Toyota’s new C-HR is the long-awaited, smaller alternative to the brand’s best-selling RAV-4, replacing the discontinued Matrix. And it’s aimed not at traditional conservative Toyota buyers but at young urban hipsters.
By Mark Richardson
It’s not just a smaller RAV, however: the RAV-4 is a compact SUV with available all-wheel drive, while the C-HR is a sub-compact crossover. It’s not so rugged or capable on poor roads, and it’s only available with front-wheel drive. Toyota says any more than that is a waste for its intended urban hipster market – people who drive mostly in the city and won’t subject it to anything more challenging than a bit of rain.
The C-HR was originally supposed to be a Scion, but that youth-oriented brand was shut down last year and it re-emerged as a Toyota. Its chiseled style is quite polarizing, to say the least. Toyota says it’s supposed to look like a diamond turned on its side; whatever, you’ll either love it or hate it. We have our opinion; you can form your own.
The name C-HR stands for “Compact – High Rider.” It was first seen as a concept car at the 2015 Frankfurt auto show and the final production model doesn’t look much different.
There’s only one trim level available, called XLE, and it costs $24,690. It’s well equipped and includes some features not seen before at that price, including active cruise control and lane departure warning with steering assistance, in case you stray from your lane.
It’s still a budget vehicle though, and only fabric seats are available – no leather. Young urban hipsters don’t care for leather, apparently, and certainly don’t want to pay for it.
There’s only one engine available, too: a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder that makes 144 hp and 139 lb-ft of torque. That’s enough for comfortable driving, but this is not a sporty vehicle by any means. A turbocharged engine would have a lot more pep and be more fun and responsive to drive, but if the C-HR spends most of its time in the city, that extra power would be wasted.
The only transmission available is a CVT (continuously variable transmission), which saves fuel and is typically uninspiring to drive, although this one is set up to mimic an actual seven-speed transmission. You can jog the shift lever to the left and change the ratios manually if you want, but paddle shifters would be more fun.
Fuel consumption is good, but not exceptional. Toyota claims official consumption of 8.7 L/100 km in the city and 7.5 on the highway, for a combined average of 8.2. We saw a real-world average of 9.2 throughout our day in the car, but we weren’t driving for economy and the weather conditions were awful.
It’s a comfortable car to be in when it’s cold and wet outside. The front seats are heated as standard, and there are three graduated settings. Plus, they’re dual-zone: the seats and bolsters get a little hotter than the back and thighs,
There’s plenty of leg room in the front and reasonable space in the back for two people, with good head room all around. A third seat belt in the centre means the C-HR can carry five people theoretically, but three adults in the back will be cramped. The rear doors don’t open very wide, either.
Behind the back seats, there’s 538 litres of cargo space. That’s more than in the Mazda CX-3, which has only 454 litres, but a lot less than the Honda HR-V, which has 688 litres of space back there.
The back seats fold down in a 60/40 split to create more cargo room if it’s needed. There’s a total of just over 1,000 litres of space like this, though that’s only about half the total space of the RAV-4, which is 25 cm longer and 5 cm wider.
While there’s only one model, there’s a Premium Package that can be added for an extra $1,600, which includes blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. Rear vision is limited in the C-HR by the thick C-pillars with their high door handles.
In the dirty weather of our test drive, the blind-spot monitoring system was very welcome.
Pre-collision monitoring is standard on all C-HRs. If it detects pedestrians in the road, it will beep and flash a warning light at the driver, and prepare the brakes for when the driver stomps on the pedal.
The base C-HR even automatically dips the headlamps when it detects another car approaching at night, to not dazzle the oncoming driver. If everything does go wrong, there are 10 airbags as standard. Both the Honda HR-V and the Mazda CX-3 only offer six airbags.
The Premium Package also provides 18-inch wheels (replacing the standard 17-inch wheels), a push-button start and power folding mirrors.
It even includes puddle lamps that illuminate the ground beside the doors at night with the C-HR logo, to avoid stepping into puddles. This classy touch is unusual at this price.
Different colours are available, but they’ll cost extra if you want more than silver or grey. Green and blue are each an additional $540, with white roofs, while this “ruby flare pearl with white roof” is an extra $795.
Although the C-HR is generally well-equipped, there are some things missing that could be deal-breakers. There’s no sun-roof available, for example, although there are little diamond motifs in the headliner. They may not substitute for sunshine.
There’s also no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto available. You can plug in your smartphone and stream music through AHA and other apps, but you cannot see your phone’s screen or use its apps through the 7-inch display screen.
There’s no Navigation available, so if you need to follow a digital map, you’ll have to stick your phone to the windshield with an aftermarket suction holder, or have your passenger hold onto it. This doesn’t help get the phones out of young drivers’ hands.
There’s no hybrid engine either, as there is in Europe. The fuel consumption is already low, so Toyota believes not many North Americans would be prepared to pay extra for a hybrid to save just a little gas.
There’s a lot of competition now in the smaller crossover segment, and the Toyota is a little more costly than most. A Kia Soul EX, for example, costs about $21,500 and offers many of the same features. The C-HR, however, offers Toyota’s proven reliability and probably a very good residual value, which can be worth a premium when car-shopping.
The C-HR will surely find many happy drivers – even young urban hipsters if they need more than Uber or car-sharing, and if they like what the maker calls its “sexy diamond” styling.
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