New C-HR an at­ten­tion grab­ber in looks, per­for­mance

The Amherst News - - WHEELS - By Justin Pritchard wheels Justin Pritchard is an au­to­mo­tive con­sul­tant and a mem­ber of the Au­to­mo­bile Jour­nal­ists As­so­ci­a­tion of Canada (AJAC). http://justin­

Just two hours into my road test, the new C-HR had been pho­tographed by cam­era-phone wield­ing gawk­ers no less than a dozen times.

Toy­ota’s lat­est util­ity model, whose name is an ab­bre­vi­a­tion for Compact High Rider is an all-new model slot­ted in be­neath the RAV4, where it in­tends to com­pete for your dol­lars with the likes of machines like the Nis­san Juke and Honda HR-V.

But un­like those, or just about any other ve­hi­cle on this side of a much larger price-tag, this lit­tle ute comes with big-time looks. It’s the first util­ity ve­hi­cle I’ve ever seen any­one pho­to­graph, let alone a dozen times or more.

Last time I drove some­thing this at­ten­tion-grab­bing, it was a six-fig­ure Porsche with a spoiler the size of a park bench.

If you’re af­ter a compact sports ute with stand-out looks, and some­thing that cap­tures the ap­pear­ance and feel of driv­ing a small sports car, but with ex­tra room and ride height, Toy­ota’s lat­est ma­chine would like to meet you.

Just re­mem­ber the name. In some ways, the C-HR, or compact high rider, comes off less as a sports util­ity ve­hi­cle, and more like a sports hatch with el­e­vated ride height and ground clear­ance.

Those will­ing to give up a bit of roomi­ness, vis­i­bil­ity and head­room, in ex­change for styling that punches well above its weight, will love what’s go­ing on. Heck, from some an­gles, you could be for­given for think­ing the C-HR was a pricier Lexus.

C-HR’s eggs aren’t all stuffed into the styling bas­ket, ei­ther.

The cabin is an­other as­set. There’s plenty of stor­age nearby, most of the right ma­te­ri­als are in the right places, and unique­ness abounds via the ex­ten­sive use of con­trast, lay­er­ing and tex­ture.

The multi-tiered dash­board, com­plete with ac­cent stitch­ing, helps richen up the look. Door pan­els and ceil­ing liner have unique tex­tures ap­plied, and a swoop­ing cen­tre con­sole, and vivid cen­tral touch-screen in­ter­face, help com­plete the pack­age. Roomier cab­ins ex­ist for the money, but for de­sign and ma­te­ri­als, the C-HR largely hits the mark.

In back, the cargo hold is big­ger than you think, more wide than tall. Rear seats fold fully-flat when needed, eas­ing the trans­port of larger items with­out any wasted space.

Get used to the high-mounted rear door han­dles, and the slight duck to avoid nog­gin-whack­ing when board­ing the rear seats, and you’ll find rel­a­tively gen­er­ous legroom and width — though the low roofline, black ceil­ing liner and short win­dows mean it feels some­what con­fined.

Power comes from a two-litre, 144-horse­power four-cylin­der. The ex­clu­sive gear­box at writ­ing was a con­tin­u­ally vari­able trans­mis­sion, or CVT, and a very good one at that — it’s smooth, sim­u­lates shift­ing gears when pushed a lit­tle, and keeps plenty of re­sponse just a squeeze of the throt­tle away.

Dur­ing light to mod­er­ate ac­cel­er­a­tion, the driv­e­line is liq­uid smooth and ad­mirably hushed, though it can sound a lit­tle harsh when opened right up.

Ride qual­ity and han­dling are the C-HR’s most valu­able as­sets. It’s mildly taut and sporty, en­abling some en­ter­tain­ing frisk­i­ness when driv­ers push, though this never comes at the ex­pense of com­fort thanks to a pre­cise­ly­de­ployed soft­ness around the edges of the sus­pen­sion travel.

The ride feels di­aled in to de­liver ath­letic and ea­ger han­dling, but with­out crash­ing into bumps or de­grad­ing into dis­com­fort. Nor­mally, I ex­pect this level of sus­pen­sion fine-tun­ing in a much pricier ma­chine.

Steer­ing cal­i­bra­tion demon­strates sim­i­lar ex­per­tise. Though short on feed­back, the weight and ra­tio feel just-right at vir­tu­ally all times: light and easy at lower speeds around town and heav­ier and more con­fi­dent on the high­way, help­ing lock the ve­hi­cle into its line. The steer­ing is quicker than av­er­age, for a Model: 2018 Toy­ota C-HR En­gine: Two-litre four cylin­der, 144 horse­power

Driv­e­train: Front-wheel drive Ob­served mileage: 8.2L/100km Trans­mis­sion: Con­tin­u­ally vari­able trans­mis­sion

Fea­tures: Heated seats, au­to­matic lights, au­to­matic cli­mate con­trol, backup cam­era, re­mote ac­cess, radar cruise, blind-spot mon­i­tor­ing, push-but­ton start, pud­dle lamps

What’s hot: Ex­cel­lent ride qual­ity, ex­cel­lent steer­ing, funto-drive han­dling, killer looks, de­cent fuel econ­omy

What’s not: In­te­rior tight­ens up for larger oc­cu­pants, no man­ual trans­mis­sion avail­able, lim­ited out­ward vis­i­bil­ity

Start­ing price: $24,690

Price as tested: $26,290 feel that’s more sports car than sports util­ity.

Brake feel falls slightly short — the sys­tem is pow­er­ful, but the same sporty driver im­pressed by the C-HR’s steer­ing and han­dling will wish for a more pre­cise pedal feel from its brakes.

Gripes mostly cen­tre around the com­pro­mises re­quired to en­able the C-HR’s rad­i­cal looks. Head­room tight­ens quickly for taller oc­cu­pants, rear seats are roomy enough but may feel con­fin­ing, and rear­ward lane-change vis­i­bil­ity is lim­ited, so you’ll have to set your mir­rors up per­fectly.

Fur­ther, when re­vers­ing, you’ll rely on the backup cam­era, which is fairly small and mounted some­what con­fus­ingly in the rearview mirror.

End of the day, where shop­per priorities in a small util­ity model cen­tre more around han­dling, ride qual­ity and style than vis­i­bil­ity and all-out cargo space, the C-HR should be con­sid­ered a pri­or­ity test-drive.

Just note that, as of writ­ing, All Wheel Drive was not yet avail­able.

The 2018 Toy­ota CH-R is pow­ered by its two-litre, four-cylin­der en­gine which gen­er­ates up to 144 horse­power.

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