2018 Toyota C-HR

AUSTIN, Texas —  Back in 2002, in an attempt to attract teens and twenty-somethings (now called millennials) into a car they could call their own, Toyota introduced the funky Scion brand. Early on, Scion was a bit of a hit, but it never gained buyer loyalty or serious interest in the brand and its product offerings. Last year, Toyota pulled the plug on Scion, shuttering the brand. In doing so, the Scion iA, iM and FR-S cars were rebadged as Toyotas for the 2017 model year. The tC coupe was discontinued.

The marketing folks at Toyota were quick to tell me that Scion wasn’t a failure, but rather successful in bringing new, younger customers to Toyota. The numbers were sufficient enough that rolling Scion into the Toyota brand strengthened its market position.

Back in 2015, Scion debuted the C-HR concept vehicle, named for its compact size and high ride. It has four doors and a hatch for supreme functionality, along with an urban creative design that’s polarizing but not boring. Fast-forward to 2017, and Toyota seized the concept as the perfect vehicle for today’s millennials, and introduced it as the 2018 Toyota C-HR.

Slotting in size below the RAV4, the subcompact C-HR crossover utility vehicle is an execution of conflict. The C-HR — for “coupe-high rider” — is neither a coupe nor a high rider. 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.

Given the tremendous appeal to any vehicle called a crossover or SUV, this is marketing at its best, and that isn’t a bad thing.

Without question the exterior styling is futuristic, with shapely, curvaceous design proportions and nary a flat surface. It certainly has character and eye appeal in spades but might be too extravagant for some tastes.

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.

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, while attractive, 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.

The diamond theme continues inside with the dimensional pattern on the headliner, door and instrument panel trim.

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. We aren’t sure if fault lies with the engine or the transmission. Even with “Sport” mode selected, the change in transmission response is not enough to notice a more spirited performance. There’s only so much you can wring out of 144 horsepower.

The most pleasant surprise was the nimble, confident handling. It corners flat in sharp curves, brakes are certain, but steering felt heavy and somewhat off-center.

That said, we think most drivers will be generally pleased with the C-HR’s driving and handling, especially in urban areas around town.

We were impressed with the C-HR’s 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.

The C-HR is available in two trim levels, both mono-spec: XLE ($23,460) and XLE Premium ($25,310); 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. The only available option is R-Code, a special paint job that pairs the body color with a white-painted roof, side mirrors and the A-pillar on three exterior colors including a really cool looking Green Mica. The interior only comes in black.

Overall, if the C-HR is truly targeting millennials, there’s one glaring weakness and that’s technology. 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. These omissions could make the C-HR a tough sell to the tech savvy crowd it’s trying to reach.

Vital Stats

Base Price: $23,460 - $25,310
Price as Tested: $25,310
Seating Capacity: 5
Engine: 2.0-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 144-hp
Fuel Economy: 27-mpg city – 31-mpg highway per EPA estimates

Competes With:

Kia Soul
Mazda CX-3
Nissan Juke

Fab Features:

Unique exterior styling
Segment-leading safety features
Nimble, confident handling

— Jim Prueter