Test Drive: Toyota C-HR trims space to compete with smaller SUVs

In its never-ending quest to right-size the great American sport-utility vehicle for every possible preference, Toyota has gone small with the C-HR. This stylish little SUV, which joins the Yaris iA in Toyota’s roster of rebadged Scions, is faintly reminiscent of the retired Toyota Matrix and its sister model, the Pontiac Vibe. Neither was as fun to drive as the new C-HR, but both scored higher on the functionality scale, thanks to their larger cargo compartments and available all-wheel drive.

The C-HR nameplate suggests a connection with the bigger RAV-4, as well as a competitive relationship with the Honda HR-V. While the 2017 HR-V we test-drove last year cost $3,000 more than the 2018 C-HR test car, it also had all-wheel drive — unavailable on the C-HR — and came with a navigation system, satellite radio and power moonroof.

The C-HR’s strongest suits are its refinement and driveability. We found it smooth and quiet in most circumstances; only under hard acceleration did it get a little loud. Best of all, it had enough leg room to satisfy our 6-foot driver. It’s only the second subcompact SUV we’ve driven, after the Buick Encore, that met that qualification.

Rear-seat room wasn’t bad, but the luggage and cargo compartments were disappointing. With the rear seatback upright, the CH-R can haul just 19 cubic feet of luggage; with the seat lowered, 36.4 cubic feet. That doesn’t compare well with the HR-V (23.2, 55.9), the Encore (18.8, 48.4) or the Matrix (19.8, 49.4).

The C-HR’s fuel economy is 27 mpg city, 31 highway, with regular unleaded gasoline. That’s fine, but it doesn’t come close to Toyota’s Prius V wagon, which boasts fuel economy of 43/39, and close to double the C-HR’s luggage and cargo room. The biggest Prius costs more — $26,675 and up — and it isn’t as much fun to drive. It also lacks the C-HR’s eye appeal. But its high fuel economy and roomy interior may be hard for some people to pass up.

Our other beef with the C-HR was visibility to the rear quarters. The rear windows sweep upward, creating a somewhat claustrophobic environment for rear-seat passengers — but, more significantly, a visual obstruction when one is trying to change lanes. Upgrade to the 2018 XLE Premium and you’ll get get blind-spot monitoring. With this model, it’s a must.

For 2019, Toyota has added a C-HR line and renamed another. The base LE starts at about $22,000, while the XLE — which comes with blind-spot monitoring — is priced at $24,710 when equipped with Toyota’s Entune infotainment system with satellite radio. Upgrade to the Limited to enjoy leather upholstery, heated seats and Toyota’s Safety Sense system. It starts at $26,000.

C-HR sales already have exceeded 2017 levels — this model first hit the showrooms in April 2017 — of 25,755. But Toyota reportedly expected to sell 5,000 C-HRs per month, and it has yet to reach that benchmark in any month since then.

2018 Toyota C-HR XLE

Price: $24,549

Engine: 2.0-liter inline Four, 144 horsepower, 139 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: continuously variable automatic

Drive: front-wheel

Weight: 3,300 lb.

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, double-wishbone rear

Ground clearance: 5.9 in.

Wheels: 18-in. alloy

Tires: 225/50R18 all-season

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 19 cu. ft.

Maximum cargo capacity: 36.4 cu. ft.

Fuel capacity: 13.2 gal.

Fuel economy: 27 mpg city, 31 mpg highway

Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline

Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.

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