates significant blind spots in each of the rear quarters. The view directly out the back is slightly better. A rearview camera is standard, but its display is awkwardly located in the rearview mirror. The image measures just a few inches across, so you might have to squint to see anything.
In addition to the rearview camera mentioned above, every C-HR is equipped with a suite of advanced safety features. These include adaptive cruise control, emergency collision warning with automatic braking and pedestrian detection, and lane departure warning and intervention. A brake hold button allows the driver to take his foot off the brake while at a stop, and a hill-start assist feature keeps the C-HR in place when the driver transitions from brake to accelerator while on a hill. Upgrading to the XLE Premium adds blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
For a vehicle aimed squarely at enticing millennials, the C-HR is surprisingly light on available technology features. There’s a single USB port, an auxiliary audio jack, HD radio and Bluetooth standard, but that’s about it. The absence of satellite radio, navigation and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality is glaring in this day and age. The 7-inch touchscreen provides access to critical entertainment functions, but its low-resolution graphics and aftermarket appearance are unimpressive. Citing safety reasons, many touchscreen functions are disabled while the vehicle is moving.
The C-HR is powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine producing 144 horsepower and 139 pound-feet of torque. It drives the front wheels through a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). A manual-shifting mode allows the driver to choose between seven simulated gears. Three driving modes (Eco, Normal and Sport) are accessible through the driver information display and alter steering and throttle response and transmission behavior. All-wheel drive is not offered.
True of most of the vehicles in this segment, the engine doesn’t feel very powerful. The C-HR pulls away from a stoplight with little effort, but full throttle produces little more than a loud drone from the engine and a gradual buildup of speed. Accelerating up a hill requires a heavy foot, especially when passengers are on board. On the other hand, the CVT is tuned well and makes the most of the meager power available. It doesn’t react quickly on heavy throttle application following a corner, but this is really the only place it stumbles. We wish that the driving modes (Eco, Normal and Sport) were easier to access, however, since they do make a noticeable difference in the C-HR’s performance.
Despite the modest amount of power on tap, the C-HR is surprisingly fun to drive. It handles better than most of the vehicles in Toyota’s stable. Its tires squeal when pushing through corners at moderate speeds, but body roll is minimal and the suspension prevents the body from crashing on quick transitions. The ride is rarely bumpy or uncomfortable, so the C-HR would be a fine road-trip companion.
When it goes on sale next month, the C-HR will come in two trims. The $23,460 XLE has 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, dual-zone automatic climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, the 7-inch touchscreen and a six-speaker audio system. The $25,310 XLE Premium adds foglights, keyless entry and ignition, two-way power lumbar for the driver, heated front seats, and blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert.
The subcompact crossover market is a tough one because these vehicles attempt to split the difference between less expensive, low-riding hatchbacks and compact crossovers, which often don’t cost much more than their subcompact counterparts. Subcompact rivals to the C-HR include the Fiat 500X, Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade and Mazda CX-3. Most have more attractive starting prices compared to the C-HR but are nearly identically priced when optioned to match the C-HR’s standard features. The Mini Countryman is also in the running, but it’s considerably more expensive. It’s worth mentioning that all of the above vehicles offer an all- or four-wheel-drive powertrain, which the C-HR does not. Overall, if you can accept the C-HR’s technology and usability shortcomings, you’ll find a boldly designed small crossover that is rewarding to drive and packed with safety features.