2018 Toyota C-HR: Can a Funky Design Still Be Practical?

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Different, futuristic, sweet-looking…but is it functional?

“Stylish” and “practical” are two words not often used together when reviewing a vehicle. Change “stylish” to whatever adjective you choose to use to describe the 2018 Toyota C-HR and the challenge remains. Can such a vehicle still be practical?

Technically considered a compact crossover, the 2018 Toyota C-HR is a wide departure from the typical blah design language of their vehicles. Moving away from blah is a good thing. However, moving too far towards bizarre is a big risk. The C-HR certainly pushes this envelope.

For the C-HR, the exterior look feels like an evolution from the now-defunct Scion brand. It is meant to stand out among a sea of look-alike crossovers (essentially a tall sedan) and is meant to be appealing to a younger demographic. With these design goals, the C-HR delivers with its many design lines and curves on the front wrapping with the dual-spoiler rear styling.

2018 Toyota C-HROn the inside, the unique styling theme on the exterior is carried over quite well. The styling lines are anything like other Toyota vehicles with a straight line dash and swooping line to incorporate the center stack of controls. At night, the look is enhanced with LED lighting strips running through the cabin.

2018 Toyota C-HRWith limited space, Toyota designers put a 7″ infotainment screen on top of the dash. This isn’t all that different these days with many other vehicles and manufactures doing the same like in the Lexus RX 350. The challenge with the C-HR is the small amount of room in the cabin combined with the small size of this screen. It simply gets lost.

2018 Toyota C-HRSimilar to the Scion vehicles and other entry vehicles aimed at a younger demographic, the C-HR comes without XM radio. The thinking here is most drivers will instead utilize the Bluetooth connection to stream their own music. This also keeps the cost down. With automakers seemingly shoving as much technology as they can into vehicles, Toyota’s play here is pretty remarkable. With no Apple Carplay, Android Auto or XM radio, this vehicle simply bucks that trend.

2018 Toyota C-HRThe rear seats are accessed through the side-mounted door latch that blends into the a single color band found throughout the exterior. At first glance, this latch gets lost in the design. Opening the door reveals a small seating area with a challenging entry/exit point. Again, this is a vehicle made for a specific audience and older adults will find this less than ideal. It works for the younger buyer without kids. Why without kids? Putting a car seat in the rear would dominate this space and ultimately require the front seat to be pushed all the way forward.

In the rear, the cargo space contrasts the tight rear seats by providing an ample amount of storage. Our test model also included the rear cargo area cover handy for storing items out of view. We were able to fit a surprising amount of items in the rear and with the rear seats folded down, this cargo space is really improved. This is the one area where the C-HR really shines for being functional since we would assume this vehicle would be owned by someone who often drives themselves or one other passenger around in. With the rear seats often folded down, the C-HR would fit their needs for carrying a wide variety of items.

2018 Toyota C-HRBehind the wheel, the 2.0L four-cylinder engine mated to a CVT transmission can feel quick in the small package and performs much better in Sport mode. It isn’t sluggish by any means, not that you will be racing this car, and Toyota has done a good job of utilizing the vehicle’s handling and size to improve the driving experience.

Looking at how functional the car is and the EPA estimated 27/31 city/highway fuel economy and the starting MSRP of $22,500 makes it an exceptional value.

The only real difficulty with the functionality discussion on the C-HR is the lack of an AWD option – front-wheel drive only. This can limit its appeal north of the Mason-Dixon line and in the country. With the similarly odd looking Nissan Juke offered in AWD, one would expect Toyota to revisit this decision.

2018 Toyota C-HRIn the end, a “tall sedan” for under $25k with up to 31 MPG highway as well as ample cargo room, it is a good option for a demographic of the marketplace. It is also exciting to see Toyota truly move beyond blah design and offer something wildly different.

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Tim Esterdahl is a regular contributor to YotaTech and Ford Truck Enthusiasts. He produces the weekly podcast Pickup Truck Talk.

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