Toyota C-HR — Rescued from Scion

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

If you think the Toyota's new small crossover, the C-HR, is a bit too funky looking to wear the Toyota nameplate, there's a reason. The C-HR was designated for the Scion brand, but that plan had to be abandoned when Toyota terminated Scion last year.

With the "youth-oriented" brand now history, Toyota didn't want to write off the C-HR's development costs so now we have the Toyota styling version of Volkswagen's late-'70s Thing, but in modern guise, gracing Toyota showrooms next to the ultra-conservative Corolla and Yaris to temp younger customers.

Slotting in size below the RAV4, the subcompact crossover is an execution of conflict. Sanding for "coupe-high rider,” the C-HR is neither a coupe nor a high rider. And all-wheel drive is not available. It’s apparent that Toyota has taken liberties in calling it a crossover, solely on the basis of its two-inch raised ride height. It actually sits a fraction of an inch lower than a Toyota Camry.

Toyota designers made a point to emphasize that they wanted something distinctive and passionate, and took inspiration from a diamond, sheered and cut sharply in the front and rear side with round fender flares visible from every angle. However, the grille is a complete carryover from the Scion iM, while the protruding taillights seem lifted directly from the now discontinued FJ Cruiser.

Rear door handles are inconveniently mounted on the sloping C pillar near the roof giving the vehicle its coupe-like appearance. But the sloping roof and narrow rear side windows create a huge blind spot for the driver. That’s partially solved with a blind spot warning system, but that’s only available on the Premium trim level.

Front seat room is ample and comfortable, however back seats are cramped and sit far back from the rear side windows. There’s no optional sunroof available so the closed-in feeling is even more pronounced.

The front-wheel-drive-only C-HR is built on Toyota’s new TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture), the same as the new Prius, and is powered by a 2.0-liter 144-horsepower four-cylinder engine that’s connected to a continuously variable automatic transmission that is intended to mimic seven gears.

Even though the C-HR is a subcompact, with a curb weight of 3,300 pounds it’s definitely a lot of weight for 144 horsepower to move around. We found acceleration anemic with an annoying hesitation for a second or two before the power kicks in when trying to pass another vehicle. Even with “Sport” mode selected, the change in transmission response is not enough to notice a more spirited performance. On the other hand we found the handling nimble and confident. The car remained flat in sharp curves and the brakes offered consistent, effective stopping power.

The C-HR's strongest suit comes with its impressive-for-the-price suite of standard advanced safety equipment included with the Toyota Safety Sense: pre-collision warning with active emergency braking, lane departure warning with steering assist, dynamic cruise control, adaptive high beam headlamps and 10 airbags. This level of safety equipment is generally unavailable on competitors.

One of the glaring faults of the last two Scion models introduced a few years ago was their lack-luster technology. It's a head-scratcher because we thought the younger buyers Scion targeted were among the most technology savvy. The C-HR falls glaring short in this area as well.

To begin, the infotainment system’s touchscreen is low-resolution and only seven inches. It has AM/FM/HD Radio, iPod connectivity, Bluetooth and the Aha music app. Missing is Sirius XM satellite radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Also missing is navigation, and there’s only one USB port. It also doesn’t have Toyota’s latest Entune infotainment system. And the backup camera’s image doesn’t appear in the obvious place on the center screen; instead it’s in a tiny square embedded in the rearview mirror. We found it impossible to use in bright sunlight.

The C-HR is available in two trim levels, both mono-spec: XLE ($23,460) and XLE Premium ($25,345); both come with a long list of standard features. The Premium model adds color-matched door handles with touch-sensor lock and unlock capability, front fog lights, power side mirrors with turn signals, blind spot warning indicators, puddle lamps with auto-folding functionality, leather steering wheel, backup camera, electric parking brake, dual-zone climate control and smart key with push button start. There are very few options, the most expensive is a special paint job with a white-painted roof totaling $895.

Our test car with the special paint and roof color carried a bottom line of $27,128 including destination charge.

Base price: $23,495; as driven, $27,128
Engine: 2.0-liter 4 cylinder
Horsepower: 144 @ 6,100 rpm
Torque: 139 foot-pounds @ 3,900 rpm
Transmission: continuously variable
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 103.9 inches
Length: 171.2 inches
Curb weight: 3,300 pounds
Turning circle: 34.2 feet
Luggage capacity:19 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 36.4 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 13.2 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 27 city, 31 highway, 29 overall
0-60: 11 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3, Nissan Juke

The Good
• Long list of safety features
• Excellent handling
• Toyota reliability

The Bad
• Lethargic acceleration

The Ugly
• Mainstream tech features missing