2018 Toyota C-HR First Drive

by Lawana Perkins | Posted on Monday, March 20th, 2017

Compact crossovers are a license to print money, and the 2018 Toyota C-HR will no doubt benefit from that trend. It was originally meant to be Scion’s savior, but then Scion folded, and this failed date with destiny sets the C-HR apart from other Toyota crossovers. It comes in two trims with zero available options and, most notably for a crossover, no all-wheel drive. Not since the introduction of the Nissan Juke nearly seven years ago has a compact placed such an emphasis on styling over customization and usability, but even the Juke can send power to all four wheels. Some will see it as a compromise, others won’t care.

2018 Toyota C-HR

Most Scions were mono-spec vehicles, leaving a buyer to choose an exterior color and a transmission. Sure, dealers offered a number of optional accessories like lights, wheels, and body kits, but it was all just toppings. Likewise, choices on the C-HR are limited to paint color and trim. No all-wheel drive, no manual transmission, and a black interior.

The C-HR – or Coupe High-Rider in Toyotaspeak – has some styling elements sure to turn off some customers. Toyota seems okay with that, as it wanted to bring the C-HR concept’s striking looks to the road. It mostly works, with only the tacked-on, RAV4-esque front end spoiling the overall balance. From the profile, the C-HR has a severe underbite – it just doesn’t match. The lower front fascia also negates any pretense of off-road prowess the C-HR might have had. But so does its front-drive-only nature.

The rest of the design looks rather chic. A sharp and distinct character line carries over the headlights, down behind the front wheel, and up through the tail light. Another cuts just below the windows, making the doors tight and muscular. It’s as distinct in person as it is in photos, creating deep shadows as the lines shape and bend the light. While those lines may be unique, much of the rest feels old-hat and derivative.

That floating roofline and the C-shaped taillights have both been done before and arguably better, though the roof does work well in one of the three available R-Code two-tone paint schemes. The high-mounted rear door handle and small rear windows recall the Hyundai Veloster. The awkward placement means you’re forced to pull the handle like you would a door knocker. At least it looks cool.

The rear glass is sharply raked, ending in a ducktail that almost gives the C-HR a split-spoiler appearance. It looks good in an overdone Japanese way, though the result is limited rearward visibility. Cargo space is ample, although the load floor is a bit high. There definitely isn’t anything as boldly styled in this class, save for the Nissan Juke.

Like a good former Scion, the C-HR is aimed at millennials, the same group that Toyota’s youth brand desperately wanted to attract. Toyota’s ideal C-HR shopper is single or married without kids. Back-seat passengers of any sort would therefore be rare, which the company feels justifies the compromised second row.

People want crossovers for the looks, the high seating position, and the cargo space. Solid driving dynamics might be a bonus, but they’re not the reason someone seeks out a small utility like this. That leaves the C-HR’s unique styling and standard safety items as the big differentiators in a crowded segment. If those are priorities and you’re a fan of the look, the C-HR is a good pick.

That said, Scion failed because people didn’t care for what the company was selling. Sure, the fact this crossover now has a Toyota badge means it is going to sell by the literal boatloads (the C-HR is manufactured in Turkey); the company is expecting to move 30,000 units in 2017, ramping up to 60,000 in 2018. But it’s still a vehicle built on Scion principles, and it’s hard to overcome genetics. Those interested in options like navigation, leather, and a moonroof are going to have to look elsewhere.


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