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Quick spin: 2018 Toyota C-HR [Review]

by Byron Hurd

Toyota\'s in the baby crossover game.

When Scion showed its C-HR Concept at the L.A. Auto Show in 2015, it was already widely speculated that Toyota's youth-focused sub-brand was not long for this world. Indeed, it was essentially just a matter of weeks before Scion's demise was confirmed by company executives.

Fortunately, the nose job that made the C-HR Concept a Scion (rather than a Toyota, as it was shown overseas) didn't set the company back much in the R&D department. With all the proper badges slapped on it, the subcompact crossover was ready to go.

What is it?
As mentioned previously, the C-HR is a subcompact-based CUV based on Toyota's new global architecture platform (in this case, the small-car variant). It's powered by a 144-horsepower, two-liter engine mated to a continuously variable transmission. Unlike some crossovers in this segment (and Toyota's larger RAV4 compact), it's exclusively available with front-wheel drive.

What's it up against?
The C-HR competes with an ever-growing segment of baby crossovers, from Honda's HR-V to Mazda's CX-3 and everything in between. Most of its competitors are available with optional all-wheel-drive, a feature which Toyota's offering conspicuously lacks.

If a small footprint and utility matter more to you than ground clearance, the C-HR's cargo area is on par with most compact hatchbacks, such as Toyota's own Corolla iM, the Ford Focus Hatchback, Chevy Cruze Hatchback, Volkswagen Golf and others.

How does it look?
That the C-HR was intended to be a Scion in the U.S. market is no surprise. Like the aforementioned Corolla iM (also previously sold as a Scion), its styling is on the funky side. Our tester sports a contrast-color paint job on the roof (part of the "R-Code" appearance package), which gives it even more character.

It's a bit much, we'll admit, but we don't hate it. It's not as subtle as a Mazda CX-3 (which one could easily mistake for a regular old 3 Hatchback from a distance) or as cleanly chiseled as, say, a Buick Encore, but it's interesting in a good way. As busy as the design may be, it works better than the rather dowdy Honda HR-V's and looks less upright and ungainly than the Chevrolet Trax. All in all, we'll call that a win.

And the inside?
In here, it's plainly obvious that the C-HR was built with an entry-level customer in mind. There's little contrast in the trim and just about every piece is relatively smooth (and correspondingly hard) plastic. Touch points (including the arm rests and steering wheel) are much better, thankfully, and we like the texture on the C-HR's seats.

We found the in-mirror rear-view camera felt like a cheap dealer add-on rather than an OEM part, especially in light of the fact that a seven-inch infotainment screen dominates the area above the center stack. Why run the rear-view camera to a tiny display in the mirror when this huge piece of real estate sits essentially unused, blinking Bluetooth status updates rather than showing the surroundings?

There are a handful of other bizarre choices as well. The C-HR's auto high-beam toggle is a button located where you'd expect to find things like a cabin light dimmer or driver assist toggle switches. We were also puzzled by the metal-finished gear selector, which looks strangely out-of-place (aftermarket, even) in an otherwise very dark interior.

But does it go?
We had the C-HR for a long weekend in Maryland, giving us the opportunity to try it out both on the highway and around town. We didn't put enough miles on it to get a good sense of whether the efficiency-minded four-cylinder and CVT earn their keep in the mileage department, but we did get to try it out under some relatively diverse driving conditions.

Our first take-away was the C-HR's steering, which was quicker and more immediate than we expected. Many short-wheelbase vehicles don't behave nicely with steering this borderline-twitchy, but we didn't find ourselves needing to make excessive corrections to keep it going straight on the highway, so call this one a win.

The C-HR's driver aids seem to be up to the task of everyday driving. Our experience with its adaptive cruise control system was mostly positive, with its only black mark being an inability to quickly resume speeds after a leading vehicle clears the lane. That's not the fault of the system so much as a product of the C-HR's relatively humble power output and parasitic CVT.

We found the ride and handling struck a reasonable balance for a small crossover. Credit its fully independent rear suspension--a rarity in this class outside of other slightly-too-big-to-really-be-subcompact entries, such as the Subaru Crosstrek. However, there's no hiding the C-HR's short wheelbase or 18" wheels when things really get choppy; you'll feel it. An Avalon this is not.

Our other quibbles were few. We'd like to hear less wind noise (distinctly audible from the mirror/a-pillar at anything above about 30-35 miles per hour) and we'd like a slightly better response from the turn signal (We said quibbles, didn't we?). The too-quiet turn signal indicator tick and cheap-feeling stalk led to more than one instance of us hunting around in the cluster to make sure it had actually activated.

Leftlane's bottom line
The C-HR is a surprisingly sporty entry from Toyota in what will continue to be an evolving segment of the marketplace. It's cheap, but not a penalty box. We're puzzled by the absence of an all-wheel-drive option and the inclusion of a (rare for Toyota) CVT, but they don't detract too much from what seems to be a competent package.

2018 Toyota C-HR XLE Premium R-Code base price, $24,350; as tested, $26,794
Ruby Flare Pearl paint, $395; R-Code, $500; Carpeted floor mats and cargo mat, $194; Paint protection film, $395; Destination, $960

Exterior photos by Byron Hurd. Interior photos courtesy of Toyota.