(Editor’s Note – we had three chances at the 2018 Toyota C-HR review. I got flown out to Los Angeles to experience the C-HR at Willow Springs International Raceway and both RFD potentate Josh Taylor, and our man in Nashville Jacob received press loaners around the same time. This is our consolidated take, and it ain’t pretty.)
I usually start these reviews with a bit of a history lesson. But this week’s test car, loaned to us by Toyota, doesn’t have much of a history. The Toyota C-HR, which can stand for Coupé High Rider, Compact High Rider, or Cross Hatch Run–about (seriously) is brand new to the Toyota lineup as of the 2017 model year. Our North American production version saw its debut at the November 2016 Los Angeles Auto Show but the overall debut for the C-HR happened back in March 2016 at the Geneva Motor Show. So this subcompact crossover SUV is a brand new part of the lineup for Toyota. We set about finding out if it’s any good.
We got to do this in a few different ways. First, Toyota graciously flew me out to Los Angeles to experience the C-HR at Willow Springs International Raceway. That included the normal bevy of nice hotels, good food, and of course, alcohol. My trip was extra special, since we not only got to beat on some stock C-HRs around both the Streets of Willow and the Big Willow tracks, we also got to ride along with with Dan Gardner and his bonkers creation, a 600hp Toyota C-HR R-Tuned. Check that out now if you haven’t seen it.
Additionally, Josh got to spend a week with a 2018 Toyota C-HR XLE Premium and Jacob got to spend a week with a 2019 Limited. So you get the benefits of both the road & track test scenarios. Or track & road in case we get sued.
Since it’s track and road, I’ll go first. I’ll say upfront, I liked the C-HR better than the J’s did. Perhaps I was blinded by the ridiculous R-Tuned version, but I had a great time at Willow Springs in the C-HR. When we first arrived, we huddled in a room next to the track and got the full press briefing, as well as some time chatting with Dan Gardner, who, through his tuning company DG-Spec, built the 600 horsepower R-Tuned C-HR. Then our groups were split to take turns experiencing the car on a quick loop through the desert, and then back to try some track driving. I’ll let J & J talk about the street driving and focus my time on the track time.
The C-HR is a tall crossover, but in reality isn’t all that different in size and feel to your average hatchback car. Our first couple of tests involved some panic lane changes and equally panicked braking tests. The C-HR does lean a bit, but felt much more car-like than anything else. Not surprising considering it’s platform, more on that below. I felt that the steering was predictable, if a little vague. Typical electric rack stuff, it goes where you point it and understeer wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. I used to autocross FWD cars, everything from under-powered Civics to a torque steery Focus ST. No one is going to accuse the C-HR of being overpowered, but the engine’s linkage to the usually-crappy CVT worked pretty well on track. Point the C-HR into a tight corner and the all-season tires protest as you would expect, but the CVT allows you to get on the gas post-apex without overloading the tires with pesky torque and horsepower.
The result was a fairly well balanced car that never felt as top-heavy as it could. I got to drive on both of the main tracks at Willow Springs International Motorsports Park, the Streets of Willow (1.8 mile road course) and the 2.5 mile big track. On the smaller streets track, the C-HR felt less out of its element, but on the big track it definitely ran out of steam along the straight. Still, driving any car on a track is fun, right?
Now that we have that track lunacy out of the way, it’s back to the standard spec C-HR on the actual streets where it will be used the most (close to 100% I assume).
Road Test 1 – Jacob
Released in the United States for the 2018 model year, the C-HR targets young buyers insistent that they need a crossover. Built on the same Toyota New Global Architecture as the very good 2019 Corolla, a symphony of fun looking exterior and a taller “rally” style suspension could be a great idea. Sadly, the CH-R just makes for a cacophony of meh.
The moment you get in the C-HR the metaphorical storms arrive to rain on your parade. The interior is one of the worst I have seen come from a Toyota (Subaru designed Toyota 86 withstanding). My much maligned piano black makes an appearance in grand form. The fingerprints and dust show on all surfaces which is just the aftermath of lazy design. Why manufacturers consistently promote this style of interior bewilders me. The screen is 100% better than what is provided in the 86, and also adds Apple CarPlay no matter the specification. Rear seat room is barely bigger than the Corolla while overall storage space is also a bit larger, but not by enough. The packaging of this car is so poor that, even though there is an addition of nearly three and a half inches of total height of the vehicle, headroom is somehow only increased by 0.1”. Amazing. For something that looks like and is advertised as a crossover, it doesn’t play the tune very well.
The poor interior is unfortunate though as the exterior is very upbeat and pretty fun. While crossovers are unfairly maligned by automotive writers in general, they obviously have a place in our society – the sheer numbers of them flying off of dealer lots backs this up. The front foregoes the sometimes ungainly large Toyota grill and the black plastic trim fits the car well and tricks the eye into thinking the vehicle is taller than it is. The matte black plastic rear bumper works much better than the gloss block piece found on the Corolla. What dirt and other gunk collected on the bumper did not show as glowingly as the same area on the Corolla. The tail lights are styled aggressively and the rear wing, similar to the 2019 Corolla HB, provides a sporty look that can be appreciated and pushes the “fun” image.
The handling of the C-HR sings a great tune and the crossover feels quick around the the corners and easy to throw around. At 3300 lbs, it has 500 lbs on the Corolla, but is still 400 lbs lighter than anything I currently own and with that feels quite nimble considering the higher driving position. With only 0.8” of extra ground clearance over the standard Corolla, sadly, I never found it to be the rally Corolla I hoped for. Bumps were handled much like any other sedan/crossover and never quite felt like the ground clearance helped.
The engine department is where the record scratches and nothing makes sense anymore. Toyota’s Continuously Variable Transmissions(CVTSs) has always been great in their hybrids, but the poor C-HR is burdened by something else. For example, when trying to merge onto the highway, the transmission immediately sends the engine RPMs into a falsetto tone around the 5000+ range…and then it stays there until you are up to speed (a long while) later. This is asinine as the transmission steals nearly every single pound of the (already measly) 139 ft-lb of torque away from you during acceleration.
The introduction of the new Corolla has made the C-HR an annoying footnote in current Toyota album of cars. It is not that much bigger, it is not more comfortable, and it is absolutely not better to drive. On top of all of this it is outrageously expensive. At over $29,000 for the Limited, it is $5000 more than a similarly equipped Corolla. It’s also nearing the price of the 2019 Rav4 XLE. The Rav4 may have a few less features, but quite a few safety items are standard on all Toyotas, and the Rav4 is a better crossover in every way. If you “need” a small crossover, realize you don’t. The two options are to A) Save the money and get the much better Corolla HB, or B) Spend the premium and get the much better Rav4. If you take that advice I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Road Test 2 – Josh Taylor – 2018 C-HR XLE Premium
I have had the opportunity to drive dozens of press loaners and typically find something nice to say about all of them. I’m sorry to say that the C-HR may be the vehicle that ends that streak. You come to RFD for unbiased journalism, and as much as we love our Toyota rep, honest reviews come first. Where to start.
Upon entering the C-HR, found uncomfortable seats wrapped in what can best be described as an abrasive cloth material. Across the interior, it is a disastrous blob hard plastic touch surfaces and strange ergonomics. As with a lot of the recent Toyota’s we have tested, the dated infotainment came without navigation, which is unfortunate to see in anything around $25,000 or more (the XLE Premium starts at $23,000 without options). While I’m not an audiophile, I wasn’t a fan of the stereo’s sound and the back-up camera displays in the narrow rear-view mirror when there is a larger screen available? Visibility was also poor out of the oddly shaped rear windows.
While my counterpart had fun on the track, I thought that the CVT transmission was sluggish in just about every driving situation and for something so small the fuel economy (29 combined mpg) seemed low when compared to the competition. Out on the road, I found a loud wind noise from driver side mirror and front 1/4 window, especially at speed. For such a raised vehicle, I heard a scraping noise on mild inclines.
Overall I felt like the C-HR, even in XLE Premium form, should be $20,000 as-is. Interesting design just wasn’t enough in this instance.