2018 Toyota C-HR

It could have been a smaller and cheaper alternative to the RAV4, but . . .


The automaker that epitomizes safe and sane models of all shapes and sizes has a surprise in store called the CH-R.

Whether the small-and-tall wagon/hatchback is a hit with buyers could ultimately determine Toyota’s future styling direction for its mainstream sedans and wagons.

The only other vehicles in Toyota’s stable that come close to matching the C-HR in outside-the-box styling are the Prius hybrid (the C-HR shares the same platform with this model) and hydrogen-powered Mirai sedan.

The C-HR, short for Coupe High Rider (although it has four doors), was supposed to wear a Scion badge, but instead received a Toyota emblem when the decision was made to axe the Scion brand in 2016. Had that dedicated-to-youth division lived, the CH-R with its squiggly lined body panels and agglomeration of shapes in back would likely have been an instant hit. It could still be a hit, but it would help if traditional Toyota fans suggest their young-adult offspring check it out as an alternative to the Nissan Juke and Kia Soul.

Compared to those primary competitors, the C-HR is about the same size overall, but it has a significant advantage in distance between the front and rear wheels. In the subcompact bracket, any little bit helps as it translates to more legroom for rear-seat passengers. When it comes to cargo volume with the rear seat left in place or folded, however, the Soul wins the space race by a wide margin.

The C-HR’s cockpit mirrors the exterior’s business, with a busy assortment of pushbuttons for key vehicle functions as well a steering wheel that houses similar controls. And there’s more for the pop-up-style touchscreen’s audio/infotainment system. The owner’s manual will likely be required reading for C-HR buyers.

At least the choice of drivetrains isn’t a complex one. The sole powerplant is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 144 horsepower and 139 pound-feet of torque. It’s paired with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). That combination yields 27 mpg in the city and 31 on the highway. You likely won’t achieve those results when engaging the transmission’s Sport mode (Normal and Eco modes are also there). The shifter controls seven simulated gears, allowing you to manually hold the shift points longer to make the engine rev higher.

The European version of the C-HR is available with all-wheel-drive, but at this point it’s front-wheel-drive only in North America. The absence of AWD might disappoint those living in areas where that cruel weather condition called winter can make driving a challenge.

On dry surfaces, the combination of fender-filling 18-inch wheels and a suspension system that was dialed in on the Nurburgring test track in Germany are intended to add a touch of sportiness and driving competency.

For $23,500, including destination charges, the not-so-base XLE comes with a wide range of content, including dual-zone climate control, power parking brake, auto-dimming rearview mirror with integrated backup camera and leather-covered steering wheel and shifter boot.

For an extra $1,850, the XLE Premium adds fog lights, pushbutton start, heated front seats and power lumbar support for the driver but not the passenger.
Both trims come with a number of dynamic driver’s aids designed to prevent contact with other vehicles or pedestrians.

Along with AWD there are a number of extras that can’t be added to the C-HR at any price, such as leather seat covers, power sunroof, navigation system, Apple CarPlay or Android infotainment, or even the option of subscribing to satellite radio. These features are either standard or optional in other segment models, which makes it difficult to fathom whey they aren’t available on this millennial-focused model.

Still, the 2018 C-HR is such an eye-arresting wagon that the sins of omission that Toyota has committed might be overlooked. In addition, its blend of practicality and affordability certainly make it among the most unique of Toyota’s wide-ranging lineup.

What you should know: 2018 Toyota C-HR

Type: Four-door, front-wheel-drive compact wagon

Engine (h.p.): 2.0-liter DOHC I-4 (144)

Transmission: Continuously variable (CVT)

Market position: The C-HR isn’t a compact-utility vehicle in the traditional sense, since it isn’t available with all-wheel-drive. However that won’t really matter to buyers seeking a stylish, practical small car at an affordable price.

• Eye-catching design isn’t overly attractrive, but will definietly get you noticed.
• Interior is a busy spot, but not much more so that many other cars.
• Standard four-cylinder engine’s horsepower is about average in its class.
• Decent assortment of standard and available equipment, but AWD plus other comfort/safety content is seriously lacking.

Active safety: Blind-spot warning (opt.); cross-traffic alert (opt.); active cruise control (std.); emergency braking (std.); lane-departure warning; pedestrian detection (std.).

MPG (city/hwy): 27/31

Base price (incl. destination): $23,500

By Comparison:

Nissan Juke
Base price: $21,200
Funky small wagon has a powerful turbo I-4 with 188-h.p. AWD version available.

Chevrolet Trax
Base price: $21,900
Short and stubby, but a tall body allows for lots of cargo room. AWD is optional.

Kia Soul
Base price: $17,000
FWD wagon available with 201-h.p. turbo. All-electric model can also be ordered.