“This is what Millennials want,” claimed Toyota executives at the media launch of the 2018 Toyota C-HR. If what Millennials want is some good, mostly bad and quite ugly afterthoughts of the failed Scion brand that never cemented a connection with the generation it was targeted to in the first place (read: Millennials), then congrats. Toyota’s all-new subcompact CUV is apparently what automotive dreams are made of.
At first blush, a generation of 80s and 90s kids will look at Toyota’s Coupe High-Rider (that’s what C-HR stands for even though it sounds like a baby car seat booster) and be mesmerized. Different, crazy, adorable, What is even happening? have been known to exit the mouths of these babes. And that’s exactly the reaction Toyota wants, longing to escape its wallflower status. Unless you want to cash it outside, the C-HR will not be ignored.
And kudos to corporate for being aggressive in its design direction. Its Lexus brand is spicing up the luxury market with its excessively mesh-y front grilles and even the once prudish Camry actually looks a little excited to be here or anywhere, for that matter. With the C-HR, however, perhaps they were too eager to express themselves, particularly with its Distinctive Diamond theme, as the vehicle looks more steroidal than sinuous.
Its fender flares are warehouse-store bulky, an ethos that continues through the rear in even more extreme fashion. But although a four-door, the C-HR does evoke a coupe-like physique with its rear-door handles positioned high in the C-pillar, craftily hidden beneath the roofline design. But with standard 18-inch wheels, the overall profile is less cute ute and more angry ogre. Except for its face, which resembles Falkor, the genial flying canine of Millennial childhood classic The NeverEnding Story.
Available in six colors, including new-to-Toyota Silver Knockout and Blue Eclipse, the C-HR can also be outfitted with an R-Code white-painted “floating” roof instead of a body-colored one. But avoid Radiant Green. Even the most dignified luckdragon would feel embarrassed in this coat, a fluorescent hue to which Mouthwash Metallic would be a more accurate description.
While its exterior design will spark a conversation, the C-HR’s interior is where arguments, breakups, disdain and general anxiety will fester. Although featuring the longest wheelbase in its class at 103.9 inches, the C-HR offers the least amount of front headroom (38.1 inches) and rear legroom (31.7 inches). Its rear headroom (38.3 inches) bests only the Mazda CX-3 (37.2 inches), Fiat 500X (37.8 inches) and much smaller Nissan Juke (36.7 inches). The C-HR does win the day with front legroom at 43.5 inches. But that doesn’t matter because the rest of the vehicle is mostly pointless.
The very strokes that create the C-HR’s unique sheet metal styling are, unfortunately, what set up the cage-like feel of the cabin, which is available only in dark, depressing black. A 7-inch display sits atop the multi-tiered dashboard, which itself is overly done with a soft-touch top, a matte plastic insert and a metal flake piano black panel to complete the contrived sandwich. Perhaps the busyness of the contrasting materials was meant to distract from the stark chamber. It doesn’t. It’s excessive and silly, just like the diamond patterns imprinted into the headliner. The cushioned armrests are a nice touch as are the optional heated front seats but to call the C-HR even remotely luxurious is laughable. In the rear, aside from the fabric-trimmed bench, plastic is king and comfort is banished.
The rear door armrest reverts to hard plastic and due to the exterior’s hidden-handle design and high beltline, a panel exists where a window normally would be. Millennials are experience seekers, but all they’ll find in the C-HR’s backseat is claustrophobia-induced insanity. Also, those of above-average height need not apply. My six-foot-tall co-driver enjoyed zero headroom when sitting up straight. Even without the Lilliputian legroom, slouching would have only meant more access to the expansive black plastic that wasn’t a window. Visibility out of a submarine porthole might be better.
These panels also create a blind spot for the driver as do the bulging fenders, which give you little sense of where the vehicle actually is in relation to, say, a curb. Blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert are available but should be standard considering the sight lines. What is standard equipment is a backup camera. Too bad its image appears in the rearview mirror and not via the large dash-mounted screen.
Speaking of that screen, if you think in-vehicle connectivity will distract you from the chasm of cheap you somehow agreed to travel in, wrong again. With no navigation, satellite radio, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto available, drivers have no choice but to look away from the road and at their phones for directions, playlists, etc. So, unless you’re a huge AM/FM radio fan, that 7-inch audio display will only mock you with what you don’t have.
Does the C-HR excel in anything? It does! The handling of the prototype models we tested was surprisingly good and the vehicles felt composed on the winding roads of our drive. Push the C-HR into corners and it won’t turn into Jell-O. And despite the steering feel being a little vague, the steering wheel itself felt solid in your hands. The C-HR was put through the paces on the hallowed Nürburgring race track, and that dedication to engineering and development shows. But its fun-to-drive nature will be lost on many consumers, Millennials or otherwise.
Because they won’t notice that its 2.0-liter inline-four engine produces 144 horsepower and 139 pound-feet of torque, which is segment average but underpowered to move its segment-heavy 3,300-lb curb weight. And they won’t care that from a complete stop the C-HR will attend a spin class before lurching forward, or that its 7-speed CVT will hunt for gears to the point some downshifts take longer than an airplane’s final descent.
The Toyota C-HR may have been a good idea 10 years ago for a Scion brand at its peak, when people still cared about how cars drove and the Internet of Things didn’t dominate our daily lives. With only two trim levels, XLE ($22,500 MSRP) and XLE Premium ($24,350), and no options beyond the R-Code roof ($500), purchasing a C-HR is as simple as it gets. But it remains the right things to the wrong target, offering little of what they want and more reminders of what they’re missing.