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2018 Toyota C-HR XLE Premium – Big Name, Small Car

2018 Toyota C-HR XLE Premium – Big Name, Small Car

The Toyota CH-R didn’t begin life as a Toyota at all. It started as a design project by Scion way back in 2014. Since then Scion has died, but the little C-HR lives on under the Toyota marque.

It seems to me the C-HR is a victim of its own design. The initial Scion concept stirred up some interest with it’s over-sized 21″ wheels and pancaked roofline. Like so many aspects of concept cars, the form takes precedent over the function. In an attempt to retain likable elements of the concept car, it seems Toyota’s production model sacrifices some functionality for aesthetics.

INTERIOR

Toyota offers any interior you want in the C-HR, as long as you happen to want black cloth. The headroom is good, but there’s a shortage of legroom in the car. You can get two adults in the rear seats, but you can’t really open the glovebox all the way with a person in the passenger seat. It also feels narrow between door panel and console. If I could sum up the interior in only one word, it would be rubbery. However, there is room behind the rear seats for groceries.

EXTERIOR

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Exterior design is a mash up of gills, vents, bulbous lights, and creases in the body lines that depart at odd angles.  If they sought to do something beautiful I’m afraid they missed the mark here. It’s not easy to design a car, so in an effort to pay the looks of this car some sort of friendly compliment, I scribbled the following line in my notes. “The front fascia looks like a satisfied cat drawn by Ghibli Studios, and isn’t that bad.” There, now this article is fair and balanced.

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Perhaps the most tragic thing about the appearance of the C-HR is how similar it is to another compact crossover, the Nissan Juke. For instance, the rear door handles are integrated into the body work, the B-pillars are blacked out for that “hardtop” look, there’s a spoiler/shade over the rear window, and the headlights and taillights creep from the ends of the car to the adjacent body panels. If Toyota sought to make a statement with this car, Nissan beat them to it by six years.

Juke vs CHRDRIVE

When you slip the car into reverse, you may look to the seven inch touch-screen display mounted in the dash for a backup camera. This is wrong. Instead you must squint into the rather small and grainy picture that appears in the rearview mirror. Or you could try a more old fashion approach. Twist around and peer over your right shoulder and try looking out the back window.

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You’ll find that this is no great improvement over the tiny image in your rearview. Toyota gave the C-HR a decent sized rear window but it’s slanted at an angle that makes it ineffective at almost anything other than keeping the rain out of the car. Presumably this was to try to maintain the silhouette of the original concept.

You can try getting a better angle by unbuckling and contorting yourself out of the driver’s seat, but do so at your own peril. The seatbelt reminder chime is unbearable and gets progressively more intense. It’s like a psychological warfare device borrowed from a Guantanamo Bay, used to crack the toughest nuts. In addition to the unusual rear window arrangement, the C-HR features very wide C-pillars which translates to big blind spots.

Power is derived from a buzzy 2.0L 4-pot which gets the job done, but without much zest. The brake pedal has an unsettling mush to it. I found myself slightly over-shooting the white line at intersections until I got the hang of it. The car is a little noisy inside but that’s not so uncommon for cars in its price range. The electrically assisted power steering does have a nice feel though.

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Photo Credit: Kevin McCauley 

THE DIRT

To paraphrase a quote from the great “Red Green Show,” “If they don’t find you handsome, at least they’ll find you handy.” This car is neither. It’s an unremarkable car in a saturated market. It’s for Toyota brand-loyalist who want to send their daughters to college in a shiny new compact crossover. If you happen to be reading this while waiting for a car salesperson to return with the figures on your daughter’s new C-HR, don’t panic. Just take a deep breath, get up from the finance table, and drive to the closest Subaru dealership. The Crosstrek has CarPlay, it’s better looking, less expensive, more capable, and you can actually see out the back window.

 

2017 Toyota 86 –  It’s Not a Miata, and That’s OK

2017 Toyota 86 – It’s Not a Miata, and That’s OK

Scion is dead, long live Toyota.  Like the millennials to which Scion attempted to appeal, the company was a drain on their parent-company’s resources.  So, for 2017 the Scion FR-S is rebadged and worked over as the Toyota 86. Those outside of Canada and the United States have had the 86 for years.

Not a whole lot has changed from the Scion, but the Toyota has improved Scion’s recipe a little. The most obvious change is the grille. The exterior lights are all LED, new 17 inch wheels and different fender vents. Overall, the aesthetic changes are an improvement, but they did get rid of that sweet 86 boxer badge the Scions used on their fenders, which is a shame.

Toyota went a long way make this car stiffer. They reinforced the transmission tunnel, made the front strut tower braces more hearty and they added rigidity to the rear strut mounts.  The suspension has been tweaked too. The front got stiffer and they softened up the rear while beefing up the anti-roll bar.

Up front there’s a flat four cylinder engine that makes 205 horsepower. That’s five more than last year’s Scion. It’s hooked up to a six speed manual transmission that sends power to the back wheels. Plus if you get the manual you get red wrinkle painted intake, you know, like a Ferrari. You can tell all your friends you bought it because it’s just like a Ferrari. If you elect to go with the six-speed automatic, you get 5 less horsepower. But why would you get an automatic in this car?

Inside the car, there’s a notable lack of modern amenities. Yes, there are power windows and a touch screen stereo but that’s about it. There’s a digital clock in the console like the one that came in a Delorean. By that I mean that it looks a little dated. There’s keyless entry, but it’s not a proximity system. Drivers have to put a key into the ignition and twist. This is not really a problem until you forget and you have to dig the keys out of your pocket after you’ve poured yourself into the driver’s seat.

Inside, the front seats are firm and have high bolsters to prevent you siding out of the seat in the corners.  It’s got a back seat but it looks pretty useless. There is absolutely no leg room, but there are baby anchors, in case your fast and loose boy-racer lifestyle includes not using birth control.

This car is light and small. It weighs in at 2,760 pounds. It’s hard not to make the comparison between this car and the Miata. This car is a foot longer and 420 pounds heavier. The Miata gets to 60 almost half a second faster than the 86. What the 86 does have that the Miata doesn’t is a third gear scratch. The rear tires will chirp when shifting into third. It’s also quieter on the road than the Miata but that’s likely due to the lack of a rag top. That said, nobody is going to brag on how quiet it is in their Toyota 86. In fact, they’ll be turning up the stereo at speeds greater than 50 mph.

All of the short comings of this car can be forgiven though. It’s a sports car, it’s not a family hauler or a grocery getter, although it does have a sizable trunk. This car is fun. The electrically assisted power steering is above average. The gearbox feels good too, albeit a bit stiff. I was expecting a tail-happy hotrod, but this car was better-behaved than that. Of course, if you’re after the sideways slidy stuff, this car can do that too. It has three settings for traction and vehicle stability control. You can turn everything off by pushing the track button. Even with this off, the car is not so unruly it can’t be driven. Tail-out drifty slides are possible, but it really feels like you have to push the car hard to do it. The best scenario to live out Ken Block fantasies in this car is a slightly rain-dampened parking lot. I was surprised to feel a little understeer while approaching the point where the rear end begins to break traction.

All in all, I’m pleased that Toyota decided to continue producing and refining this spirited little car. While the Miata may still have the legs on it, it’s also a 25 year old recipe that Mazda has had time to perfect. If you’re looking for an economical, fun car for about 25k you now have two flavors to choose from.