Test drive: 2018 Toyota C-HR XLE
Cars intentionally designed for the youth market have a mixed history. The exception, of course, is the Ford Mustang, which was not only a huge hit but also set off the Pony Car competition that continues today. But if you look around on the road, Chrysler PT Cruisers and Kia Souls are largely driven by Baby Boomers. And does anyone remember the Nissan Cube? Or Scion, General Motors' youth brand that went out of business a few year ago?
Despite the stumbles, the hope of luring young buyers springs eternal at Toyota, which repackaged the sleek compact Scion iM hatchback as its own iM. And now the company has now released the 2018 C-HR, a striking compact hatchback that looks like a highly sculpted crossover SUV. Exterior styling cues like oversized taillights and available two-tone color combinations show is clearly aimed at the youth market.
Despite its appearnce, the C-HR is not available with all-wheel-drive, however, which means it is basically a small wagon with slightly higher ride height, like the Kia Soul. And the mechanics are nothing special, with the only powertrain being a 144 horsepower 2.0-liter inline four cylinder engine mated to a Continuously Variable Transmission.
Some reviewers have said the C-HR is mostly style over substance, but that's not true. Like the iM, it somehow overcomes its limitations and is actually fun to drive. It feels quick, even though skidpad tests show it's not all that very fast. The ride is very smooth, probably because the front and rear wheels are pushed out so far, giving it a long wheelbase for a compact. And the handling is actually nimble.
Best of all, like the iM, the C-HR is very affordable. The base XLE version starts at under $22,500. The better equipped XLE Premium version starts at just $24,350.
Of course, there are reasons why the prices are so low. For one, the image from the backup camera is shown in the rear view mirror instead of the display screen, something most manufacturers stopped doing years ago. And Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are not available at any price.
But standard safety tech is extensive, including forward-collision warning, automated emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, automatic high-beams, and adaptive cruise control. That a big plus, since most buyers are likely to have relatively little driving experience.
Then again, my test version had a youth-oriented paint scheme, with an aquamarine body and white roof. It was called Iceberg/Radiant. Personally, I prefer the solid color versions and think they actually show off the punchy lines better. But, despite my embarrassment, most reactions were positive, with some thinking it was inspired by the 1980's TV series Miami Vice.
Like almost all CVT transmissions, the one in the C-HR is also a little noisy and responds better to a light touch on the gas pedal. But it is still a major improvement on earlier versions.
In case you're wondering, the C-HR name is a puzzle. It stands for "Coupe High Rider," which is strange because the C-HR is not a coupe or particularly high. But such details apparently don't seem to matter when you're marketing to young people.
There are other vehicles on the market aimed at the same demographic, including the similarly styled outgoing Nissan Juke, which comes standard with a more sophisticated turbocharged engine and available all-wheel-drive, a plus in the Pacific Northwest. But if making an impression on a budget is important to you, the 2018 Toyota C-HR much to offer beyond its dramatic styling.
2018 Toyota C-HR XLE
Base price: $22,500
Price as tested: $24,547
Type: Compact crossover
Engine: 2.0-liter inline 4 (144 hp, 139 lb-ft)
Transmission: Continuously Variable with manual shift mode
EPA estimated mileage: 27/31
Overall length: 171.2 inches
Curb weight: 3,286 pounds
Final assembly: Arifiye, Sakarya, Turkey