2018 Toyota C-HR XLE: A little late to the baby crossover party.
Price: $24,060 (including $600 for two-tone Radiant Green paint).
Marketer’s pitch: “Color outside the lines.”
Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver liked the “surprisingly spacious and quiet interior, well-damped chassis” but not “[the lack of] Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, or navigation; CVT is a bummer; slower than it should be.”
Reality: Good things come to those who wait.
What it is: The Toyota C-HR is a small crossover designed to compete with the likes of the Honda H-RV and the Mazda CX-3. It's the category that was all the buzz back when those models came out for 2016. Of course, Mr. Driver’s Seat tends to be a buzzkill, and the folks at Mazda and Honda were displeased. I would never have expected the day to come that I would pick a Toyota over a Mazda or a Honda for small-car fun, but here we are.
Outside: The looks are a hit. The teal-colored tester drew many thumbs-up from strangers. The C-HR ends up looking like a really adorable Focus hatchback, which is never a bad place to start.
Up to speed: The little crossover’s 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine feels peppy, despite all evidence to the contrary. It creates just 144 horsepower, and this moves the tiny 3,300-pound critter to 60 mph in 10.5 seconds, according to Car and Driver.
Shiftless: And this was mated to a CVT, my least favorite transmission type. But Toyota has removed most of the golf cart-like feel here, and in Sport or Eco mode, power is grabbed from the get-go, and zooming onto interstates seemed like no trouble at all. Sometimes it sounded as if I were squeezing the engine until it wanted to cry 10W-30 tears, but if Toyota didn’t want me to do it, they’d limit the revs earlier.
“Shiftability” is offered, with a choice of seven “gears,” but the shift lever is about three inches too short for comfort. (“Hello, aftermarket specialists? Do I have a proposition for you.”)
Sadly, the CVT with front-wheel drive is the only configuration right now; the C-HR began its journey into the world as a Scion, where limited options and low price were the name of the game.
On the road: Sport mode does add a bit of zip to the handling, but even Eco mode was enjoyable. The C-HR drives like a very small car, and I’m not sure if most American drivers will take to it.
One downside, though — getting from Eco to Normal to Sport is too complicated. Rather than a separate button, drivers have to flip through the menu.
Driver’s Seat: The Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat, Sturgis Kid 4.0, and I all agreed that the cloth-covered front seats offered immense comfort. Front-seat occupants sit high and upright, and thus get a pretty nice view of the road.
Visibility issues: And yet, seeing other directions can be tricky. The big, beautiful rear pillar that incorporates the rear-door handle can obscure cars in the left lane when entering a highway. Another drawback was the rearview camera. Instead of offering a view through the giant infotainment screen, the camera appears in the rearview mirror. This makes the image too small to be useful while obscuring part of the mirror.
Friends and stuff: Anyone sitting in the back had better be extremely short.
Sturgis Kid 1.0, a compact 5-foot-3, found she had to twist her feet to get them into the rear footwell. Once you’re in there, the leg comfort is not so bad, as long as you don’t wish to sit cross-legged. Or move your legs around.
Meanwhile, front-seat occupants are treated to a generous center console with plenty of cupholders and storage space. Tough luck, kids.
And just 36.3 cubic feet of storage space behind the front seats adds to the tiny feel. That's smaller than a Civic Hatchback.
Play some tunes: Welcome to the cheapy zone. No Sirius XM. No CD player. No map program. No CarPlay. Just my iPhone tunes or KYW 1060. Eesh. Sound is acceptable.
Keeping warm and cool: The C-HR has my new favorite heater controls — plastic toggles that push up for warm/up/fast and down for cool/down/slow.
Fuel economy: I averaged about 29 mpg in a fairly all-out assault on the C-HR. Still, disappointing for its size, but tall, peppy vehicles will do that.
Where it’s built: Turkey. Yes, really.
How it’s built: Consumer Reports predicts the reliability to be above average.
In the end: Adorable and fun, but limited in space and variations. I’d probably give it a shot, if the price were right.