New C-HR an attention grabber in looks, performance
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.