2018 Toyota C-HR
2.0-liter inline-four, DOHC (144 horsepower @ 6,100 rpm; 139 lb-ft @ 3,900 rpm)
Continuously variable transmission, front-wheel drive
27 city / 31 highway / 29 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
8.7 city / 7.5 highway / 8.2 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
29.4 mpg [8.0 L/100 km] (Observed)
Base Price: $23,495 (U.S) / $26,390 (Canada)
As Tested: $25,345 (U.S.) / $27,990 (Canada)
Prices include $995 destination charge in the United States and $1,700 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.
Forget, if only for the next few minutes, the way it looks. You may hate it, you may love it. But don’t let your interpretation of the 2018 Toyota C-HR’s exterior angles cloud your judgement.
While you’re at it, set aside class designations, as well. Whether you, like me, consider the 2018 Toyota C-HR to be unqualified for “crossover” status because it’s missing all-wheel-drive availability, the C-HR is still positioned as a rival for front-wheel-drive HR-Vs, Renegades, Encores, and CX-3s, among others.
The Toyota C-HR was initially intended to form part of the Scion lineup in North America, but with that brand’s demise, Toyota wisely moved the C-HR into its own lineup. Slotted below the Toyota RAV4 with dimensions that all but mirror the old Toyota Matrix, the 2018 Toyota C-HR is a $23,495-25,435 hatchback that’s garnered more attention during its stay with me than any vehicle I’ve ever tested.
To my surprise, almost all of that attention was positive. But is the Toyota C-HR worthy of such attention?
Toyota intends to sell 60,000 C-HRs annually in the United States. If the automaker succeeds, it will do so on the basis of the C-HR’s style (including the perceived crossoverishness), traditional Toyota qualities such as dependability, a high level of standard safety equipment, and on-road behavior that shames a number of its competitors.
Combine a 104-inch wheelbase with 18-inch wheels, a marginally elevated ride height, and modern automotive tendencies to stiffen suspensions. The resultant expectation is for kidney-bruising, filling-loosening, passenger-angering ride quality.
Yet the Toyota C-HR leans strongly toward absorption, a welcome achievement for a vehicle in this category. Or in any other category, for that matter.
Now combine that superior ride quality with delightfully light (albeit uncommunicative) steering and level-headed cornering. The C-HR becomes a charming urban partner.
The benefits of Toyota’s New Global Architecture pay off here as they do in the latest Prius. A stiff structure enables Toyota to maximize handling, relatively speaking, without suffering an unwelcome degradation in rough-road isolation.
Unfortunately, the cheerful manner in which the front strut/multilink rear suspension allows the Toyota C-HR to make its way down the road isn’t matched by the way the 144-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder makes its way up a road, particularly if that road includes a mountain. Or a hill. Or a hillock. Or a slope.
Equipped exclusively with a continuously variable transmission that’s tuned to make the C-HR feel decently jaunty in town, the 3,300-pound C-HR is unhappy when prompted to provide maximum progress. The more demanding you are, the more disappointing the C-HR’s 2.0-liter becomes. The CVT is momentarily AWOL when you suddenly punch the throttle at the base of an incline, leaving you in dire need of either 40 more lb-ft of torque or a manual transmission.
For the most part, prospective C-HR customers who have cross-shopped alternatives from Honda, Chevrolet, Jeep, and Mazda won’t be expecting a powerhouse under the hood. But many of the 2018 C-HR’s potential rivals do offer unique interior benefits: the HR-V’s rear Magic Seats, for instance, or the Mazda’s cut-above materials, or the Jeep’s Uconnect.
From an infotainment perspective, many will be disappointed by the C-HR’s lack of Android Auto/Apple CarPlay connectivity. The backup camera displays its picture in a tiny corner of the rearview mirror. Rear quarters are decidedly more subcompact than compact. Access to the rear seat — via high-mounted door handles that are too lofty for some children to reach and too small for an adult’s meaty hand — is a daily annoyance. Visibility, particularly for shoulder checks on the passenger’s side, is among the worst of any four-door vehicle on sale today. Officially specified to include 19 cubic feet of storage, the cargo area is diminished by the C-HR’s dramatic roofline.
Thankfully, some of these complaints will be forgotten once you spend some time in the driver’s seat. Thick side bolsters and a wide range of adjustment make these front perches among the best sub-$25,000 seats on the market. Manual adjustment is somewhat limiting, but there’s power lumbar support as an added bonus.
On the one hand, the 2018 Toyota C-HR offers a winning chassis and comfortable seats in a rather refined setting. On the other hand, the C-HR’s interior lacks the useable space required to compete with conventional compact hatchbacks while the powertrain lacks the verve to keep up with conventional compact hatchbacks.
On one side of the coin, the C-HR is heaped with blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, auto high beams, radar cruise control, and lane departure warning. On the flip side, there’s no Apple CarPlay, no Android Auto, and no navigation.
In the pro column, the C-HR looks like nothing else on the planet. On the con side of the ledger, the C-HR looks like nothing else on the planet.
Undeniably, the 2018 Toyota C-HR is therefore a divisive car. But can’t the same be said for many of its rivals? From the dying Nissan Juke to the Buick Encore, Honda HR-V, Fiat 500X, and Jeep Renegade, this high-riding category is chock full of vehicles that some of us love to hate and some of us love to buy.
Topping out at $25,345, the 2018 C-HR XLE Premium is competitive with top-spec, front-wheel-drive variants of the Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3, and Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, among others, though its base price is higher.
The problem arises when the C-HR is compared with the Kia Soul, even the $23,695 turbocharged Kia Soul. That explains why the Soul outsells all of the aforementioned C-HR alternatives, and why the Soul is so recommendable.
But that doesn’t mean the more reasonable Soul will stop Toyota from selling a fair number of C-HRs, just as the HR-V’s flexible rear seats and the CX-3’s lively dynamics and the Encore’s quiet cabin and the Renegade’s off-road cred and the Juke’s DIG 1.6 won’t stop Toyota from succeeding with the C-HR, either.
Which means you can go back to determining whether the 2018 Toyota C-HR is ugly or pretty; a car or a crossover.