2018 TOYOTA C-HR COMPACT BIG ON FLASH, SHORT ON ZIP
Powertrain shortcomings a trade-off for inspired looks and genuine comfort
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