The transition from cars to SUVs being cool has been slowly happening over the past 25 years. But now we have reached the tipping point where SUVs and trucks totally obliterate passenger car sales. We have a whole new generation of kids who grew up being taken to soccer practice in SUVs. And to them, SUVs were the cool cars. It was the minivans that remained “uncool.” As such, we see their popularity reflected in the choice of vehicle from the drop-off line to the student parking lot across our country. You see lots of Jeeps and CUVs where the students park. Unfortunately, the price of many of these vehicles crest the $30K threshold of affordability. Enter the Toyota C-HR. It takes the look of a cool SUV that rides on an economical but super-reliable Toyota compact-car chassis. For those kids put off by a Corolla, the CH-R’s looks hit it out-of-the-park! It certainly fills the gap left by the closure of Toyota’s now-defunct Scion brand. Dig those rear door handles on the C-HR, located way up on the B-pillars. Or check out that swooping rear roofline that screams cool design (a la the Honda CR-X) but offers all of the practicality of a small CUV. The whole deal came in at $24K for my tester. Let’s check out what makes it great, and how we can take it to the next level.
The CH-R is powered by Toyota’s venerable 2.0-liter four-cylinder, coupled to a CVT transmission. The CVT can simulate shift points to make it feel like a more conventional automatic transmission. About the only thing missing from the package is four-wheel drive. However, this vehicle seems more destined for trips to campus and the mall, so front-wheel drive suits the package just fine. Additionally, it keeps fuel economy in check at 27 city/31 highway. It is challenging to see those kind of numbers in CUVs with four-wheel drive. I actually saw better numbers during my test period, coming in at 33 mpg overall.
The interior is a pleasant place to be, with a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a dual-zone climate control system that operates as if it were in a luxury car. The headliner even has some design indentations to give the interior roof some character. However, we get onto the 7-inch touchscreen radio and we could do better. The unit itself is clearly from Pioneer and features Bluetooth connectivity. But there are two issues: The first is the lack of a navigation system. No big deal – I’ll just use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto …. Nope, those aren’t onboard either. The six-speaker audio system sounds pretty good until volume setting 42. By the time the maximum number of 62 is reached, everything is starting to break up and fall apart. But this is no big deal for an aftermarket audio retailer. Imagine swapping the OEM Pioneer deck for a Pioneer head unit with CarPlay or Android Auto. Then the typical younger person can have navigation at their fingertips and be able to safely send and receive text messages. Add an amplifier and a subwoofer and we now have the ultimate Generation Z transportation entertainment system for well under $2,000. Who wants to rely on Uber when the ride can be this fun and the music sound so good?
To lure parents into considering the C-HR as a wise purchase for their children, the vehicle comes with safety brake assist that will alert the driver of an impending collision, as well as automating braking support if the driver doesn’t react quickly enough. The unit evens scans for pedestrians, making it a great choice for college campuses where students walk around at night with a bit too much alcohol in their systems. To keep the vehicle between the lines on the highway, Lane Departure Alert is also standard. The icing on the cake is standard Dynamic Radar Cruise Control that keeps a preset following distance, making long rides back home tolerable. Who would have thought a feature only available on a Mercedes just 10 short years ago would make its way to a vehicle a quarter of the price? That’s progress. But if a new vehicle is not in the cards, lane departure and brake alert can be added in the aftermarket through manufacturers such as Mobileye. Dynamic Radar Cruise Control is not available in the aftermarket just yet but we are excited for some upcoming solutions.
If you are in the market for a trendy new CUV with plenty of style, but without the hefty price tag, check out Toyota’s C-HR.