Mini has had cute pretty well sewed up among small cars with four doors, but now Toyota has stepped up to the plate with its latest C-HR crossover.
The tested C-HR (cute hot rod?) was the top-level XLE Premium model decked out in a bright blue paint job with a bright white roof. It’s a fun, economical home run of a car!
First, I loved this two-tone finish that makes it stand out in any parking lot and mimics so many paint schemes we’ve seen on Mini Coopers. Other automakers have mostly forgotten how sharp a two-tone can look.
Unlike Nissan’s Juke, the C-HR’s angular shapes work well together and riding on a 103.9-inch wheelbase it’s in direct competition with the Impreza-based Subaru Crosstrek and Forester for fun-to-drive factor. No, it doesn’t have all-wheel-drive, but if you’re looking for fun handling at a low entry price, it excels.
Now, my calling it a hot rod earlier is a stretch I know, but it’s no performance slouch either.
The 2.0-liter I4 delivers 144 horsepower via a silky smooth continuously variable transmission (CVT). While some of these feel lethargic, Toyota’s delivers the power in a linear fashion that perfectly fits the C-HR. You don’t blast away from a stoplight, but give the gas pedal some added pressure and the compact crossover scurries up to normal driving speeds better than most small vehicles.
If the power feels a little tame you also can put the tranny in Manual mode and shift it yourself to quicken the pace. I didn’t find that necessary, and to be honest, at 3,300 lbs., the C-HR feels light and nimble.
Most entertaining is the crossover’s quick handling and overall smooth feel and performance. I found myself pushing the car a bit harder into turns because it always responded so crisply. There’s little body lean and is easy to hustle through a series of tight corners. Simply put, it was a blast.
Ride is a bit on the firm side, but not rough at all. Railroad tracks and uneven pavement are handled well with only a little jiggle to passengers. Thank a double wishbone rear suspension for some of that, plus 18-inch tires. In fact, the overall feel here is more like that of a European compact, making it a perfect commuter car, but also fun on the freeway.
I liked its interior too. This model came with a black cloth interior and textured plastic inserts in the doors that featured a series of triangular shapes. Not to be confused with a carbon fiber look, but still, it gave the crossover a stylish, youthful look. Dash and center stack trim, plus the lower portion of the steering wheel hub are a sparkly black plastic that brightened the interior a bit.
The gray cloth seats were extremely comfortable too, with particularly good back and side support. Plus the Premium model has heated front seats, with three settings no less. These are just manual seats, but the driver’s seat in the Premium has a power lumbar support and there’s the requisite pump handle on the seat’s side to raise and lower its height, a benefit to short drivers.
That’s good because the dash design is on the tall side, although everything is easy to see, reach and understand. For instance, the radio’s 7-inch touchscreen is simple to use and select channels, plus store them in on-screen buttons. Wish more vehicles were this easy. The buttons are a bit small if you’re wearing gloves, but at least you can find them and not have to take your eyes off the road. The stereo also has six speakers.
The steering column is a manual tilt/telescope model with various controls, such as radio, phone, trip computer, and lane departure buttons on the hub. The smart cruise control is on a separate stalk.
Still, there is room for four adults, provided none are exceptionally tall, and that rear hatch allows for easy cargo area access. Plus the Toyota has a rear window wiper, a big advantage in wet and sometimes slushy Wisconsin. The crossover’s rear seats split and fold down too and cargo space is generous.
As mentioned above, this model has a lane departure system you can toggle on and off on the steering wheel hub, but more importantly there’s a blind-spot warning system that helps keep you safe and out of fender benders.
The crossover’s side mirrors also fold flat and there are fog lights, automatic headlights and push-button start. Despite being designed originally for Toyota’s inexpensive Scion line, before it was axed, the C-HR doesn’t look or feel cheap.
There’s more to like too, including two deep cup holders, one up in front of the gearshift on the console and one back by the driver’s elbow. They accommodate various size beverages, but also will hold a garage door opener, cell phone and sunglasses.
Electrical plugs are available under the center stack and there’s a dual-zone climate control system standard on the Premium.
Not all is perfect, although the C-HR is darned close.
The sun visors are a bit shallow and they do not slide, so blocking side sun sometimes is tricky. Plus out back there’s a cool roof spoiler that extends over the rear window. That looks great but makes cleaning the top of the window difficult. For instance, a gas station window squeegee won’t fit up under the spoiler for easy rear window washing.
But economy, along with sporty handling, are king with the C-HR.
Its gas mileage is stellar. I got 31.6 mpg in a mix of city and highway driving and the EPA rates the crossover at 27 mpg city and 31 highway. I’ve driven so many trucks lately I was getting used to $40-50 fill-ups. Not with the C-HR though.
The test vehicle also added a few options, but just the white roof and mirrors at $500, carpeted floor mats at $194 and mud guards for $129. That kept the C-HR affordable for first-time buyers and cheapskates like me.
The test vehicle started at $25,310, including delivery, and was just $26,133 with options. Still too rich for your budget? Consider the base XLE for $23,460, including delivery.
There are not many cars or small crossovers this economical and this much fun to drive. I think the C-HR sets the bar for entry-level vehicles exuding value, performance and personality.
FAST STATS: 2018 Toyota C-HR XLE Premium
Hits: Quick handling, good and smooth power along with excellent gas mileage. Plus this is as cute as a Mini. Hatchback has rear wiper, heated front seats, easy touchscreen radio, firm well-shaped seats w/pump handle to raise driver’s, blind-spot warning and lane departure alert and more safety features.
Misses: No nav system and visors don’t slide, plus are a bit shallow. Rear roof spoiler makes it hard to clean top of rear window.
Made in: Turkey
Engine: 2.0-liter I4, 144 hp
Transmission: CVT w/Manual mode
Weight: 3,300 lbs.
Length: 171.2 in.
Wheelbase: 103.9 in.
MPG: 27/31 (EPA)
MPG: 31.63 (tested)
Cargo: 19.0 cu.ft.
Base Price: $25,310 (includes delivery)
Invoice: $23,728 (includes delivery)
Color-keyed body w/white roof & mirrors, $500
Carpeted floor mats, $194
Mud guards, $129
Test vehicle: $26,133
Sources: Toyota, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage