It’s got the show, but not so much go
Words by: Adam Allen
Whoa…this thing is a Toyota?
We were thinking the same thing when we first clapped eyes on it. The company that has brought us such pulse-quickening styling exercises as the Corolla and Sienna have unleashed their most aesthetically aggressive car in recent memory, the C-HR you see here. It was supposed to be a Scion, but after the brand was euthanized the decision was made to swap badges and get ‘em into showrooms. The styling is certainly polarizing- we heard equal parts praise and derision- but admittedly, we like what they’ve done with it. Toyota should get kudos for having the cojones to put their name on something that strays so far from their comfort zone. Take a look at the rear quarter panels- how many sleepless nights did those cause for those tasked with making the tool and dye components for it at the factory?
The funky theme continues inside, too.
Check out the headliner and on the door panels in the gallery- Toyota calls this motif “sexy diamond”. We’re not sure they impart any measurable level of arousal, but they do help liven up the interior. Looking around, you’ll find the environs typical Toyota, which means to say that other than those racy diamond accents everything is exactly where you would expect to find it, and nothing looks or feels like it’s going to break. The seats are upholstered in grippy cloth (leather is not available) and drivers are faced with an instrument panel that exudes a calm logicalness to its layout; only a split-second glance is required to tell you all you need to know. Those funky rear doors open up to a rear seat that is surprisingly spacious. The only disappointing thing about the cockpit is the frustrating infotainment system that we’ve seen in Scions past. It is neither intuitive or easy to use, and the lack of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is puzzling, even more so than the lack of navigation. Ostensibly, Toyota is going after the millennial set with this car, and to have such a glaring omission of the technology these buyers expect is a bit puzzling. So to is the rearview camera that takes up a tiny bit of real estate in the rearview mirror- it isn’t particularly helpful. And you will need a camera to help with backing up and parallel parking because the C-pillar necessitates a massive blind spot and the rear window doesn’t offer an expansive outward view.
Explain the ‘all show, no go’ thing.
Extroverted styling does not a sports car make. The C-HR has been saddled with a drivetrain that feels more appropriate for a Corolla than something with such an uninhibited design. Around town, the naturally aspirated 2.0 litre four cylinder and CVT transmission allow the C-HR to keep up acceptably with the cut and thrust of local traffic. It’s only when you summon full power- even in the so-called Sport mode- that things take on a kind of sad trombone feel. With the gas pedal pinned to the firewall, the C-HR groans to 100 km/h in a hair over 11 seconds while the CVT moos in protest. That, folks, is glacially slow. Passing maneuvers require deft planning or abandoning the idea altogether. We sense there is a bit of a missed opportunity here- this car is begging for more performance that would be easily attainable if Toyota drops its Euro-spec 1.2 litre turbo four banger into the engine bay (and it’s available with a manual and AWD, too.) Yet for all the forlorn performance metrics, all is not lost with the C-HR. It is based in Toyota’s new TNGA platform which is set to underpin everything from the Prius to the Highlander. For something that will be used extensively throughout their lineup, it needs to be impeccably engineered, and it is. The ride quality is excellent thanks in part to fancy Sachs dampers and the C-HR is utterly unfazed by road imperfections. Handling is the C-HR’s strongest dynamic attribute, and although the proceedings are let down somewhat by steering that isn’t exactly talkative, the suspension certainly allows for some fun. It’s also quiet and appreciably refined so long as the engine isn’t straining against the redline. Fuel economy is also a strong suit- on one highway trip we averaged 6.3L/100km, a pleasingly sizable jump over what Toyota quotes at 7.5L/100km. It also handles frigid temperatures remarkably well- those responsible for its cold weather performance deserve a medal. On the coldest morning of the year where the mercury dipped to minus thirty degrees Celsius, the C-HR started right up without any protest whatsoever. The defogger made short work of the crusted-in-ice windscreen, and the heated seats warmed our keisters quickly.
What might go wrong?
The C-HR is a few fixes away from being an interesting car. Obviously, we’d start by addressing the tepid performance and lack of available techno-bits (that includes installing a proper backup camera.) The biggest gripe we have with the C-HR is that it doesn’t offer all-wheel drive. A good set of snow tires like we had on our tester allow you to slog through winter’s worst, but when its main competitors (Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V, Kia Soul and others) all offer it as an option, it’s tough to justify its absence.
Should I buy a C-HR?
We’ve talked about the type of buyer before who just wants something to get them reliably from A to B and if it happens to look good and offer a good mix of standard kit, all the better. For folks like that, the C-HR is a good bet. It certainly has that intangible whiff of Toyota quality meaning that if it’s properly maintained it should last for many, many years. For those who are led to believe the Type A styling means a driving experience to match, they may want to look elsewhere. As we said, the C-HR is a few tweaks away from being a cool car- we hope that Toyota has a few tricks up its sleeve.
2018 Toyota C-HR– Specifications
- Price as tested: $28,178
- Body Type: 4-door, 5 passenger CUV
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/Front-Wheel Drive
- Engine: 2.0 litre 4-cylinder, DOHC, 16 valves
- Horsepower: 144 @ 6,100 rpm
- Torque (lb-ft.): 139 @ 3,900 rpm
- Transmission: Continuously Variable Automatic
- Curb weight: 1,491kg (3,286 lbs.)
- Fuel consumption: 18.7L/100km (22 mpg)