The legacy of Scion still continues to permeate throughout Toyota's current lineup. The brand once known for its youthful swagger had a proverbial ace in the hole before Toyota pulled the plug several years ago. But can the newly rechristened Toyota CH-R hold its own in an increasingly crowded marketplace? or is it too little too late for a CUV that was supposed to be the shining star of a defunct past?
The exterior styling of our tester certainly drew plenty of stares when viewed in the flesh. There's alot going on in this busy canvas, and it all starts with the front end, which is a proverbial mess of cues. The bold headlights are contrasted by a garish lower front bumper that features a prominent lower air dam, and enough creases to break the mightiest of protractors. While it is not as extreme as the front fascia that once defined the Nissan Juke, it will still clearly be a love it or hate it affair for many buyers and casual observers.
The funky side profile of the C-HR features trick rear door handles, which are typically found in select performance entries. They looked cool and should appeal to young buyers, but using them does require a bit of hand contorting, which might make loading cargo and people somewhat awkward at times. The rear fascia will undoubtedly serve as the CH-R's aesthetic calling card thanks to its slick C shaped taillights, roof and hatch mounted rear spoilers, and an aggressively honed rear bumper. It's also where the tiny CUV's sport infused DNA is the most prevalent. While it lacks the balanced substance of some of its rivals, it's also a refreshing alternative to the sea of boredom that exists in the broader segment.
To find out just how bold the exterior theme was, me and my girlfriend Emily visited the annual Shutocon anime and video game convention in Lansing, Michigan, and asked some of the attendees there to share their thoughts based on a picture of our tester that we had handy. As expected, the results were mixed, with some folks sharing our belief that the styling is too busy, but others said it would look right at home in their favorite animated program (note to Toyota, bring one to a convention, it will draw a crowd.)
The interior of the CH-R is also a very unique place to spend time in, but there is a price to pay for its exterior flair. Rear visibility is atrocious, and the rear pillars in particular create big blind spots which makes passing on the freeway a nerve racking experience. Rear seat room is on the snug side, but taller occupants will not appreciate the cramped headroom. Front passengers on the other hand are spoiled with good amounts of leg and headroom, but like the flip side of a coin, they are instead dogged by some of the CH-R's ergonomic issues.
For example, in many of its rivals, the cupholders are typically grouped together, and are neatly arraigned. In the CH-R the two available are too far away from each other, and run along the center tunnel. This proved to be an annoyance, and we were forced to carefully choose our drink choices for our journey. Toyota's Entune infotainment system is on hand here too, but like our other encounters with this system, we find it disheartening that both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality are absent, especially in a CUV that is so heavily focused on targeting tech laden millennials.
Meanwhile CH-R stylists were motivated by diamonds, and they ran rampant (for better or for worse) throughout the cabin including the door panels, dome lights, and even the headliner. While we like a bit of youthful flair in our cars, we think that some of this eccentricity could've been focused on fixing some of the cheap plastics that are in abundance throughout the cabin, as well as improving rear cargo room.
The CH-R nameplate means "Coupe High Rider", but while the CH-R doubles down on its attempts to be a four door coupe, the rest of the performance package falls mostly flat. The CH-R shares its architecture with the Toyota Corolla, and while that provides a platform that helps the CH-R have decent handling, the 2.0 liter four cylinder engine is about as exciting as eating a stale bag of pop rocks. Producing only 144 horsepower and an equally modest 139 lb-ft of torque, acceleration was leisurely, and there were times where the CH-R's lack of freeway passing power made us rip our hair out in raw frustration. A CVT is the only transmission available, and all-wheel drive is not on tap either (all CH-R's are front-wheel drive.)
That latter omission is perhaps for the best since contrary to its "High Rider" aspirations, the CH-R's ground clearance is quite minuscule with the CUV only being a few inches higher off the ground than the Corolla it is based on. Despite these glaring limitations, it wasn't all bad news for the CH-R, which managed to still shine with some brilliance during its time with us. For starters, while its freeway manners leave alot to be desired, the CH-R managed to regain its composure in city driving. The suspension delivered a solid ride, and it also did a good job absorbing impacts and potholes on our commute. In addition, parking our tester in tight spaces was not that difficult (minus the bad rear visibility) thanks to its compact size as well as its rear backup camera which is a very welcome friend when backing the CH-R out of challenging parking jobs.
Pricing for the 2018 Toyota CH-R starts at $22,500 for the base XLE model, with XLE premium models starting at a slightly higher $24,350. Our lightly optioned tester had a grand total of $23,783 which includes the $960 destination fee, as well as its duo of options ($194 carpet mats and $129 exterior mud guards.) This budget focused pricing puts the CH-R in the cross-hairs of the Honda HR-V and the Mazda CX-3. Both of these models have slightly higher pricing, but counter this disadvantage by offering many of the things that the CH-R lacks including more conventional styling in the case of the HR-V, as well as the CX-3's higher levels of interior polish and performance. With more buyers putting a strong emphasis on cargo capacity and fuel economy, the CH-R may find itself at the rear of the sales pack, especially since its hybrid powered cousin is currently a Europe exclusive treat.
Overall, the 2018 Toyota CH-R certainly has the exterior styling and the sheer boldness to draw a few stares at the local Toyota showroom, but once you look at the fine print and the details within, its shortcomings become glaringly obvious.