You can tell that the 2018 Toyota C-HR wasn’t supposed to be a Toyota. From the bulbous exterior design to the monochromatic interior schema, there is nothing about this vehicle that says: “I’m a Toyota.”
It’s quirky and kind of cute, and it packs a lot of features into a compact shell.
Nope, the C-HR was designed as a Scion. But with the hot compact crossover segment exploding, when Toyota eighty-sixed the youthful low-end brand, it kept the C-HR and tucked it under the RAV4 in its SUV lineup.
While the C-HR is an untraditional Toyota, I’d argue it’s a great addition to the otherwise staid lineup.
One of the best – or worst, depending on your perspective – things about the C-HR is its unique styling. With a rounded front end and angular rear, it doesn’t look quite like anything currently on the market.
Which is utterly refreshing.
Its frog-like looks have been likened to the defunct Nissan Juke, but CH-R’s normal-enough headlights make the styling on this cute-ute a little easier to swallow. In fact, it’s those headlights alone that give it a tie to the Toyota lineup.
The C-HR cashes in on the two-tone trend, offering three color combinations that involve a white roof with a vibrantly colored body. Not a fan of two-tone? There are six single-toned exteriors also available.
The one design quirk I could do without, however, is the oddly placed rear door handles. They’re tucked next to the kink of the rear window, high up next to the roof. Not only are they awkward to reach – especially for those on the petite side of the spectrum – but they also create a bit of a blind spot for the driver.
The interior is simple and monochromatically black. From the cloth seats to the lacquered accents to the etched plastic on the doors, the overall look and feel is sturdy and stain-free.
Ride & Handling
In a quirk of fate, I drove the C-HR directly after returning from the new Nissan Kicks press event. So the question du jour was: How do they compare?
The brief answer is: The C-HR just all around feels heavier. The doors and the steering both had weight to them, which means the Kicks felt nimble in comparison.
The C-HR is equipped with a 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine that delivers 144 horsepower and 139 pound-feet of torque. And while this is about 20 horsepower and pound-feet more than the Kicks has, it should also be noted that the C-HR weighs about 700 pounds more. So, the extra power is a wash.
Because of the extra weight, I will say the C-HR feels a little more planted on the road, but it didn’t really feel faster.
The EPA estimates the fuel economy for the C-HR to be 27 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway, with a combined rating of 29 mpg.
I averaged 27.7 mpg in combined driving, so not quite as good as I would have hoped.
Tech & gadgets
One of the best things about the C-HR is that the up-level safety technology is standard. Toyota has started including Toyota Safety Sense with Pedestrian Detection (TSS-P) to all its new vehicles. Standard. Which means you get things like adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist and automatic high beams across the board with no extra fees.
Well done, Toyota.
Other tech features available on the C-HR include push-button start, passive entry, brake hold, a 7-inch touch-screen display and dual-zone climate control.
Something that’s not available: Android Auto or Apple CarPlay integration. While Toyota has started to offer CarPlay (but not Auto) in some of its vehicles, it’s not yet available in the C-HR – and may not be until a mid-cycle refresh, which is still a few years down the road.
One feature I’m still undecided about is the rear-view mirror that integrates the back-up camera. Most camera displays appear within the center stack, so it was disconcerting to see the tiny back-up image appearing within the mirror.
And one tech fail: There’s only one USB port. (In case you were wondering, Nissan Kicks has three.)
The C-HR has a very simple two-trim structure with very little in the way of options or packages. It also only comes as a front-wheel-drive vehicle.
XLE ($23,545): This well-equipped base trim comes with standard TSS-P, dual-zone automatic climate control, back-up camera, cloth seating surfaces, Bluetooth phone connectivity and a 7-inch touch screen display on the center stack.
XLE Premium ($25,395): This trim adds items such as blind-spot monitoring, puddle lights with Toyota C-HR projection, passive entry, push-button start and heated front seats.
The test vehicle was an XLE premium model, and it didn’t add any of the accessories or the up-level Ruby Flare Pearl ($395) paint. So, the as-tested price was $25,395.
One interesting thing to note is though heated seats become standard at the XLE Premium trim, there is no leather-like seating surface option, which the Kicks does have. And if you go all-in on the Kicks with the top trim and add the Premium Package, you’re still looking at a topped-out price that’s less than the C-HR at $22,810.
What the Kicks doesn’t offer: adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist.
Toyota has really upped its safety game in the last year, setting a trend we hope other automakers will follow. In addition to the usual safety standards such as air bags, anti-lock brakes and traction control, Toyota has made its entire safety suite standard. So, things like automatic emergency braking and lane keep assist are standard.
At the time of publishing this article, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety hadn’t crash tested the C-HR, but the small SUV has all the up-level features that would qualify it for a Top Safety Pick – assuming that the crash tests come back with “Good” ratings.
The National Highway Traffic Safety administration has rated the C-HR, however, and gives it an overall 5-Star Safety Rating.
Not sure what the safety ratings mean? We break it down for you here.
New for 2018
The C-HR is all new for the 2018 model year.
A few of my favorite things
This may be a weird thing to love, but I’m totally hooked on cloth heated seats.
Leather can be cold in the winter and hot in the summer, but cloth seating surfaces are always fairly temperate – and when you add in the heated bits for winter, they’re perfect.
I’m also a huge fan of the simplistic approach to the trim structure. A higher trim equals more content. No packages available. What you see is what you get.
What I can leave
Though I love the quirky styling, I could probably do without the oddly placed rear door handles. In addition to being super high (they were at my eye-level), they create a bit of a blind spot for the driver out the rear quarter of the vehicle.
Also, now that the Nissan Kicks is on the scene, the CH-R may have to revisit its price structure. Sure, it has some features that Kicks doesn’t, but when you can get a fully tricked out Kicks for less than the base CH-R, that’s going to give people pause.
The bottom line
I liked the C-HR. It’s a good vehicle, and if you’re looking to stay within the Toyota environment, it will give you solid fuel economy, decent cargo space and a quiet, comfortable ride.
Plus, it has a ton of up-level safety content as standard fare. That’s a huge bonus in my book.
But if money is a concern, there are other more cost-effective options on the market – like the Nissan Kicks – that look more mainstream, have a lot of good available safety content and still have a nice ride.
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