Toyota has thrown a monkey wrench into everything we know about small SUVs.
That’s one conclusion you can make when evaluating the 2018 Toyota C-HR. Its moniker stands for “Coupe High-Rider,” and it’s an all-new subcompact crossover that goes on sale in April. Indeed, one look at this vehicle demonstrates that Toyota had something different in mind than following a certain script. This model slots just below the Toyota RAV4 in the brand’s SUV pecking order.
One of the different matters Toyota had in mind for the C-HR was to assign this model to Scion, Toyota’s youth-oriented brand. Following the C-HR’s introduction as a concept vehicle at the 2016 Geneva Motor Show, Toyota had second thoughts about Scion, a brand it rebooted the previous year with two fresh models. Last fall, the automaker said “Scion-ara” to the brand and folded the three remaining Scion models into the Toyota lineup.
That left the concept Scion C-HR without a future home, a problem quickly remedied by swapping Scion badging for Toyota in advance of production. Other than that, there is little difference between the concept Scion and the production Toyota.
Here are the highlights of the 2018 Toyota C-HR:
1. Size really does matter.
Although the C-HR slots beneath the compact RAV4, it offers good room when compared with a Jeep Renegade, Honda HR-V or Mazda CX-3. With a 103.9-inch wheelbase, the C-HR comes in slightly shorter than the 104.7-inch RAV4. On the other hand, the Jeep Renegade has a 101.2-inch wheelbase. When it comes to interior room, the Toyota has an edge over all competitors.
2. It isn’t quite a coupe.
Car manufacturers will sometimes use the term “coupe” to describe a four- or five-door body style. The Volkswagen CC is one example of such a model. Typically, these models have small rear roof pillars, and a roofline that drops sharply from the middle pillar for a coupe-like effect. The C-HR manages to employ this look in part by placing the rear door handles in the rear pillar. At first glance, the handles appear to be missing as they aren’t where you would expect to find them. A rising beltline and unusual profile cut lines also add to this Toyota’s coupe mystique.
3. All-wheel drive is not available.
Think “SUV” and optional “all-wheel drive” should come to mind. But the C-HR flies in the face of popular convention by offering front-wheel drive only. Toyota is aiming this model at an audience that might consider the rear-wheel-drive Toyota 86 sports car. The C-HR’s emphasis is on steering and handling, with a suspension that provides superior vehicle agility, enhanced cabin quietness and a smooth ride.
4. A new engine is paired with a CVT.
Under the hood of the C-HR is an unfamiliar engine. A 2.0-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine powers the crossover, delivering 144 horsepower and 139 pound-feet of torque. Toyota pairs this engine with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Before you sneer at the CVT, it is much more bearable than CVTs in the past. This gearless transmission can ramp up to 6,000 rpm before pulling back slightly. It then rises again before dropping and climbing again. It has a more “geared” feel than other CVTs, effectively minimizing the pulling sensation common to such models. Toyota estimates the C-HR will get 27/31 mpg city/highway.
5. Not quite one trim level, but close.
Scion models were routinely “mono-spec” or one trim-level models, and well equipped at that. The C-HR advances that theme with a slight twist: in addition to the base XLE trim, an XLE Premium model is available. In any case, a long list of standard features includes 18-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, a rear-view mirror with a backup camera, Bluetooth, USB and auxiliary audio ports and a 7-inch audio display. The base model retails for $22,500 plus $960 for handling; the XLE Premium retails from $24,350 and brings in blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, heated front seats, a power driver’s seat and push-button start. Importantly, Toyota’s Safety Sense P system with adaptive cruise control and forward collision warning with automatic braking is standard across the model line.
On the Road: Toyota C-HR
After slipping behind the wheel of the C-HR, the first thing we noticed were the generously bolstered front seats. They have separate bolstering for the shoulders and hips, ensuring that both front-seat occupants stay in place.
The rear seat offers room for three, but is best used by two. Even then, children in car seats offer the best use of that space as legroom is tight. Toyota noted that rear seat room was comprised in favor of a larger cargo hold. Folding at least a portion of the 60/40-split folding rear seat provides access to the cargo area.
Start the C-HR, engage the transmission and you’re off. This vehicle climbs steadily as it moves away from a dead stop and seems to significantly build momentum as you pass 30 mph. Its off-the-mark acceleration is its weak point, but beyond that, there is enough power to satisfy everyone except the most power-hungry enthusiast.
Where this model shines is in the handling department. Despite its high profile and front-wheel drive layout, the C-HR stays planted with little body roll. A rigid platform and a sport-tuned suspension enhance its driving characteristics, enabling it to outperform such vehicles as the Fiat 500X, Buick Encore and Chevrolet Trax.
A Look Ahead
The current C-HR may yield a few changes down the line, including offering a six-speed gearbox as supplied in Europe. A Toyota representative indicated that all-wheel drive isn’t off the table, nor is a turbocharger. Clearly, there is some room for improvement, with those changes likely to follow customer feedback.