MEET THE CROSS-HATCH High-Rider
2018 Toyota C-HR XLE

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Toyota calls this a Cross-Hatch Runabout or Compact-High Rider, take your choice

LACar Driving Impressions
2018 Toyota C-HR XLE
Sport-Ute/Crossover
Story: Doug Stokes
Photos: Author and Toyota

Toyota’s latest entry into the sport-ute/Crossover segment is the smallest, and least expensive member of the five-piece band of high-riding five-doors that range in price from an economical $22,500 to an “if you have to ask” $83,665. In ascending order of price they are: this C-HR, the RAV4, Highlander, 4Runner, and the august Land Cruiser.

The C-HR, like almost all recent Toyota models, draws much its overall look from the Lexus side of the family tree. Boldly sharp-edged (designers would call it “dramatic”). If it were a wine from the Pruett Vineyard up in the Sierra foothills, it might sound like their 2009 Napa Cabernet – Driven “Showy and flashy up front, with supple plum, wild berry, savory herb and dried cedar. Bold, and full-bodied, long, rich, and persistent on the finish”. In this case, there’s liner note on the subject of styling and suitableness scrawled somewhere below.*

Okay (and under withering cross-examination), I will admit that the body styling is more Doctor Zarkov than Doctor Zhivago, but it really does not offend as much as it raises a smile.

The Toyota C-HR, looking not unlike an origami folded paper crane.

My scrawled driving notes say, “…super quiet, solid, feels bigger” and go on to tell of a very willing engine and transmission combination that had no trouble at all getting me (and my lead foot) anywhere we wanted to go with alacrity.

This two-liter, twin-cam four has what Toyota calls “valveamatic” (which sounds sort of “retro” to my ears), their version of variable valve timing which is one of the true tech wonders in an age of questionable “wonders” like one manufacturer who claims that their car (when it senses an inevitable crash) emits a high frequency tone that (I’m not making this up people) tells your ears to shut down so that the sound of the airbags and the ensuing metal to metal crunch will not hurt your hearing (as much).

But, I digress. Back to the real world. The C-HR’s direct injection and direct ignition—a very crisp combination and responsible for putting precisely the correct amount of fuel directly into the combustion chamber at exactly the right time, and then sparking it off just as carefully. As you’ll note in the very next paragraph, that combo produces some pretty fair old fuel mileage numbers. It makes the C-HR feel more responsive and ready. Again, a “bigger” (in this case stronger, more powerful) feeling than one might expect from a family-style small Sport Ute that was not designed nor destined for the drag strip.

The view from within (Doug Stokes)

Our friends out in the District of Columbia rate this one 29, 27, and 31 (that’s overall fuel mileage, city, and highway driving). Honestly I did not verify these figures, but I can tell you that the “range” number (is Kramer still out there in that Saab checking the “miles to empty” read-out?) on this one counted down very slowly.

And, we all know how important balance is, right? Closely matched horsepower and torque numbers are always best to capture that ever-elusive “drivability” sweet spot and here we have 144 ponies and 139 pounds-feet of grunt. That balance is part of this engine’s always putting out a confident aura of never less than ready.

Match that performance up to an almost flawless continually-variable automatic transmission that can simulate a 7-speed manumatic—and I like the plan. It’s great fun to run up the scale with the gear-selector in M (for manual) taking each gear to about 6 (thousand) before pushing forward for the next one. But there’s almost no need here, aggressive driving (in Drive) tells the transmission to hold each gear a bit longer and shifts (as I said) with solid authority.

There are some people (no names, but Jay Leno is one of them) who decry the loss of true manual (let off on the gas, push in the clutch, move the stick) shifting, and I admit that I like the “snick!” (that’s a good sound for a gearbox to make, not an adjective) of a well-shifted stick shift (up the box and down). If fact, mention heel-and-toe to the average man (or woman) on the street and they’re most likely to tell you they saw that step on “Dancing with the Stars” the other night.

However, no company in its right mind is going to put one of those (a stick-shift) into one of these and this system is almost as much fun anyway.

The back end of the C-HR, hatch open (Doug Stokes)

The C-HR is four-door machine, so we always briefly check the back accommodations. Once in, the rear seat seemed quite comfortable to our 5-foot, ten, 190 pound, green/grey-eyed seat tester … (me). The “once in” notation is important because it takes a bit of bending to get in, and a bit more to get out. It seems that the back seat foot room is compromised but the floor line and the door sill (both appearing a bit bulky but that’s because of the anti-intrusion interlocking aspect of all new car bodies and doors). It’s a safety feature (and that’s a good thing). In my case I just had to be very careful about how I placed and turned my size 101/2 brogans (especially on exiting the back seat).

At first, I felt that the steering was a bit slow in this one, what it turned out to be was the steering sort of tightening up if I changed lanes without telling the car my plan by hitting the turn indicator first. I’ve driven with a number of these “steering for numb-nuts drivers” and every one seems to have a different idea about how to work the deal.

For example The Cadillacs that I’ve driven really rattle the steering wheel, it feels like going over a spike strip (now how would I know that, you’re asking yourself … keep asking. And then there was a VW that would follow the road like a hound dog on the trail, steering itself along, and this one (the C-HR) that just sort of tightened the steering feel and (apparently) could not see yellow lines (nor Botts’ Dots).

(I’ll have a lot more to say about these dumbed-down safety devices, like brakes that self-apply when a driver is so distracted that they can’t keep their car under control when driving through a crosswalk. in a later Editor’s tirade not related specifically to this review. but not UNrelated either.)

There are two things that really jumped off the window sticker that was supplied with this review machine: The first is the fact that on this $23,490.00 (bottom line, including destination fee) there are no (not one) items of optional equipment listed. The machine is road-ready as it comes—no long list of options (“chromeblu titanium luggage bin, blizzard warning lights and buzzer, underseat mini-bar and fridge with combination lock, etc.). None.

The trendy floating C-pillars works well on the trendy C-HR

If you will choose to believe it, the other revelation is even more startling: right at the top of the sheet, just below the vehicle’s name and color (in this case “Magnetic Gray”) is the straight skinny on where the car was (as they say) “finally assembled”.

Ready? Take a guess … USA? Mexico? Japan? Canada? (wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong). Try saying this one three time fast: Arifiye, Sakarya, Turkey. (That’s geo-coordinates 40°43’N 30°22’E, postal code: 54580, area code: 264.) And I’ve got the sticker right here if anyone wants to see it. Two words: World car.

To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time I’ve ever encountered Turkey as final assembly point for anything (well, maybe a brass samovar)—let alone a 2018 Toyota.

Based on the above information my guess is that the Turks do not wear either coats or sunglasses (or, maybe they just don’t take their coat off and wear sunglasses night and day). I came to that conclusion from noticing that this one had neither back seat coat hooks nor sunglasses holder (which I finally stopped reaching for after the fourth or fifth day of my week in the saddle with the C-HR). I called Plano (Texas) for an explanation, and have not heard back as yet.

Okay neighbors, back to what you get for your $23,460. That’s not to say that this XLE version does not have just about every useful feature that anyone might expect and which (deep breath) include: auto off/on halogen headlights, LED day-time running lights, a nice rear spoiler, fog lights, zoomy 18-inch “Sport” alloy wheels with P225/50R18 95V (that’s good numbers), a cool shark-fin antenna, touch-sensor front driver and passenger door handles, electrically-controlled outside mirrors w/turn signal indicators, power door locks/keyless entry, dual-zone A/C heater, a whole carful of airbags, a 4.2-inch color multi-information display, power windows, cruise control, rear view camera (display in mirror) and a healthy set of disc brakes all around. Ours does not have an optional nav system, on the down side we only got lost once, on the upside we were never distracted by a readout offering to us how far away the nearest A&W Root Beer stand was (and plotting a route for us).

Can you guess which part of the Toyota C-HR this represents?

OTHER VOICES: As I might have mentioned someplace before, I waste a lot of money on a whole bunch of car magazines each month, because I skip over virtually all of the car reviews attempting to be unbiased in my impression of any car that I’m assigned to drive.

I’ve done pretty well avoiding others’ remarks, at least until the other day when I started to read a colleague’s review of the C-HR (by mistake) in the pages of the November issue of Car And Driver.

I only read the first few lines and quickly closed the page realizing that I was actually starting to read a single-page test report of this machine.

I was hauled up short by John Pearley Huffman’s first two lines: “FORGET THE ROBOT DONKEY KONG STYLING: The 2018 C-HR is the numb spawn of a lazy and predictable automotive culture,” is more than plenty enough already.

I read no further. Was good old J.P.H. talking about the same car that I’ve been driving this week? I checked the title and spec sheet. But for the exterior color, I was driving the same “numb spawn” around the Southland and actually liked doing it.

Where everything starts and stops on the C-HR

CLOSED CIRCUIT: Here’s the thing, John. I don’t think that the people who are in the market for a (well) under $30K small cross over/SUV are looking for advanced tech marvels (although there are sufficient items here), or anything more than a smart-looking (see above), well-built (that’s easy.. it’s a Toyota), machine that comfortably seats four (the company says five, I’ll settle), that handles predictably, jumps when told to jump, and gets pretty damn good fuel mileage—and the C-HR does all that.

I believe that’s what most customers actually want. If they wanted real mechanical adventure, they can buy an old Jag V-12 and Porsche 928S for about the same money and not have been so lazy about caring for their wheels.

On the other hand, I’m not really at all big fan of driver laziness. That I would lay at the feet of all of the safety override features that are touted with this car (and every other machine out there today) and that, I really believe, dumb driving down. It’s far better (maybe John, did in the story, remember, I only read the first two sentences) to remind readers that his book’s name is still Car and Driver.

I liked the C-HR—found it as useful as any small Ute that I’ve driven of late, and with a fair price that’s maybe styled a bit too sharply* for some.

My sense here is that this one is every bit as entitled to be up for sale and carefully considered by this level of customers as any other offering from any other manufacturer in the biz. –DS

*Which leads to my old saw: “… You drive the car from the inside.” I think that I first said that long ago …

(Doug Stokes)

about another alpha-numeric car model, the sorta strange-looking Mercury Merkur XR4-Ti, one of the quickest, best handling, bi-wing jelly beans I’ve ever driven. The C-HR has an attractive, accommodating interior that’s plenty user-friendly and smart-looking at the same time, what more do YOU want? Photo: A very neat little combination winglet and CMHSL (third brake light).

The only extra listed on this one’s rap sheet was about a grand ($960!) which covered: “DELIVERY PROCESS AND HANDLING FEE” (I guess the boat ride from Turkey runs a little higher).

THE MAIN INGREDIENTS

Name of Model:
2017 Toyota C-HR XLE

Price:
$22,500.00 (base)
$23,460.00 (as tested)

EPA fuel economy rating:
27 City, 31 Highway

EPA size classification:**
Compact

** Passenger car classes are designated by the EPA based on interior volume index or seating capacity, except the ones classified as special vehicle. A two-seater is classified as a car with no more than two designated seating positions.

The reviewer's Magnetic Grey Metallic C-HR (Doug Stokes)

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