Pow­er­train short­com­ings a trade-off for in­spired looks and gen­uine com­fort

Ottawa Citizen - - DRIVING - DEREK McNAUGHTON Driv­ing.ca

Every now and then, a ve­hi­cle comes along that cre­ates a seg­ment. Lee Ia­cocca’s Dodge Car­a­van cre­ated the mini­van move­ment, the AMC Ea­gle laid the foun­da­tion for fu­ture “crossovers.” And Jeeps, Land Rovers, and Toy­ota’s FJ60 and FJ62 Land Cruis­ers ce­mented the love for SUVs.

The 2018 Toy­ota C-HR is no Jac­ques Cartier of the bur­geon­ing “com­pact cross­over” class — Toy­ota likes to call it a CoupeHigh Rider — but it joins a grow­ing breed of ur­ban ve­hi­cles poised to share in the pop­u­lar­ity of the ex­pand­ing CUV world. The Ford EcoS­port, Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3 and Subaru Crosstrek also jockey in sim­i­lar space.

These city slick­ers are de­cid­edly not SUVs; these are small, front-wheel-drive cars (the Crosstrek notwith­stand­ing) de­signed to sit higher than the tra­di­tional com­pact car, be­cause driv­ers like to see down the road. Prob­lem is, the com­pact na­ture of these ve­hi­cles lim­its their cot­tage-road and win­ter abil­i­ties. It also pinches their cargo space.

To be hon­est, they’re not much more use­ful than the av­er­age Corolla. But darned if the C-HR doesn’t look so damned smart, noth­ing like the gluten-free brown bread of the Corolla class.

With a face like a grumpy Hump­back, a rear very much like the swank new Civic, and flanks that get all jagged and swoopy at the same time, the C-HR is a lot to look at. Al­most ev­ery­one who saw the C-HR liked it.

Sadly, the ex­cite­ment on the out­side doesn’t carry through un­der the hood. A 2.0-litre four­cylin­der en­gine with just 144 horse­power and 139 pound-feet of torque is im­pres­sively smooth around town, but there’s no real grunt to share on so­cial me­dia.

Even when the drive mode is switched to Sport there’s lit­tle to post about. Sport mode quick­ens the CVT’s ar­ti­fi­cial up shifts, and holds the rpms higher, but the CVT can’t com­pen­sate for the ab­sence of power and the over­all re­sult is un­der­whelm­ing.

The same thing hap­pens when pass­ing and try­ing to evade traf­fic: The lack of a tur­bocharger makes it seem like the styling de­part­ment and the en­gine de­part­ment for C-HR were on dif­fer­ent con­ti­nents.

Some of the ra­tio­nale for such lim­ited power goes to fuel econ­omy, where the C-HR is rated at 8.2 L/100 kilo­me­tres for com­bined high­way and city driv­ing.

But even that isn’t a spec­tac­u­lar num­ber, and the 12 L/100 kilo­me­tres I av­er­aged in the city was quite re­moved from the 8.7 I should have achieved.

Built on Toy­ota’s TNGA C-plat­form, with a low cen­tre of grav­ity but high strength and rigid­ity, the C-HR’s han­dling was bet­ter than the av­er­age com­pact car. Unique dampers for the MacPher­son strut front sus­pen­sion and a big­ger sta­bi­lizer al­low for quick turn in, al­though there’s not much fol­low through. Pushed hard through longer turns, the C-HR un­der­steers eas­ily and the Dun­lop SP Sport tires are quick to give up grip. But the ride is gen­uinely com­fort­able, happy to con­sume plenty of beat up roads. Coarse­ness is also well con­trolled when not flog­ging the en­gine, and noise is no­tice­ably con­tained, even on the high­way.

For any­one who only wants sim­ple, get-around-town mo­bil­ity that looks far and away bet­ter than a com­pact car, the C-HR will work, es­pe­cially with a price of $24,690 be­fore freight and taxes for the one and only trim level, the XLE. A “premium pack­age” is avail­able that adds 18-inch al­loy wheels, Toy­ota’s smart key, power fold­ing mir­rors with pud­dle lamps as well as blind-spot mon­i­tor­ing and rear cross-traf­fic alert to bring the price to $26,290.

And blind-spot mon­i­tor­ing is a must. Inside, an all black head­liner makes the cabin feel dark, and the view be­hind and from the C-pil­lar back is lim­ited. While there is no such thing as a blind spot if your mir­rors are ad­justed cor­rectly, the C-HR doesn’t ex­actly help the driver out here.

A tiny, postage-stamp-size rear-view cam­era in the rearview mir­ror is dis­ori­en­tat­ing and al­most use­less, but why the im­age couldn’t be broad­cast on the seven-inch cen­tre screen seems wildly cheap and dis­ap­point­ing.

Cargo space of 538 L (19 cu­bic feet) is big enough for about two hockey bags, but the 60/40-split rear seats fold flat.

That’s a lot less space than many CUVs, which are only slightly big­ger and come with more use­ful­ness, which ex­plains why the seg­ment is so strong. Whether the CUV seg­ment can be splin­tered to make room for a smaller, less ca­pa­ble but good look­ing “coupe” re­mains to be seen.


The 2018 Toy­ota C-HR’s ex­cit­ing ex­te­rior doesn’t re­flect what’s un­der the hood.

For the full rat­ing break­down, visit Driv­ing.ca

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