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At first blush, the 2018 Toyota C-HR's exterior styling is very aggressive. The compact crossover is sharply angled and steeply raked with bulging wheel arches. However, closer observation reveals that there is a curvaceousness to the design that also makes it look a bit fun and approachable with its Grumpy Cat face and rounded silhouette.
I get hints of Hyundai's Veloster in details like the windswept headlamps and VW's Beetle in the flared haunches. The trapezoidal rear door handles tuck in the upper corner of the rear glass, making the crossover look like a coupe. Despite the steeply angled roofline, there's a reasonable amount of headroom on the second row.
There's not an angle at which you can view the C-HR where it looks boring; though, there are a few unflattering ones. In profile, for example, the long front overhang is plainly obvious, sort of spoiling the sporty "wheels at the corner" aesthetic. But overall, I enjoyed the high level of curb appeal.
I should also note that the C-HR is a car that wears color well, so don't be afraid to go bold when choosing yours. Our example popped in Blue Eclipse Metallic, but the Ruby Red Pearl also looks pretty sweet. My personal favorite wild color is the optional Radiant Green Mica with contrasting white roof; it stands all the way out in a crowd.
Inside, some thought has gone into maintaining the high-style aesthetic, but the C-HR's low budget is more plainly felt. There are lovely details, like a sculpted pattern in the headliner, but mostly I was disappointed by the hollow and cheap-feeling plastic that makes up most of the cabin surfaces.
Despite the aggro-futuristic look, the C-HR is a surprisingly docile ride. Under the hood, a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine makes just 144 horsepower and 139 pound-feet of torque. The only transmission available is a continuously variable one -- Toyota's CVTi-S features Sport, Normal, Manual and Eco programs -- and the only configuration available is front-wheel drive.
Those looking for high performance or wanting to use the C-HR to get to outdoor activities may find that a pretty disappointing loadout, particularly the lack of all-wheel drive. However, the C-HR performs well enough within its limitations. The CVT does a pretty good job of making the best use of the torque on hand, delivering good around-town pep even as it gives up a bit of off-the-line responsiveness. Sure, it could use a bit more power, but the crossover feels adequate for commuting and running errands.
I expected the C-HR to be more firmly sprung, but the ride was quite comfortable. The C-HR did a great job absorbing impacts from potholes and bumps, while still feeling planted and confident around a bend. The compliant suspension and smooth torque delivery made for a casual and laid-back driving character that was relaxing and totally in contrast to the sharp exterior.
The C-HR delivers average fuel economy. At 27 city mpg, 31 highway mpg and 29 mpg combined, the EPA estimates are middle-of-the-road for this class. Subaru's Crosstrek returns similar economy with standard all-wheel drive and Honda's HR-V beats it by 2 to 3 mpg across the board. That makes me even more disappointed that our market doesn't get the C-HR Hybrid model available to European and Japanese buyers.
Perhaps the most surprising detail about the C-HR is that the Toyota Safety Sense P (TSS-P) suite of driver aid technology is standard on all models. That includes forward precollision braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with lane-keeping steering assist, automatic high-beam headlamps and full-speed-range adaptive cruise control; it's a feature set you'd expect to pay a few grand for on a luxury car that is standard equipment on this quirky $23,000 Toyota. That's amazing!
Step up from the base XLE model to an XLE Premium to add blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert to the driver aid mix.
The C-HR also comes standard with a reverse camera that displays through a teensy 2-inch screen housed within the rearview mirror. While I was happy to have a camera, I found the display hard to see in bright daylight, making me go just a bit cross-eyed trying to focus on it. In the end, I resorted to good old-fashioned looking over the shoulder.
Dashboard technology in the C-HR is simple to the point of annoyance. The single-option receiver lacks Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. There's no navigation option from Toyota, so I was stuck using my phone on a suction cup to get to unfamiliar locations. There's not even an option for satellite radio tuning.
The only audio sources are simple AM/FM with HD Radio, Bluetooth for hands-free calling and audio streaming and USB and iPod connectivity. I'd say this is a radio straight out of 2010, but it doesn't even have a CD slot.
The reason for this simplicity is that the C-HR was originally intended to live under the Scion brand and was designed with Scion-simple dashboard tech. For Scion models, tech upgrades came in the form of dealer-installed upgrades, basically aftermarket stereos supplied by Toyota/Scion partners. But now that Scion has dissolved, the crossover is left in tech limbo, saddled with the most basic equipment but without access to the Scion accessory-based upgrade path.
Fortunately, the C-HR also continues the Scion tradition of using standard 2DIN sizing for its receiver, so the best thing I can say about the standard tech is that at least it'll be easy to remove and replace the unit with a better receiver from Alpine, Pioneer or Sony for a few hundred bucks. And because the C-HR is so inexpensive, there's bound to be some dough left in the budget for that.
The 2018 Toyota C-HR is available in just two trim levels starting at $22,500 for the base XLE and topping out at $24,350 for XLE Premium. The Premium model gets touch-unlock door handles, fog lights, blind-spot monitoring and not a whole lot more. A $995 destination charge gets added to the bottom line of both models.
You'll want to also budget a few hundred extra bucks to get a better car audio receiver with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay or at least navigation from your local 12-volt installer. Other options worth considering are the special pearlescent or metallic paint colors or the special "R-Code" paint package that adds contrasting white paint to the roof. If you're into that, it'll run you between $500 and $895 depending on hue chosen.
Other than that and a few dealer-installed accessories, there are no other options, upgrades or packages, another holdout of the "no-haggle pricing" at the C-HR's Scion roots.
The C-HR is an oddly charming car; I really fell in love with it even though I can't in good faith give it higher than the middling score it earns. As a fan of custom car audio from way back, I see potential and longevity in the easily upgradable dashboard tech, even as I'm frustrated with the out-of-the-box experience. The idea of overhauling the tech every few years without having to overhaul the entire vehicle is appealing to me.
The beauty of the C-HR is that it offers this simple level of dashboard tech while also coming standard with some awesome safety technology. So, the buyer isn't sacrificing things like pedestrian detection auto-braking or adaptive cruise control.
The style, I know, is subjective, but I like that too and I like that it's matched with comfortable. relaxed ride. I am disappointed at the lack of AWD or a Hybrid model in our market, but we may see them in future updates.
But unless you're in love with that style, the C-HR probably isn't your best choice in this hotly contested class. Active lifestyle types will see the similar economy, better utility and standard all-wheel drive capability as reasons to steer toward the Subaru Crosstrek. Those looking for better OEM technology and fuel efficiency will see better value in something like the Honda HR-V or Kia's Niro Hybrid.