Sean Connery would have been able to outrun a lot more cops if he had been driving something a little more agile in the risque 1971 James Bond caper Diamonds Are Forever. So what if 007 had a tricked-out Mustang Mach 1? We all know that balancing on two wheels down an alley was a last resort and Bond would much rather have driven straight through unscathed.
What her majesty’s top secret agent needed at the time was something small, stealthy, acutely tuned, and inexpensive, because everybody knows it’s going to get blown to hell by the end of the film anyway. Enter the Toyota Coupe High-Rider, or C-HR, a crossover with sporty ambitions and a serious infatuation with precious gemstones.
Originally engineered as a Scion product, the curvy CUV has drawn a lot of attention since Toyota began teasing pictures and putting a bonkers concept version on display. While it may look wild to some, this crossover that retains quite a few of Scion’s old quirks and hallmarks, and infuses them with a performance punch that focuses more on handling dynamics than raw power.
But let’s also not overlook the primary purpose of this machine and so many others in this extremely competitive segment: It’s a practical everyday entry-level automobile, a car perfectly suited for parallel parking on busy urban streets while retaining the ability to to get around 30 miles per gallon on road trips. After spending an entire day in the C-HR with one of Toyota’s top product specialists, we came up with ten kick-ass characteristics C-HR shoppers are going to love, starting with its sensational steering wheel.
1. Get ahold of yourself
In order to offer the sharpest steering and feedback possible, Toyota instructed its team to conduct vigorous R&D testing at one of the most inhospitable race tracks in the world: The Nürburgring. While teaching a crossover manners at a place commonly referred to as “The Green Hell” may seem like overkill, the vehicle’s engineering team harbored an ulterior motive. Testing the C-HR on the winding roads and narrow streets of nearby villages played just as crucial of a role in the development process as all those hours spent spanking the little CUV around the track.
Inputs are firm and decisive, feedback is notable but not forceful, and while overall lock-to-lock turn rates on the new 86 sports car are tighter (2.48 to 2.76), this sporty crossover handles sharper than expected thanks to its wide stance. The only complaints about the C-HR’s steering system that might arise are that it will be too sharp for certain buyers, and that the wheel itself does not come in a sporty, flat-bottom/D-cut design.
2. Heavy hitter in a lower weight class
It may appear slight of stature, and it may compete with well-established compact crossovers like the Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-3, but the C-HR is actually in a heavier weight class. The CUV utilizes the same modular unibody construction as the latest Prius, codenamed Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA). This allows Japan’s largest automaker to make a crossover that is larger than the competition, while boasting a footprint that keeps it both agile and super safe.
While crash safety ratings aren’t even close to being released, the current generation Prius’ impressive 5-star NHTSA rating and Top Safety Pick+ award bodes well for the C-HR. The new crossover also has a spacious interior that allows plenty of room for larger individuals both in the front and back, and we like that it’s ride height is low enough for easy access, but tall enough to clear rutted roads.
3. Keeping it simple, Scion style
All the way up until its demise in the autumn of 2016, Scion stood true to its core belief that less s more. You could always customize your ride with a wide array of options at the dealership, but when it came time to choose a trim line your options were typically limited to “manual or automatic.”
Being that the C-HR was supposed to be a Scion, it only comes in two flavors: XLE and XLE Premium, with the latter featuring keyless entry and some slick side mirrors. Naturally, Toyota has a nice selection of toppings for buyers to sprinkle either version with, but don’t expect a ton of variations on wha’s already being offered. The interior is available exclusively in black and leather is limited to the steering wheel, leaving the widest selection of add-ons to a kaleidoscope of exterior colors.
4. But when it wants to show-off…
Unlike the Scion/Toyota iM, where the production version is but a shadow of its conceptual self, the C-HR has retained a lot of its show car lines. Sure, those crazy tail lights are no longer a part of the program, and it isn’t sitting on alloys that make it look like a Micro Machine anymore, but a lot of the original curves and diamond patterns are still there.
After listening to the C-HR’s Deputy Chief Engineer talk about how pushing all four corners outward gives the CUV a stance to make us dance, we turned to Toyota product specialist Andy Lam for his take on what’s fun on the C-HR. Lam tells us that while a white-roofed R-Code model will be the first thing people notice, it’s things like power folding mirrors with bespoke “C-HR” puddle lights that help set this little crossover apart. It also comes standard with those 18 x 7-inch “vortex” wheels, and the sloping fastback roofline comes with a snazzy integrated spoiler and hatch lip.
5. Engine swap time 2.0
One of the most unique things about the C-HR isn’t its styling or Scion-like take on package options, but its 2.0-liter powertrain. This dual-overhead cam four-cylinder is making its debut in America tuned to 144 horsepower and 139 pound-feet of torque, and mated to a synthetically geared CVT. Unlike some other cars in the segment, the C-HR remains exclusively front-wheel drive (Europe gets AWD and a turbo), and comes equipped with Normal, Eco, and Sport drive modes.
While we would’ve loved to have seen a set of paddle shifters snugged up to the steering hub, Sport mode did make the C-HR slightly more rev-happy due to its adjustable “shift points.” It’s a motor that we can see easily getting massaged to 200 horsepower with the right aftermarket bolt-ons, and a genuine frontrunner for SEMA 2017. But if manual gear shifts, a stock turbo, or all-wheel drive are your jam, we suggest looking elsewhere. They won’t be happening here.
6. TRD all the things!!!
Where the C-HR may have leave performance-minded shoppers yawning due to its base powertrain, it might be able to win favor when TRD performance upgrades are released down the line. While we’d love to see Toyota bring back a supercharger option, a stealthy, warrantied exhaust and intake combination sound like a good starting point for the average buyer who likes to make their cars their own. We were blown away by how good the new 86 was with just a few TRD bolt-ons last year, so time will tell how this platform performs with similar TRD upgrades.
While any power gains will be subtle at best, Lam says the list of TRD handling upgrade will be a bit more exciting. The C-HR already rides relatively low, so with a set of stiffer, shorter springs, a fatter set of sway bars, and maybe even a strut bar up front, chances are it will carve corners harder than any other CUV in the segment.
7. We’ve got SACHS of goodies on this sleigh
If you’ve already invested in testing and tuning your prototype at the Nürburgring, you might as well pick up a set of high performance German suspension goodies to go with it. Toyota did a smart thing with the C-HR by teaming up with iconic performance specialist SACHS, a company that’s one of the most revered in the industry.
Being based on Toyota’s latest global platform, the C-HR comes with an independent MacPherson strut assembly up front that’s been outfitted with angled strut bearings for a more responsive feel. Out back, buyers get a double-wishbone design instead of a semi-independent setup. Outfitted with custom tuned, oversized SACHS dampers, this makes for an extremely planted, great handling CUV.
8. Safety is still #1, then we can have some fun
Toyota has done everyone a favor, regardless of whether we own one of their vehicles or not. Toyota Safety Sense P (TSS-P) comes standard on every new C-HR, which means everything from full-range radar cruise control to pre-collision and active braking are standard, a segment exclusive combo. There are also lane departure alerts and assistance with adjustable correction strengths, automatic hi-beams, and pedestrian detection to name a few other key players in the active tech safety suite.
Playing with these settings allowed us to experience the radar-focused cruise control, which swiftly brought us from 60 to a complete stop in rush hour traffic, and after tapping the gas the system engaged once more. Being able to dumb down the lane keep assist was a nice feature too, and something we wish more vehicles offered. While we weren’t too keen on the miniature backup display hidden in the corner of the rearview mirror, it was vibrantly colored, and was an interesting feature.
9. Hot damn, look at that value!
As we drove through the scenic mountain roads outside Austin, Texas we had an an epiphany: All of these standard safety features, high performance suspension tweaks, 18-inch alloys, LED lights, and useful infotainment tools come at an amazing value!
At $22,500 for the regular XLE, and $24,350 for the Premium package, buyers are getting a whole lot of crossover for a fairly small chunk of change. Naturally, you’ll need to tack-on an additional $960 for destination and delivery fees, but even then you won’t hear anyone call the C-HR overpriced. Oh, and as for that unique R-Code white roof, plop down an additional $500 and it’s yours.
10. Diamonds truly are forever
This car is literally covered in diamonds, even if you don’t detect them right away. From a top-down aerial view the roofline looks diamond-like, and everything from the gaps between the wheel spokes and lenses, to the pinched quarter panels and angular rear door handles, Toyota’s “distinctive diamond” look runs rampant.
This same motif continues inside the cabin, where speaker covers, door inserts, buttons, switches, vents, and seat patterns all mimic the iconic stone. Hell, even the headliner has a diamond pattern embossed into it, with the most forward facing cutout serving as a handy pocket for sliding one’s hand into before flipping the visor down. This may sound silly to some some, but certain car buyers will likely find the funky features in the C-HR to be a blast. It’s a fun and refreshing take on automaking that makes us miss Scion’s quirky ways, all while reminding us that Toyota still knows how to have fun.